Bill Keller Says His Journalists Love Their Country Too

Time magazine's July 20 edition includes a "Ten Questions" interview with thesuddenly ubiquitous New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, and he took on hardballs from the left and right. He was willing to admit to the left that the Times was soft on Bush before the Iraq War ("we floated along with the conventional wisdom") but objected to suggestions that the Times isn't patriotic ("Journalists at the Times love their country just as much as anybody else.")

You can watcha video of the exchangehere.

The first question out of the box slammed away at media softness on Bush:

Why do you think the press gave the Bush Administration a free pass on the misleading statements it made to get us into the war in Iraq? Randal Davis, PORTLAND, ORE.

Keller: It was partly the insatiable desire for scoops people in the Administration were feeding about the potential threat in Iraq. But a lot of it was just that we floated along with the conventional wisdom, the worst enemy of journalism.


The juiciest question compared the Times revealing (and ruining) anti-terrorist programs with keeping mum to protect its own reporters. On the Time video, questioner Belinda Luscombe described it as "kinda feisty" before reading it:

The Times had no problem leaking state secrets, claiming the truth required that they be published. Yet it had no qualms lying about the kidnapping of one of its reporters to protect his safety. What is the difference? Bob Dame CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.

Keller: The fact is, we sometimes withhold information from print either because we're convinced that publishing it would put lives at risk or to protect national security. We've done that not only in the case of [kidnapped reporter] David Rohde but other kidnappings as well. We've done it in the case of state secrets. But we can't surrender to the government all the decision-making power.

Then came another question that's common the left, popular with the Arianna Huffingtons of the world, who think that certain ridiculous conservative ideas shouldn't be allowed to balance rational liberal maxims, like the dire threat of global warming:

Should journalists strive to present ideas as balanced, regardless of the actual credibility of either side? Jonathan Silver, PHILADELPHIA

Keller: I don't think fairness means that you give equal time to every point of view no matter how marginal. You weigh the sides, you do some truth-testing, you apply judgment to them. We don't treat creationism as science. Likewise in the autism-vaccine debate, our reporting shows pretty clearly which side the science is on.

The last hardball from the right was blunt:

Why is the Times so anti-American? Jim Main, ORLANDO, FLA.

Keller: Journalists at the Times love their country just as much as anybody else. We don't see it as our job to be a cheerleader for everything America does.

Keller didn't address whether it was easier to feel warmly about your country when your liberal friends are the ones running the White House and Capitol Hill.