In his farewell column yesterday, New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane declared that the paper still lacks “transparency” and “humility.” Also, apparently, online copy editing, as the first version of the column posted on the paper’s web site misspelled Lake Wobegon, badly. The Times, perhaps proving Brisbane’s point about humility, placed the farewell piece on the very last page of its Sunday Review section, at the very bottom, and with no art whatsoever. In other words: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
But, generating more of a response from insiders—including chief editor Jill Abramson—and outsiders, such as Jay Rosen, was Brisbane’s absurd charge that the paper is somehow failing readers because polls show that Republicans now give it lower credibility ratings than before. As if the increasingly fact-adverse GOPers would ever give high marks to largely reality-based media. They prefer the fantasies and truthiness of talk radio and Fox, of course.
I’ve followed Brisbane’s career for years. When I ran Editor & Publisher a few years ago, we put him on the cover when Brisbane (then at the Kansas City Star) was picked to be co-director of Knight Ridder—before that move was short-circuited when Tony Ridder sold the business to McClatchy. Before that, I knew him because he carried the name, and was descended from, the famous Hearst columnist and editor, who was a key character in my book about Upton Sinclair’s fabled race for governor of Calfornia in 1934. I think we exchanged an e-mail or two about that some time ago.
Now, I have my own bones to pick with the allegedly ultra-liberal Times, and do so, almost daily in one venue or another. But Brisbane’s parting shot about bowing to conservatives on “liberal bias” was laughable. Talk about lack of credibility. Brisbane wrote that Times editors and reporters “share a kind of political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.” He complained that Times reporters treat some issues, like gay marriage and Occupy, “more like causes than news subjects.”
Jill Abrmamson responded in a breidf interview with Politico, saying she disagreed with Brisbane’s “sweeping conclusions.” Her reply: “I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base. But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping ‘the paper straight.’ That’s essential.”