Palin Derangement Syndrome strikes again. The victim this time is dangerously contagious.
In a bombshell announcement, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller publicly confessed his sickness. OK, he didn't put it exactly that way, but you don't have to be a doctor to recognize the symptoms. Here's how he started a column in The Times magazine:
"If the 2012 election were held in the newsrooms of America and pitted Sarah Palin against Barack Obama, I doubt Palin would get 10 percent of the vote. However tempting the newsworthy havoc of a Palin presidency, I'm pretty sure most journalists would recoil in horror from the idea."
It's a paragraph worth parsing. First comes the backhanded admission that the "newsrooms of America" are overwhelmingly liberal. The 90 percent Obama vote Keller cites is consistent with surveys showing the vast majority of journalists tilt left, a fact that explains the warped coverage of government, culture, business and even sports in most major news organizations.
His second sentence condescendingly reveals Keller's agreement with the journalistic "horror" of the "havoc of a Palin presidency."
That's a huge mistake. As the supposed objective editor of the Times' news pages, he is giving license to his staff to go after Palin and, by inference, go easy on Obama. His not-so-subtle marching order is certain to find favor with ambitious reporters and editors hoping to please the boss.
Yes, yes, everybody knows the Times is hopelessly biased. Besides, Keller has resigned, to be replaced by deputy Jill Abramson in September, so he is a short-timer.
True, but Keller's piece on Palin, disguised as a thumb-sucker about her relationship with the media, is important for two reasons. It is a violation of the public image of fairness expected of Times editors, and explains the nasty treatment Palin got during his tenure. He sent reporters to Alaska to dig for dirt on the birth of her last baby in 2008 and recently invited readers to play journalist with her e-mails during her time as governor.
Having grown up at The Times under the great Abe Rosenthal, I find it appalling that Keller has so little regard for the standards that were the true mark of professionalism.
Taking over eight years ago after the tumultuous tenure of Howell Raines, Keller is a reluctant leader. He was effectively voted into the job by the staff, and exercised a light touch.
With reporters and other editors free to default to their own beliefs instead of the facts, the opinions in the news stories often made the editorial and op-ed pages redundant. No wonder the Times is often called the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party.
But the Keller Times didn't just promote liberalism. It became overtly partisan and routinely attacked conservatives and Republicans in its national news coverage, often stretching to score a point for its team. Thus, a television critic could describe a gigolo in a pornographic show as having "bleached blond hair and a Boehner-orange tan."
Other smears were on the front page, such as the innuendo-laden attack on John McCain's relationship with a lobbyist during the 2008 campaign. That article connects with a straight partisan line to the recent hit piece on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and now Keller's piece on Palin.
On the other side, the fawning coverage of Obama is cringe-inducing, given his record and the nation's problems. An article this week on gay marriage, under a dulcet headline about Obama's "evolving" stance, soft-pedaled his contradictory statements over the years and the fact that he sought advice from gay Congressman Barney Frank about maximizing the political benefit of switching positions.
It was probably inevitable that the paper would lose readers during the recession and the technological revolution. But that doesn't fully explain why The Times also lost its place in the American pantheon. I believe it lost its place because it first lost its way. That was Bill Keller's choice.