Bleeding Times

I know that this item has already been bouncing around the blogosphere, but somehow I feel that I should be the one to take note here of New York Times public editor Arthur S. Brisbane's final column, with the following rather bald judgment on Timesgeist:When Brisbane took up his invitation to be public editor two years ago, he declared in advance that, unlike many Times critics, he did not imaginesome Wizard of Oz dictating a standard Times party line throughout the paper's "vast and complex" output."I still believe that," he writes now, "but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds -- a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within."When The Times covers a national presidential campaign," he continues, "I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper's many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism -- for lack of a better word -- thatthis worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times."As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects."That's a pretty strong judgment, and because the Times, in my opinion and experience, is an irreplaceable national resource I would like to think that its editors and publisher would be worried by it.When I started at the paper in 1988 it was in the midst of a very conscious and sometimes painful effort to diversify its newsroom personnel with reporters and editors from racial and ethnic minorities. It was consciously and increasingly moving women, who had always been there, into decision making positions -- and not just the few stars. The paper was immeasurablybetter for this.How could the paper similarly break the stifling hold of that "political and cultural progressivism"? How could it go about enriching itselfideologically and culturally (and culturally, I think, is the stickler) without just recreating Beltway-stylestandoff or new versions of the culture wars? I hope the new public editor, Margaret Sullivan, gives this some thoughtful attention.

Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal and religion writer for the New York Times, is a University Professor Emeritus at Fordham University and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.

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