Bill Keller’s life is probably a bit easier now that he’s a New York Times op-ed columnist, free to riff smugly about Julian Assange and online piracy, instead of the paper’s executive editor, dealing with multiple foreign wars and the long, slow death of journalism. “It’s liberating that when I have opinions, I can say them,” Keller said last night at a talk for CUNY’s journalism school. And as for the hard-news part of the paper, where something resembling objectivity is the aim, well, that can get kind of uncomfortable, Keller admitted, especially when it comes to things like marriage equality and contraception.
“Um … I think … you know, I mean … because I know most of the people who have bylines,” Keller said, according to a Capital New York report, “and in the context of reading the stories I see them wrestling with their convictions, what is the issue on which they do least well? Uh … it would … it would probably fall under the realm of social issues, by and large.”
He went on to explain how attempting to remove all bias from a story would be sort of like watching him try to do the Dougie:
“We can’t entirely leech the New York-ness out of The New York Times,” said Keller. “If we somehow achieved absolute objectivity, it would be kind of tedious to read. … Watching The New York Times try to be even-handed on some issues is like trying to watch somebody dance their kids’ dance styles. We look like we’re trying too hard. Yes, we should be even-handed, we should certainly follow the basic rule of reporting, challenging your assumptions, and we should be ruthless about having a public editor or an editors’ note to call ourselves out. … But it is possible to be fair and still radiate a cultural persona.”
This might all seem fairly obvious to news consumers outside of the journalism ethics fishbowl, but it’s nice to hear from a man in Keller’s position. Maybe the Times can be a truth vigilante after all.