Executive Editor Bill Keller, writing in his paper, argues that his glorious newspaper is the best humans can create, an impartial collection of stories that tell us about the world. No agendas.
It’s embarrassing that a supposedly senior editor will write such nonsense in 2011. Everybody has opinions and agendas; the challenge is what you do with them. And when a paper such as the NYT is often little more than a publication that allows anonymous “US officials” the chance to spout administration propaganda, you have become a mouthpiece for the Obama administration.
I read the Times to get a sense what the US State Department is thinking. With notable exceptions, the paper doesn’t try to offer seriously provocative perspectives.
Has anyone actually seen James O’Keefe and Julian Assange together? Are we quite sure that the right-wing prankster who brought down the leadership of National Public Radio and the anarchic leaker aren’t split personalities of the same guy — sent by fate to mess with the heads of mainstream journalists?
Sure, one shoots from the left, the other from the right. One deals in genuine (albeit purloined) secrets; the other in “Candid Camera” stunts, most recently arranging for fake potential donors to entrap a foolish NPR executive into disclosing his scorn for Republicans and the Tea Party. Assange aims to enlist the media; O’Keefe aims to discredit us. But each, in his own guerrilla way, has sown his share of public doubt about whether the press can be trusted as an impartial bearer of news.
I don’t intend this occasional essay to become the Editor’s Pulpit, but right now — when we are buffeted between those on the right who think we are agents of liberalism and those on the left who think we should be, and when we are asking devoted readers to pay for us online — it seems like a good time to pause and review some first principles.
In short, our mission is not to tell you what we think or what you are supposed to think, and it is certainly not to pander to your prejudices. It is to supply to you, as best we can, the basis to make up your own minds.
As partisan “news” sites have proliferated and the country has grown more polarized, there is sometimes pressure on journalists to abandon the effort to be impartial, to openly take a side and to write accordingly. Some of our critics insist that objectivity is unattainable — or boring …— so why try? To me that is like saying that because much of our children’s future is ordained by genetics, we should abandon the effort to be good parents. Impartial journalism, like child-rearing, is an aspiration, but it is a worthy one.