New York Times Editor Fondly Recalls Covering USSR's 'Federalist Papers' Moments

In an interview with his alma mater, Pomona College, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller most fondly remembered his Times career in the 1980s: "Probably, my favorite assignment was covering the final years of the Soviet Union, and the satisfaction was cumulative. The individual stories—examples of a society coming to terms with its history, flickers of freedom and dissent, signs of the emptiness and corruption of the old regime—added up to a sense that a society widely regarded as unreformable was on the verge of climactic change." But at the time, we weren't so impressed with his grip on whether "freedom" was the right definition for Gorbachev's Soviet Union:

"Watching the Supreme Soviet invent itself is a little like speed-reading the Federalist Papers."
-- Moscow reporter Bill Keller in The New York Times Magazine, August 27, 1989.

But then, Keller was quite smitten with Gorbachev, like many liberal journalists, as he declared again in 1996:

"It mystifies Westerners that Mikhail Gorbachev is loathed and ridiculed in his own country. This is the man who pulled the world several steps back from the nuclear brink and lifted a crushing fear from his countrymen, who ended bloody foreign adventures, liberated Eastern Europe and won for the Soviet Union at least provisional membership in the club of civilized nations. By the standards of the West (and by comparison with the incumbent, Boris Yeltsin), Mr. Gorbachev is a man of impeccable character."
-- New York Times foreign editor Bill Keller reviewing Gorbachev’s memoirs, October 20, 1996.

Keller also suggested a left-wing worldview even in his musical tastes: "So, a meaningful life is about paying attention. That, plus true love and a bit of poetry. And when Yeats and Larkin don’t do it, you can crank up Steve Earle or Guy Clark." Brent Bozell noted that Steve Earle put out a song in 2002 called "John Walker's Blues," which sympathetically imagined the life of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh. Earle portrayed Lindh thinking he would rise to Heaven "just like Jesus." His verses pulsed with Taliban empathy: "We came to fight the jihad and our hearts were pure and strong/And when death filled the air, we all offered up prayers and prepared for our martyrdom."

Let's hope Keller doesn't "crank" that terrorist anthem.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis