Keller Answers Queries from Readers, But Ducks Question on Iraq

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By: E&P Staff

The new ?Talk to the Newsroom? feature at The New York Times? online site launched this week with questions solicited by the paper’s executive editor, Bill Keller. Other editors will take their turn in coming weeks.

On day one, Keller responded to several knotty questions, sometimes at length, discussing subjects such as story placement, his policy that prohibits reporters from insinuating their opinions into their articles, and why the Times held the NSA spying scoop for so long.

However, he also, admittedly, ducked one particularly probing query, which attempted to learn whether he regrets proclaiming himself a ?hawk? on an Iraq invasion in 2003 before the war. Here is that Q and the A.

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Q. In your columns, before you were appointed executive editor, you proclaimed yourself to be a “hawk” with regard to the then impending Iraq war. In retrospect, do you still stand by that opinion?
— Heidi Miller

A. That’s an excellent question, which, I apologize, I’m obliged to duck. In my current job it’s important that I endeavor to keep my opinions to myself and out of the paper. To do otherwise risks giving readers the impression that the paper is driven by a political agenda, which it is not. (This attempt to segregate opinion from news is also the reason that in my current job I have no authority, none, over the editorial and Op-ed pages.) When editors are partisans, there is also a risk that reporters, whom we exhort to be impartial, might tailor their writing to the editor’s perceived convictions.

During my roughly two years as a columnist, I was probably the least opinionated opinion writer in Op-ed-land. Perhaps it’s a reporter’s curse, but I seemed to have a gift for seeing both sides of almost every issue. My columns, therefore, tended to be reported musings — “Here’s how I thought my way through the subject of X” — rather than polemics. Perhaps someday I will be permitted to return to the columnist’s life. If so, I expect to have some second thoughts on a variety of subjects.

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