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No Longer Fit to Print: Jill Abramson's Religious Worship of the NY Times

Upon the New York Times' announcement that Managing Editor Jill Abramson would succeed Bill Keller as executive editor in September, Abramson spoke to Times media reporter Jeremy Peters and compared the paper to holy writ:

Ms. Abramson said that as a born-and-raised New Yorker, she considered being named editor of The Times to be like "ascending to Valhalla."

"In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion," she said. "If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth."

The quote raised eyebrows among Times' critics, already suspicious of the paper's liberal, secular stands.

But at some point on Thursday those last two sentences were excised from the online edition and did not appear in Friday's front-page story. Only the cloudier reference to "ascending to Valhalla" remained, in this paragraph:

Ms. Abramson, 57, said being named executive editor was "the honor of my life" and like "ascending to Valhalla" for someone who read The Times as a young girl growing up in New York. "We are held together by our passion for our work, our friendship and our deep belief in the mission and indispensability of The Times," she said. "I look forward to working with all of you to seize our future. In this thrilling and challenging transition, we will cross to safety together."

James Taranto at Opinion Journal, under the headline "All the News That's Fit to Scrub," focused on the revision.

This quote is a bit weird too, but it's a lot less embarrassing-and, more pertinently, less newsworthy-than the one that was scrubbed. It's obvious that an editorial decision was made to "rectify" a quote that made the Times look foolish.

Religious conservative Michael Medved at The Daily Beast has a related explanation:

When a journalist makes a concerted attempt to edit provocative comments out of the public record, it's usually an indication that the remarks in question count as uncomfortably revealing....The notion of a new boss lady treating the liberal pieties of the press as the equivalent of holy writ threatened to provoke needless new controversy.

....

There's nothing surprising in the appointment of a New York Times executive editor with little connection to organized faith, but with the newspaper receiving pointed criticism in recent years for its tone-deaf reporting on religious issues, the notion of a new boss lady treating the liberal pieties of the press as the equivalent of holy writ threatened to provoke needless new controversy.

- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.