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Bill Keller Resigns as NYT Editor, Reporter Hails His 'Great Journalistic Distinction' Really?

In a surprise announcement, Bill Keller is resigning as New York Times executive editor as of September 6. He will be replaced by Jill Abramson, the paper's managing editor, Jeremy Peters reported on nytimes.com Thursday morning.

Keller will still write for the paper: "As for Mr. Keller's plans, he said he was still working out the details of a column he will write for the paper's new Sunday opinion section, which will be introduced later this month."

Abramson will be the first woman to run the Times newsroom in the paper's 160-year history. For Abramson, the Times is 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."


Peters claimed Keller "ran the newsroom during eight years of great journalistic distinction but also declining revenue and cutbacks throughout the industry."

Really? That period (Keller took over from Howell Raines, of Jayson Blair infamy) has contained some obvious journalistic lowlights, like the paper's exposing and wrecking of two successful anti-terrorist programs, one of wiretapping terrorist suspects in the United States, in December 2005, the other of monitoring suspicious international banking transactions in June 2006, which even the paper's public editor eventually admitted was wrong.

Keller pompously defended his paper on the latter while throwing red meat to his paper's liberal readership: "...it's an election year, beating up on The New York Times is red meat for the conservative base....This is the most secretive White House we've had since the Nixon White House."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Times ran an unsubstantiated front-page hit piece on Republican candidate Sen. John McCain inferring he had an affair, a story so fact-free even fellow liberal media members criticized it. Vicki Iseman, the woman named by the Times, sued the paper, which ran a "Note to Readers" clarifying "The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain."

A now-notorious 5,000-word lead story in August 2006 took the side of local prosecutor Michael Nifong, who attempted to railroad three Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of raping a stripper Crystal Mangum. The players were officially declared innocent in April 2007, and Nifong went to jail.

More recently, there was the paper's disreputable tarring of Sarah Palin, anti-illegal-immigration activists, and conservatism in general as bearing blame for Jared Loughner's shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson.

Times Watch has also compiled a few of Keller's personally less-than-stellar moments since he replaced Howell Raines as editor in June 2003:

In November 2007, Keller unleashed his liberalism on a friendly London audience, going to town on a Bush administration that "has subsidized propaganda at home and abroad...discouraged dissent," attacking "hate-mongering radio broadcasts," and declaring even after the troop surge that "We have a war going very badly in Iraq."

More recently, Keller defend his paper spilling on the front page U.S. diplomatic secrets via the leftist-anarchists at WikiLeaks.

Keller has taken constant snipes at his journalist competitors at Fox News:

  • "I think if you're a regular viewer of Fox News, you're among the most cynical people on planet Earth. I cannot think of a more cynical slogan than 'Fair and Balanced'." - From a speech on March 3, 2011.

 

  • "Lunch at the Four Seasons is always a high point. Today it's my weekly tete-a-tete with Bill O'Reilly. He's really not the Neanderthal blowhard he plays on TV. He's totally in on the joke." - From a January 30, 2009 "Q&A" session on nytimes.com.

 

  • "Fox is an interesting question. There is a kind of unspoken non-aggression pact among media that they don't beat up on each other. Fox tends to be the exception in our business. You know, [L.A. Times executive editor] John Carroll...gave a speech in the spring, and most of which was devoted to Fox News. And in there he argued that what they do isn't really journalism, it's pseudo-journalism, and he defined a number of characteristics that meet his standard of what is journalism, including making a real effort to correct your mistakes when you are confronted with them. And he said that Fox doesn't meet that test. I have to say that, as somebody who watches Fox from time to time, I agree with him." - Appearance on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, September 1, 2004.


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