Keller in Tehran: Admirable? Useful? “Creeping Meachamism?”

The New York Times’s executive editor, Bill Keller, is filing A-1 election-related reports from Tehran, a co-bylined “news analysis” today and an impressionistic “Memo from Tehran” yesterday.

We were torn, during our news meeting this morning, over What To Make of This. One co-worker dubbed this a sign of “Creeping Meachamism” at the Times, a reference to the John Meacham-centric-ness of the new Meacham-helmed Newsweek. In other words, (why) is Keller bigfooting a Times foreign correspondent with actual in-country experience? “Parachuted in,” as Gawker’s John Cook has it, calling Keller’s reporting “useless” (a tad harsh, in my opinion, although it’s fair to wonder how much readers actually benefit from Keller’s impressions on A-1 in addition to/instead of those of a reporter with experience and contacts in Iran). Is it a send-in-the-star publicity play?

Then again, we’re byline-watchers. How many people who read the Times’s coverage (those non-Romo-reading folks) notice Keller’s byline (and then know that he isn’t, say, the Times’s Christiane Amanpour)? So, maybe Keller-in-Tehran is less a statement to those of us stateside and more of a statement to the powers-that-be in Iran, not known for their press hospitality (We mean business in our election coverage; We’ve sent Bill Keller)? Maybe, as Gawker’s Cook suggests, executive editing has left Keller restless, eager to return to his reporting-from-afar days?

Others in our meeting found it “kind of cool” —“admirable,” even —that Keller is there and noted that his “Memo” yesterday was both appropriately labeled as distinct from “regular reporters’ reporting” and, in parts, “beautifully written.” Though, did you catch this Simone-from-Ferris-Bueller-esque attribution Keller attached to “one version” of how the election was manipulated?

One version (from somebody’s brother who supposedly knew someone inside) had it that vote counters simply were ordered to doctor the numbers.

(And, Ferris is sick. My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night.)

I have a message into the Times to get The Official Reason for Keller’s Presence In Tehran and will update if I hear back.

I’m also going to take a look at non-Bill-Keller-bylined Iran coverage.

UPDATE: From the Times’s Diane McNulty, Executive Director of Community Affairs and Media Relations, via email:

I don’t have [Keller’s] precise arrival and departure times; I believe he arrived in Iran last Monday and I don’t know his precise departure date. He went because he had long wanted to visit Iran and the occasion of the election seemed like a great time to do so, accompanying our reporter, Robert Worth. Columnist Roger Cohen separately got a visa because he was interested in writing columns about the election. Bill had not planned to write articles but when the story got so big, he did so.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.