a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Roving Times editors observed

Posted by Thomas Nephew on March 3rd, 2005

I happened to read Nicholas Lemann’s 80th anniversary New Yorker article Fear and Favor last night. Lemann served up a nice bit of reporting right away — but treated it as background, not the lede:

Just before last fall’s Presidential election, Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, and Philip Taubman, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, went on the road to inspect the candidates’ campaigns. In Florida, on October 22nd, they arranged to have drinks with Karl Rove, the White House’s chief political strategist, and Dan Bartlett, its head of communications. It was supposed to be a friendly get-together, and that’s how it went for the first few minutes, until Keller asked Rove what he thought of the Times’ coverage. (emphasis added)

Does this strike anyone else as a little odd? Why should Keller care what Rove thinks of the Times’ coverage at all? Remember, this is October 22nd, less than two weeks before the election, and the executive editor of one of the most important newspapers in the land is asking the most important advisor of a contestant in that election for … what? A pat on the back? A head’s up that all isn’t well? Lemann let Keller off the hook — even if Rove didn’t:

It’s the sort of question that editors often ask important people, in the same spirit that a politician asks, “How’m I doing?,” usually hoping for an answer somewhere in the lower-middle range of politeness and candor. But Rove, Keller told me not long ago, “pounded on us for two cocktails’ worth of conversation.”

Sounds rough! Rove said the Times was ignoring Bush accomplishments and Kerry flaws, and was looking too hard (or unfairly) at the Bush record, and was thereby “arming” the Kerry campaign. Keller, perhaps softened up by those cocktails, absorbed what he was told, Lemann writes:

“Your initial reaction, especially in someone as ferocious as Rove, is to drop into a defensive crouch,” he said. “But I try not to do that. I listened, with a fair measure of skepticism, because a lot of it is calculated. But there was some genuineness to it. He went through a long litany of complaints. I do think he was channelling a feeling about the New York Times that’s out there in the land, that we should be concerned about, or at least aware of. (emphasis added)

Good Lord. Usually, putting pressure on the press at least means you have to at least go to the trouble of finding them. Here, the executive editor of a major paper basically went to great lengths to seek out his own mau-mauing, and then report via a third party that it was working. “Thank you, sir! May I please have another!”

One reason I mention this goes back to an earlier post, wondering if Rove pressured the Times to drop the “bulge” story (about Bush allegedly wearing some kind of device during the debates) with an October 27 phone call. Daniel Okrent’s disbelief notwithstanding, Lemann’s piece suggests that Keller would have been pretty receptive to such a phone call.

Or, of course, that such a phone call was no longer necessary.

One Response to “Roving Times editors observed”

  1. » Blog Archive » Rove quashed Bulgegate? Says:

    […] responds, citing the accuracy of his sources in the past. UPDATE, 3/3: A New Yorker article describes (in passing) a Keller-Rove contact five days before the phone call is said to have […]

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