Newsroom Favorite Bill Keller Named Times's Top Editor
As a columnist, Keller has not been a doctrinaire liberal, offering a mixed view of President Bush and supporting the war in Iraq as a member of what he termed "The I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club." He also criticized the administration's case for war, saying, "Even if you believe that this war is justified, the route to it has been an ugly display of American opportunism and bullying, dissembling and dissonance."
On affirmative action, Keller wrote: "I'm a trustee of a liberal arts college that tries to attract black and Latino scholars using a standard much like the one at the Michigan Law School. I also work for a newspaper that makes an effort to hire and promote talented minority journalists. The paper does this not for the sake of doing good (for that it has a charitable foundation) nor to defend a principle (for that it has an editorial page), but mainly because we can better comprehend a disparate world and explain it to a disparate audience if our reporting and editing staff does not consist entirely of Ivy League white guys."
Keller is a graduate of California's Pomona College and worked for the Dallas Times Herald, Congressional Quarterly and Portland Oregonian before joining the Times in 1984. He won his Pulitzer in 1989 for coverage of the Soviet Union.
Michael Wolff, New York magazine's media critic, described Keller's appointment as "a victory for the newsroom. If there has been a battle between Arthur and the newsroom, this very clearly means Arthur has decided to give the newsroom what it wants. This is kind of an act of contrition. You can't construe this as anything other than 'I made a mistake.' "
But Sulzberger called this view "just not true," saying he faced "a publisher's dream" last time, of two highly qualified candidates.
"Howell and Gerald did some really good things in their time. They led the newsroom to seven Pulitzer Prizes in their first year." At the same time, "there are some things that didn't go right."
Asked about Raines's acknowledgment in the PBS interview that Sulzberger had asked him to step down, the publisher said, "He and I had an amicable parting under very sad circumstances."
Much of the newsroom was seething over what one staffer called Raines's "appalling" interview, in which the former editor cast himself as a change agent doing battle with an entrenched newsroom culture and pleaded guilty only to pushing too hard for reform.
"The reaction has been one of universal horror," said one Timesman. "He seemed to be suggesting rather strongly that we were not terribly good or not well led" before he took over.
Said a staffer who had been sympathetic to Raines, "People are very upset and angry, and I don't think Howell's disastrous appearance on 'Charlie Rose' improved anything."
The announcement of Keller's appointment came as the Times grappled with another major embarrassment. The paper ran a 2,100-word correction of an article last week about the music industry by reporter Lynette Holloway.
In a profile of TVT Records founder Steven Gottlieb, yesterday's corrective article said, the Times "reported incorrectly" that Gottlieb had defaulted on a $23.5 million loan and had lost control of his company to Prudential Securities.
In fact, said yesterday's piece, Gottlieb "was never personally responsible for the defaulted loan and remains in full control of his company." And, it said, the story did not contain a "fair reading" of past legal cases and "referred inaccurately to his relationship with several prominent performing artists."
Sources at the paper said possible disciplinary action is being reviewed, especially in light of the fact that Holloway, who declined to comment, has covered the music industry for a little more than a year. "We're evaluating the editing process to determine if there were flaws," spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said.
Keller said the Times will repair its reputation "by coming clean when you screw something up, as we did today."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company