Keller Versus Posner

Readers of the New York Times’ Book Review section could hardly have been surprised yesterday to see that three prominent journalists had responded with vigor to a 4,600-word book review cum essay penned by Federal Judge Richard A. Posner in the July 31 edition of the Review — a rambling jeremiad in which Posner trashed not just “the media” as little more than a batch of unprincipled, partisan marketers, but also dismissed the vast majority of its readers and viewers as hapless dolts essentially incapable of “deliberating on public issues.”

But they had to be a little surprised to learn that one of those letter writers was the normally taciturn Bill Keller, himself the executive editor of the Times, who, with an odd mix of modesty and disingenuousness, signed off only as

Bill Keller
New York

(Online, the Times added a brief note identifying Keller as its own Big Enchilada.)

Posner’s ill-thought-out manifesto is easy pickings. Nonetheless, the manner in which Keller wipes the floor with the unfortunate jurist is impressive.

Noting that he always looks forward to the latest jottings of the prodigious Posner, Keller declares that “it was disheartening that his review of the latest crop of press-bashing books was mostly a regurgitation, as tendentious and cynical as the worst of the books he consumed.”

“First, and weirdly,” Keller writes, Posner “makes almost no distinctions within the vast category of American media. … Between the cartoonish shout shows on cable TV and the more ambitious journalism of, say, the paper you are holding in your hands. … He makes no allowance for the possibility that conscientious reporters and editors are capable of setting aside their personal beliefs or standing up to their advertisers (and the prejudices of their readers) to do work they believe in.”

He concludes: “I suppose the best refutation of the view that ‘the media’ are guided solely by narrow self-interest, however, is this: We published Posner.”

There’s a lot more, and we recommend it in its entirety.


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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.