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Times Editor, Short Version: Yes, We Have a Liberal Bias

Craig Whitney tackles the issue of liberally biased reporters in less than concise fashion: "All this is to say that many people in modern American journalism - not all, but many - share a general view of the world, engendered by the kind of education they got and by the kind of complex urban settings where most of them live, that can strike some people who don't share that outlook as having blind spots (mostly in the right eye)."

Craig Whitney, the assistant managing editor overseeing journalistic standards at the paper (don't laugh) is answering questions from readers this week at nytimes.com.


When a Kansas City, Mo., correspondentpointed out that the Times "seems to report with a slant that is left of center," Whitney replied by first muddying the issue of just what a liberal is in an almost unreadable passage, beforesidling up to the question of the liberalism of most journalists.


"Is The New York Times a liberal newspaper? Of course it is." So wrote Daniel Okrent, our first public editor, five years ago. OK, now this is Whitney speaking: "liberal" means "left of center" only in the United States. In Britain, where I worked at the end of the 1980s, it means a political party that is to the left of the Conservatives but to the right of Labor. In continental Europe, it means any "free-market capitalist" kind of political or economic thought. Here, conservatives would have "liberals" professing anti-American, collectivist, Marxist plots to do away with the Second Amendment, the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, and so on.


Well, in the 1960s I went to a "liberal arts" college, as many hundreds of thousands of Americans do today. "Liberal" once just meant open-minded, considerate, open to the idea that other people might be right; even, sometimes, conservatives who forget that what the Founding Fathers founded was a liberal democracy. I consider myself a conservative in many ways and a liberal in many others. I have lived for many years in a large urban conglomeration, New York City, which is one of the most diverse and stimulating places in the whole world.


After much hemming and hawing, Whitney eventually, in a very roundabout way, admitted that Times reporters have to guard against a liberal slant in their stories.


All this is to say that many people in modern American journalism - not all, but many - share a general view of the world, engendered by the kind of education they got and by the kind of complex urban settings where most of them live, that can strike some people who don't share that outlook as having blind spots (mostly in the right eye). As professional journalists, we need to be aware of it and to allow in what we write and publish for the legitimacy of other ways of thinking about things. We strive, at The Times, to do that, but when we fail it's easy for critics to stick the false "left-wing" label on us.


In other words, yes we have a liberal bias.


Interestingly, Whitney thenreferenced a passage he disapproved of.


I bristled myself recently at a passage, meant to be humorous, in an article that had nothing to do with politics or harsh interrogations of terrorist suspects during the Bush administration, that included the phrase "the machinations of Dick Cheney." It was out of place and uncalled for there....But if we live up to our vows of political celibacy in the news columns, you shouldn't be able to say a news article in The Times has a liberal bent - or a conservative one.


Whitney didn't name the story, but he appears to be referencing a front-page Real Estate section story from April 19, 2009 by Teri Karush Rogers, a free-lance reporter for the Times.