Brisbane, Abramson disagree on whether Times’ liberal culture is a problem

The New York Times | Politico | Jay Rosen | National Review
In his goodbye column Sunday, former New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane marveled at the changes social media’s wrought during his two-year term and said The Times needs a “reader portal of some kind” for a listing of standards and values. He dinged the paper for not being transparent enough and called the paper’s corrections desk “a powerful engine of accountability.” And he described the staff as “hyper-engaged journalists building their own brands.”

I predict no one will remember those parts of Arthur Brisbane’s farewell column, though, because he wandered one last time into the thicket of whether The Times is a liberal paper:

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.


That was enough to get Executive Editor Jill Abramson to talk to Politico’s Dylan Byers. “I disagree with Mr. Brisbane’s sweeping conclusions,” she said.

I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base,” she continued. “But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping ‘the paper straight.’ That’s essential.”

Abramson’s words, even with that “sometimes,” reflect the kind of transparency Brisbane says is missing, writes New York University Professor Jay Rosen. The Times is a lot more open about being a product of that urban, cosmopolitan environment. That’s good, right? Plus:

A good way to interrupt this welcome movement toward greater transparency is to frame the world view of the Times as a kind of ongoing scandal, a problem that needs fixing, a blight on its reputation, an injury to its journalism.

In a sideways way, National Review’s Jay Nordlinger agrees with Rosen, writing that the paper must abandon “the fiction that ‘We’re just reporting the news here.’

National Review is an opinion journal. It was created to be that, and it has forever been labeled that way. Truth in advertising. If the New York Times, CBS News, and the like are going to be opinion organs — and they surely are — they should simply say so, so we can kind of get on with life, if you know what I mean.

But calling The Times an opinion journal glosses over the inconvenient fact that the paper does metric tons of reporting every day, no matter what conscious or unconscious filters its reporters are applying. (Look at this exquisitely reported and written profile of accused mass-murderer James Holmes.)

That’s why the question of whether The Times is hopelessly biased will never, ever, ever get solved to the satisfaction of anyone who cares about it. Maybe a better question for the paper’s next ombudsman is one that reflects The Times’ changing economics: Does it cost the Times anything to fight those endless charges, and if so, can it still afford the entrance fees?

New public editor Margaret Sullivan begins Sept. 1.

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  • Anonymous

    Except the Occupy movement did not “erupt” onto the pages of the NYT.

    http://www.fair.org/blog/2012/08/27/if-nyt-overloved-occupy-it-had-a-funny-way-of-showing-it/

  • Anonymous

    Getting arrested by the NYPD might have altered their attitude on Occupy, but the NYT is not liberal.

    Conservatives threw out history have complained and demonized other political ideologies, because that is the only situation in which they can dominate.

  • Anonymous

    Getting arrested by the NYPD might have altered their attitude on Occupy, but the NYT is not liberal.

    Conservatives threw out history have complained and demonized other political ideologies, because that is the only situation in which they can dominate.

  • Anonymous

    Getting arrested by the NYPD might have altered their attitude on Occupy, but the NYT is not liberal.

    Conservatives threw out history have complained and demonized other political ideologies, because that is the only situation in which they can dominate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/frank.spencermolloy Frank Spencer-Molloy

    Outgoing New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane is catching
    brickbats for his farewell column in which he accused the paper of being
    steeped in a cultural “progressivism” that has affected its judgment and coverage
    of such topics as the Occupy movement. I don’t have much to add to the criticism – except to invoke a little school “larnin”
    of philosophy and Heisenberg’s physics.

    It is impossible for any journalistic enterprise to adopt, as Jay Rosen
    said, “a View from Nowhere.” You can strive all you want for objectivity, but
    there is no pure state of objectivity. Society and culture suffuse – or “bleed”
    out of, to use Brisbane’s negative connotation – any attempt to marshal facts
    and make a coherent whole of it. These are a
    priori conditions for any historical narrative; you cannot step out of your
    own skin. And whatever is described is intrinsically defined by where the
    describer stands.

    How we can have two opposed political movements each convinced of its own
    truth is something that can be plumbed – within limits. But scratch too
    deep and you will find a stratum of radically different – and irreconcilable –
    views of how the individual should interact with the larger society. I maintain
    – and this is my underlying bias – that one of these worldviews collapses on
    itself due to its own logical inconsistencies. Not to get too “meta,” but a
    journalist who prizes logic and evidence of necessity has to be anchored in the
    other world, the one that, to all appearances, coheres and seems valid for us
    in this historical place and time.

    The Occupy movement may have been “overloved,” given that it appears to
    have fizzled out. Those hundreds of column inches may now seem to have been
    injudicious. But the obverse is also true. The previous lack of coverage of the
    immense and growing gap in wealth between the 99 percent and the 1 percent
    (actually 0.1 percent) is hardly testament to a progressivist outlook among
    journalists. For once, a voice outside the established order, which the press
    normally defers to, broke through. That is not, in sum total, a bad thing.

  • Anonymous

    “Brisbane, Abramson disagree on whether Times’ liberal culture is a problem”
    1. I agree with Ralf W. It would have been good if Mr. Beaujon had not just accepted the claim without skepticism and told us if he thinks that the NY Times has a liberal culture and why he thinks this is so.

    2. There is also a conflation here between the personal views of individual reporters and the assumption that this exists in the first place and that it automatically results in a bias at the Times. It used to be (and still should be) that a journalist did their job of advancing the truth, no matter what their personal views.

    3. My personal belief is that the NYT is more of an instrument of the rich and powerful than anything else. And Mr. Brisbane even more so than the NYT.
    But three examples:
    The cheerleading in the leadup to the Iraq war.
    The waiting to publish the illegal wiretap revelations until after the 2004 elections.
    The personal attacks of Mr. Assange at the expense of substantive discussions of the revelations he published.
    Mr. Brisbane chose not to mention any of these in his argument about the bias at the NYT.
    More on this later.

  • http://twitter.com/Snowman55403 Ralf W

    If one firmly holds the view that global warming isn’t happening, as has become the case with many partisans actually shifting to denial from a more centrist “it probably is, but we don’t want to pay for change” then it now appears as if, for example, the Times is “liberal” in it’s coverage/acceptance of climate change. But the job of a newspaper is to report and to uncover and advance truth. If the truth doesn’t fit a partisan narrative, that doesn’t make the reporter or the paper liberal, it makes the reader uncomfortable.
    Much of the complaining from folks like Jay Nordlinger strikes me as complaint about inconvenient facts, not true bias.