For those who already know the Times has a liberal bias, the Halloween night Times Talk at the New York Historical Society on Manhattan's Upper West Side didn't provide too many scares.
"Writing About Politics in an Age of Contention" featured Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins, Managing Editor Jill Abramson, and Assistant Managing Editor Richard Berke, along with non-Times people Al Hunt, formerly the executive editor for the Wall Street Journal, and Dick Polman, reporter-blogger for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The usual liberal conventional wisdom prevailed, with little disagreement about anything (everyone seemed convinced Democrats would win the House, but warned that Democrats had been sure of victory before).
Talk turned to the Internet and the "nastiness" of current politics. Richard Berke blamed bloggers for making reporters' jobs harder - the following is a paraphrase, as Times Watch's shorthand isn't that great.
Joking, or maybe half-joking, the affable Berke said, "There are some good blogs, like Dick's [fellow panelist Dick Polman]. The bad blogs are the ones that take on the New York Times." He continued, roughly: "Some of the blogs take a toll on our reporters. One question on our minds is, 'What are the blogs going to say?'...Reporters have to be careful not to pulltheir punches...There are people dedicated to analyzing and picking apart whatever we say and do, not always in a bad way, but sometimes it's just mean-spirited...The bloggers are after us...we try not to be affected, but foremost in our mind, we know that everything we write will be picked apart...you have to ignore those people that go after you...I'm afraid that blogging...creates problems for people to do their job."
At least the Times is aware of the criticism of blogs like TimesWatch, even though the paper apparently shrugs it off as a bothersome annoyance.
Berke also said that Times reporters "are not out there to push an agenda," and that on issues like global warming, which the Times and most of the media think are settled, "maybe sometimes we're too evenhanded."
Former Wall Street Journal executive editorand longtime MRC quote machine Al Hunt called the RNC ad mocking Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee "sickening" and said to the approving audience, "We know what that's all about," implying racism. Hunt also called for the public financing of federal elections.
Besides the liberal unanimity of the panel, what struck me was the condescending and sometimes paranoid liberalism of the audience questioners. Of the seven or eight audience members who addressed the panel, none said anything that could be remotely construed as Republican or even moderate. Instead, the panelists got foreboding questionings of whether Bush believed in democracy and whether Red State folk areas ignorant as they arebecause they don't read the New York Times. Such rants were mostly humored and deflected by the panelists. It's no wonder liberal journalists can plausibly think of themselves as moderates - compared to their fellow Manhattan residents, they might be.