Honestly, I didn’t think that the announcement of New York Times editor Bill Keller and the announcement of Jill Abramson as his successor was remarkable or interesting enough for a post yesterday. I checked our archives for mention of Abramson and found only one interesting artifact, which was Abramson’s defense of the Gray Lady for not reporting on green-jobs czar Van Jones’ 9/11 Trutherism when it arose in 2009. Abramson dismissed it as unimportant because Jones wasn’t — in her opinion — a “high-ranking official” in the White House. The New York Post skewered Abramson for that excuse:
Although Abramson’s excuse was not an excuse, she proceeded to offer another one: “Mr. Jones was not a high-ranking official.”
Oh. And here I was, thinking that he was “one of Mr. Obama’s top advisers,” as I was told by, well, The Times, on its Caucus blog on Sept. 5. Confusing, confusing.
Only in Timesland can you be in charge of doling out $80 billion in contracts (“A Small White House Program” — The Times’ John M. Broder, on Sept. 6) and be less important than the Naked Cowboy.
As it turns out, Abramson has apparently brought that same editorial approach to her new position even before she arrives. Jay Nordlinger caught the Times scrubbing a quote from its newly-announced newsroom chief that apparently made a little too much news:
Earlier today, I did a little post on the New York Times and religion — or rather, the New York Timesas religion. I linked to this article, from the Times, on the recent shuffle at that paper: Veteran Timeswoman Jill Abramson will be the editor in charge. She was quoted as saying, “In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion. If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”
A reader now writes me to say (in essence), “Hey, what gives? The quotation is not in the article you link to.”
And, lo, he’s right.
What got scrubbed is far less important than the fact that it did get scrubbed. The comment was, I thought yesterday, a sort of gushing overstatement meant as a humorous exaggeration to make a point. People joke about college football as being a religion (Notre Dame football actually is a religious experience, I promise!), although in Texas, it’s high-school football; it’s not an uncommon analogy. The fact that the Times scrubbed it rather than defend it as such suggests that Abramson actually believes it to be a real substitute for religion … which explains a lot about their editorial policy, actually.
Michael Medved blasts the Times today at The Daily Beast for both the original sentiment and the memory hole into which it disappeared:
Not only did she compare her new appointment to “ascending to Valhalla,” but in the original versions of a Times report by Jeremy W. Peters, she flatly declared: “In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion.” …
Even though specific references to a “substitute religion” ultimately disappeared from The Times website, much of the faith-based rhetoric remained. Whenever people use words like “mission” and “indispensability” to describe their work it indicates they view their positions as sacred vocations, not mere jobs.
So why, in that context, would Abramson and her associates feel the need to remove the explicit revelation that she grew up in a home in which The Times had replaced the Bible? One can assume that they attempted to edit those words because they provided inadvertent support to three of the most persistent criticisms of America’s Journal of Record.
Obviously, it embarrassed the NYT in some manner, and I think Medved hits the nail on the head. The religious imagery damages their claim to objectivity in the newsroom, with the editors engaged in “faith-based” reporting rather than concerned with disseminating facts. “Communities of impassioned religious believers may boast many virtues, but neutrality and detachment are not among them,” Medved observes, and that also explains a lot about reporting and editorial policy at the New York Times under Keller’s tenure.
It seems that the Paper of (Scrubbed) Record has found continuity in its editorial succession beyond its wildest dreams.