Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Objective Bill

Talk to the Newsroom:
Executive Editor Bill Keller

Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times, is answering questions in this space about the newspaper and the news. Questions will be selected from e-mails sent to asktheeditors@nytimes.com, and Mr. Keller will answer as many this week as time permits. Afterward, these discussions will continue with other Times editors.
Oh goody. I sent my question to Bill more than 24 hours ago:

Mr. Keller:

Given the growing public awareness that journalistic objectivity is primarily an (indefensible) marketing ploy, context and connectedness have become salient aspects of any media entity. Your prominent position at the New York Times and your newsworthy role (writing, editing, doing public damage control) with regard to recent stories involving big-picture elements of the Iraq debacle make your personal background a legitimate subject of inquiry and curiosity for Times readers. Yet these readers, already concerned at the compromised nature of Ms. Miller's relationship with the government, were to my knowledge never informed that your father is a former Chairman and CEO of Chevron. What can you tell us about your thinking with regard to the non-disclosure of arguably relevant background information on yourself? Such information is routinely given about other public figures. Why not let readers judge the relevance for themselves?
Apparently Bill Keller hasn't yet had time to address it. He's answered some other good questions, though. Including this in response to a question about his political sensibility:

In my current job it's important that I endeavor to keep my opinions to myself and out of the paper.

Is it conceivable that someone of this persuasion could be led to understand that it is possible for rational adults to have a different view of this? It's a little bit like someone saying (to Freud) "In my current psychoanalytic state, it's important that I endeavor to keep my dick out of my dreams."


Blogger Chuck Pinatubo said...

In my current job, it's important that I keep family ties and my personal background to myself and out of the paper. You see Mr. Matrullo, I sprang into new being, divorced from anything but the present, when I assumed my tasks at the Times. What narrative exists is in my inbox and then my outbox. I am a mere vessel for the fulfillment of producing a paper every day. I try to keep the vessel pure, that each new edition may bubble forth untainted.

4/11/2006 1:11 PM  
Anonymous The NO of ME said...

Talk to the news rheum: In my current job, it's important that I remind everybody that Amerrrrika is all about reinventing ourselves every day in every way. That guy who wrote the post you responded to? He's history. Or she - it. There is no me to respond to the no of you, the tao of Pooh, or the sound of one nonbeing clapping, with or without ice cream. Like action movies and computer games.

4/11/2006 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Tutor said...

Tom, I think alot of what we learned during the Yale years about "textuality" within an elite institution that had had historically the hegemonic stance you detect even today in the Times: "We deal in objectivity, fairness, good taste, and truth; we are above the fray. Mild, tolerant, and courteous, our position is inassailable." Dick Minim is of that opinion stil. Kerry Liberals take that stance. But history has overrun those who felt they are "above the fray." We are all in as Bakhtin said, "a play without footlights." We are all now "put in play," and must either think through and take responsibility for our stance, in these dubious historical circumstances, as moral and political actors, or retreat unsuccessfully enough into the old liberal canard of being above it all, above controversy and contumely, judges not the accused.

Is Keller naive or strategic in this stance? Blind or cannily sighted? I suspect blind.

What has yet to be articulated and advanced is the stance of those of us who are at heart classical liberals who yet recognize that we too are in play, in the Dumpster, not behind the magistrate's elevated desk where we can adjudicate error and stamp our views as truth, based on whatever leaks through to us from the administration with whom we collaborate to structure the story.

Your writing disqualifies you to work for the Times ever again, but it also points towards a higher journalism, not Times style, nor the Gonzo self-aggrandizing. self-dramatizing sort, but "situated" in a moral, literary, and political landscape, "seemingly objective facts seen from the perspective of...." where the perceiver is himself fallible, and knows it.

Your double takes, slants, and honest doubts, the double voiced writing, the obliquity, are new ways of saying the news. I hope your blog experimental writing is the harbinger of something more public. God knows this country needs the voice you are developing to carry over the singsong of the official story, objective and opinion free, from the Son of Chevron.

4/11/2006 6:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Tutor, the attitude of Keller/The Times is I fear a little less human than merely the feckless poser pretending to be above the fray. It is a fundamental position operating much the same way other "objectivities" within Capitalism operate. A nice sketch here:

"To be intelligent is to recognise - the objectivity of the economy’s workings and, therefore, your comparative impotence;...The particular world organised by capitalism is the Universal;...Withholding the human world from humanity by dressing it up as nature, as the unfolding of reason, as a process without a subject."

Just substitute, for "nature," the "news." The Times reifies "news" - the most human of gossipy social artifacts - as though it were the "unfolding of reason" - pure equations found to be valid independent of human minds - das Ding an Sich. This is the attitude of capitalists, imperialists, and anyone who wishes to anonymize themselves in order to operate with greater impunity in the service of Truth. Mr. Keller erases himself, as scruggs said, each day. He's a mere conduit, a tube, a truck, a wire, an anastomotic bridge between Capital and its motley host.

4/11/2006 10:30 PM  
Blogger Juke said...

Squid ink facilitates the getaway.

4/12/2006 2:39 PM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

One of the most interesting brief threads on / in a blog space I have ever read ... and very helpful, as the post and the comments articulate what I feel and can only mutter to myself in spurts, as I do not possess the depth of understanding or clarity of thought to do anything other than intuit, sense that this is what is going on ..

Combine this with de Zengotita's persepctives, and zombieland seems realer than ever before.

Thanks, folks ... sincerely.

Slightly OT .. must saying i am enjoying the paper-based versions daily of the Guardian whilst here in Brighton & Hove.

4/14/2006 7:42 AM  

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