‘NY Times’ Editor Rips Book Review in Own Paper

By: E&P Staff

In what must be a first, the editor of The New York Times has written a letter to the editor ripping a recent book review in his own paper.

The lengthy broadside by Bill Keller, executive editor, appears in tomorrow?s edition of The New York Times Book Review. Others, including Bill Moyers and Eric Alterman, join Keller in protesting the review of several recent books on the media. That review, by conservative legal scholar Richard A. Posner, appeared on July 31.

Keller calls the Posner essay ?mostly a regurgitation, as tendentious and cynical as the worst of the books he consumed.?

He charges that Posner ?weirdly? makes almost no distinction ?within the vast category of American media, between those that are aggressively partisan and those that strive to keep opinion sequestered from news, between outlets that invest in serious reporting and those that simply riff on the reporting of others, between the sensational and the more high-minded, between organizations that hasten to correct errors and those that could not care less, between the cartoonish shout shows on cable TV and the more ambitious journalism of, say, the paper you are holding in your hands.

?Then he swallows almost uncritically the conventional hogwash of partisan critics on both sides: that ‘?the media? (as accused from the right) work in tireless pursuit of a liberal agenda, and that they have (as accused from the left) become docile house pets of the Bush administration because they fear offending the powers that be.

?Finally, to explain the workings of this undifferentiated ?media,? simultaneously liberal and supine, he applies his trademark theory of market determinism. Whether conspiratorially or instinctively (Posner is unclear on this), the media have changed course in response to economic threats. The liberal news organizations, he says, have become even more liberal in order to protect their market share ? to secure their base ? in times of mounting competition from blogs and conservative cable upstarts. At the same time they have grown more timid for fear of offending the ‘?social consensus, however dumb or even vicious the consensus.? (He may despise the media, dear reader, but Posner doesn’t think much of you, either.) In his view, the news media are ‘?just satisfying a consumer demand no more elevated or consequential than the demand for cosmetic surgery in Brazil or bullfights in Spain.? In this, Posner the polemicist is sadly consistent with Posner the federal appeals court judge, who has been notably hostile to the idea that the First Amendment affords journalists special protections. ?

?The saddest thing is that Judge Posner’s market determinism leaves no room for the other dynamics I’ve witnessed in my 35 years in newspapers: the idealism of reporters who think they can make the world better, the intellectual satisfaction of puzzling through a complicated issue, the competitive gratification of being first to discover a buried story, the pride in striving to uphold a professional code of fair play, the quest for peer recognition and, yes, the feedback from attentive and thoughtful readers. He makes no allowance for the possibility that conscientious reporters and editors are capable of setting aside their personal beliefs or standing up to their advertisers (and the prejudices of their readers) to do work they believe in.?

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