No Bias at the Times, Says Editor Richard Berke

Richard Berke, assistant managing editor for news at the Times, is answering questions from readers online, including one on the Times' liberal bias:

"Articles in the NYT always seem to be overwhelmingly hostile to President Bush and Republicans, while almost fawning toward Democrats like Eliot Spitzer. This is not new, with the liberal agenda going back decades, but it does seem to have gotten a lot worse over the past few years. This news bias obviously affects your reputation for integrity; the NYT is now a punch line for jokes about the left-wing news media.

"Why can't the NYT at least try to present a 'down the middle' approach to news coverage? I would guess you'd sell more papers and become more of a legitimate news source." - Bill Nojay, Rochester, N.Y.

The relevant part of Berke's reply:

"I simply don't accept the notion that there's any partisan agenda in the way we cover the news. Our reporters and editors are painstaking in trying to be fair. Many of us learned long ago that you can't be in the newspaper business and also make everyone happy. Sure, we're criticized for being tough on the Republicans. But some Democrats attack us for being too easy on Republicans. The White House thinking we're hostile? What else is new?

"We're a punch line for Republicans? Well we're also a punch line for Democrats. The press is inevitably in an adversarial relationship with any president, no matter the party. Our job is to be a watchdog, not to engage in public relations. I remember being humiliated by a smiling President Bill Clinton in front of 2,000 people in a ballroom in Washington when he expressed mock outrage that I had uncovered the scandal of all scandals: that his vice president, Al Gore, had designs on the oval office. That's what happens when you cover a president for The New York Times, Republican or Democrat.

"I bet you don't believe me, but it's the truth: Reporters are driven by digging out the news, not by pressing partisan opinions."

If the only anger that Clinton expressed to Berke was "mock outrage," thenBerke's example of Democrat hostility doesn't really make the case he thinks it makes.