Accuracy in Media

Arthur Brisbane wrapped up his two-year stint as The New York Times public editor by taking a final shot at the culture of the paper, saying that the paper’s liberalism often leads to one-sided coverage of some issues.

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.

As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

This isn’t the first time that Brisbane has criticized the Times for its liberal bias. Back in April he admitted that the paper had a pro-Obama bias and said that the readers deserved to know “Who is the real Barack Obama?”

Jill Abramson, executive editor of the Times, disagreed with Brisbane’s “sweeping conclusions” in comments she made to Politico.

In our newsroom we are always conscious that the way we view an issue in New York is not necessarily the way it is viewed in the rest of the country or world. I disagree with Mr. Brisbane’s sweeping conclusions.

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. 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.

That’s not exactly what Okrent and Keller said. In 2004, while serving as the public editor, Okrent asked the question of whether the Times was a liberal paper and proceeded to answer it by simply saying “of course it is.”  Okrent also called the idea that the Times had a “balanced opinion page” an oxymoron. In an interview last October, Keller the former executive editor admitted that the Times was “socially liberal.”

Abramson may say that she wants to “keep the paper straight,” but in soft peddling Okrent’s and Keller’s comments on the Times’ liberal bias, it is clear that she has a different agenda in mind.

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