Former New York Times editor Bill Keller sat down for an interview at the LBJ Library last week and discussed the Times' editorial stance when covering hotly contested social issues. In a forthright admission, Keller openly described the paper as "socially liberal."
Keller, who stepped down as Executive Editor of the New York Times and was replaced by the Times' managing director Jill Abramson in June 2011, rejoined the paper as a senior writer and Op-Ed columnist. Keller is responsible for adding the Public Editor position to the New York Times staff. He recalled a famous 2004 column by Daniel Okrent, the first man to hold the title. The column had a simple answer to whether or not the Times is liberal: "of course." Okrent's more nuanced take was that the Times reflects its New York base, and thus takes a more cosmopolitan and liberal view of some divisive social and cultural issues.
Keller essentially agreed with this. He said, "we are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense. Socially liberal." He also said that the paper "treats evolution as a fact."
Keller's comments contrast somewhat with those of Abramson. When she officially assumed the Executive Editor position in early September, dismissed the Times' liberal label. “Journalists in the newsroom play it straight,” she told The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz.
She reiterated this point when speaking with Times' public editor, Arthur S. Brisbane. When asked if she will oblige with "legendary Times executive editor A. M. Rosenthal" who "felt the need to steer The Times to the right to compensate for the leftward political leanings of some staff," she pointed to the general political leanings of New York that might impact reporters' perspectives, rather than reporters personal political leanings.
"I sometimes try not only to remind myself but my colleagues that the way we view an issue in New York is not necessarily the way it is viewed in the rest of America. And I am pretty scrupulous about when we apply our investigative firepower to politicians that we not do it in a way that favors one way of thinking or one party over the other," Abramson replied.
Keller has been vocal in his opinion of other news organizations, and criticized Fox News for making political discourse in America "polarizied."