I wouldn’t agree, because, in part, I don’t think assigning blame is what our job is. But if what he’s saying is that the two parties here played different roles, and that one party played a larger role in actually getting us to the last three days, in which there was a question about whether the debt ceiling would actually be raised, I think that’s true, and both parties would agree with that as well. Republicans would happily agree that they were the ones who were opposed to what has been the standard operating procedure on this question, which is simply raising the debt ceiling. They’re the ones who said we’re going treat this situation differently and we may not raise the debt ceiling, even though it’s always been what happened in the past.
And it is the press’s job to report that, and not to say on every single question there’s 50% of responsibility with this party and 50% of responsibility with that party. Readers can decide whether in fact it is a good thing to not go about business as usual. I don’t think it’s our job to do what Ryan said, but I also think that phrasing every outcome in Washington as either giving equal credit to both parties or equal responsibility to both parties is not particularly good journalism either.
So when you said it’s not our job to do what Ryan said, you’re referring in particular to the word “blame”?
Yes, the word “blame.”
To again quote your farewell column, you were very careful in saying that we know something about our problems, but not about the best way to solve them. At the same time, you’ve had a platform to outline solutions for some time, and I think your perspective would generally be described as center-left, at least as it maps onto the current political debate in the U.S. Do you worry that might cause problems—either for the reporters who you’re now editing, who might have an incentive to orient stories so that they’re in keeping with perspectives that you’ve outlined? Or for politicians who might now have, even more than they already do, ideas about the editorial line that the Times D.C. staff will be pushing?
I’m not that worried about these kinds of issues. I think what we need to do is do good journalism, and be willing to ask questions of both sides, and be willing to pursue counterintuitive ideas and to go where facts and events leads us. Look, Bill Keller was also a columnist—and was in fact an op-ed columnist, which I was not—before becoming executive editor. And I am sure that the numerous Democratic politicians whose professional life has been made miserable by The New York Times over the course of Bill Keller’s tenure would not tell you that we have been too soft on that side of the aisle.
Any other thoughts about the general struggles of the press to cover ideologically polarized policy disputes?
This is not quite that, but it is related to the general state of the press. Look, I acknowledge that there are challenges for the press right now, and particularly for newspapers, and really particularly for local papers, many of which are really struggling from a business perspective.
But I sometimes think the worries become exaggerated. There are a lot of really positive things about the media right now, and particularly about The New York Times. More people read our journalism than ever before, and it’s not even close. We tell stories in a richer variety of ways than ever before, whether that is online interactive graphics or slideshows or audio or types of writing that we didn’t have before—certain kinds of columns, people on Twitter, you name it. We are able to tell stories in a wider variety of ways than we used to, and as a result I think we are better at telling stories than we used to be.