“I’ve had a few bizarre vibes from people outside the NYT who are puzzled by my presence in Tehran,” New York Times executive editor Bill Keller e-mailed to Editor & Publisher today. “Do people in the media crit game really think editors are supposed to be desk jockeys who never go get a sense of the story?” This statement got us to thinking: Surely the situation is not so black and white, right? It seems relatively appropriate for an editor to go to a domestic political event or protest, say, or visit a place in America that was devastated by a hurricane. But traveling halfway across the world to a potentially violent foreign capital tenuously controlled by a hostile regime? Where Internet and phone contact to home is limited, to say nothing of physical mobility? Just before a hotly contested, likely-to-be-rigged election? Yeah, it seems like that might possibly get in the way of the normal meetings, decision-making, and, well, editing that is usually part of the day for a man at the top of the masthead of one of the biggest newspapers in America. It’s not a bad or wrong decision, but surely it’s not “bizarre” to be “puzzled” by it.
Keller pointed out that when he was a foreign correspondent, editors like Max Frankel and Joe Lelyveld visited him in the field. Plus, he argues, he was in Iran for his visit before all this mess broke out, and when it all went down he wasn’t just going to sit in his hotel room and do nothing. (To be fair, he did know the election was coming and was likely to be controversial. That’s why he picked that time to go, a rep told us on Monday.) He characterized the confused coverage of his visit “weird,” which bodes well for his return, when he has to deal with the many members of his own staff who were also confused by it.
At any rate, he’s on the way home now, along with Robert Worth, whose visa ran out on Monday. Resident reporter Nazila Fathi (whom he describes as “intrepid,” which we think is a vast understatement) is still there, as is International Herald-Tribune opinion writer Roger Cohen. “I think they welcomed having an extra pair of hands. Among other things, it meant that while Nazila and Bobby (and Roger) followed the main event in Tehran, I could go check out conditions somewhere else (Isfahan),” Keller argued. “I’m proud that I could help.”