Bill Keller, History Slut (Or, Bigfoot Strikes Again)

The Shadow EditorsesTom Scocca: Keller of ‘NYT’ in Iran: ‘The Iranians Watch Us Closely’
Choire Sicha: Mr. Executive Editor of the Times is driving me a little crazy. His Reporter’s Notebook?
Tom Scocca: Oh? Oh. “A newcomer to town.”
Tom Scocca: Oh, he did not do a “Welcome to…” transition.
Choire Sicha: He’s like 20 seconds away from a “Reader, I x’d Him.”
Tom Scocca: Why only halfway? Why not “Webster’s defines ‘theocracy’ as….”
Tom Scocca: The Iranians are crazy drivers!
Tom Scocca: Does he go to a bustling bazaar full of live chickens and trinkets of dubious provenance?
Tom Scocca: Does a kohl-eyed woman lift a curtain by a balcony and briefly, tantalizingly meet his gaze?
Tom Scocca: I also like his whole thing about how he just happened to be in the neighborhood to see how his reporters were doing.
Tom Scocca: Him and David Remnick at the New Yorker: “In Communist Russia, editor writes YOU.”
Tom Scocca: Bill Keller in E&P, from Romenesko:

“Do people in the media crit game really think editors are supposed to be desk jockeys who never go get a sense of the story? (When I was a correspondent I had visits from Max Frankel and Joe Lelyveld, among others, and welcomed them as a chance to share my enthusiasm for the beats I covered.) Or is the idea that when a big, exhausting news breaks visiting editors should hole up in the hotel and let the reporters do all the work? Weird.”

Tom Scocca: Um, there’s a difference between dropping in on the bureau and commandeering the Page One news analysis hole.
Choire Sicha: Also? Isn’t he actually holed up in a hotel? Didn’t he write a whole thing about that?
Tom Scocca: The one about how Google didn’t work?
Tom Scocca: “I think they welcomed having an extra pair of hands. Among other things, it meant that while Nazila and Bobby (and Roger) followed the main event in Tehran, I could go check out conditions somewhere else (Isfahan), which other news organizations lacked the resources to do.”
Tom Scocca: I mean, look, more reporting is a good thing.
Choire Sicha: Yes, I want more reporting!
Tom Scocca: But if we can acknowledge up front that there are many problematic elements of cultural politics and professional envy in the use of the term “danger slut,” he’s still a danger slut, or something related, but with cap-H History in place of danger.
Choire Sicha: Lots of reporters are built that way, though.
Tom Scocca: And perhaps one of them would have been eager to go to Isfahan.
Choire Sicha: I think that if I were the executive editor, I would send myself out on a story like this once a year. I also think I would do a bad rusty job of it however.
Tom Scocca: And who would edit you?
Choire Sicha: No one! WHO WOULD DARE. Nah. Some total bitch who works for me would do it.
Tom Scocca: That is the other problem when these warhorse reporter-editors, Keller and Remnick, hear the rumble of History’s cannon in the distance and feel their blood quickening with the memory of what it was like to Be There as the Soviet Union fell. Who’s going to say, actually, let’s get the News Analysis piece written by one of the guys who was working the capital?
Tom Scocca: “Isfahan is nice color, Bill, but it doesn’t feel right out in front like that.”
Tom Scocca: “Actually, David, I’m not sure we need another big piece on Obama and race, reported off Inauguration Day-it might feel a little stale and redundant, at this point.”
Choire Sicha: I’m not sure Bill Keller brought that much (anything? Did he ever file?) home from Des Moines, back in 2007, either, that the folks who were out there weren’t getting.
Tom Scocca: I’m sure they have people they think they trust to make editorial judgment calls about their reportorial work. I bet Kim Jong-Il asks people for feedback on his screenwriting, too.
Choire Sicha: Well they are very good reporters!
Tom Scocca: They have proud records of accomplishment. And Mao was a good poet, when he was young.
Choire Sicha: I have never read the early works of Mao.
Tom Scocca:

Alone I stand in the autumn cold
On the tip of Orange Island,
The Hsiang flowing northward;
I see a thousand hills crimsoned through
By their serried woods deep-dyed,
And a hundred barges vying
Over crystal blue waters.
Eagles cleave the air,
Fish glide in the limpid deep;
Under freezing skies a million creatures contend in freedom.
Brooding over this immensity,
I ask, on this boundless land
Who rules over man’s destiny?

Choire Sicha: Oh! That is pretty damn good.

Tom Scocca: But then he wrote stuff like this:

On this tiny globe
A few flies dash themselves against the wall,
Humming without cease,
Sometimes shrilling,
Sometimes moaning.
Ants on the locust tree assume a great-nation swagger
And mayflies lightly plot to topple the giant tree.
The west wind scatters leaves over Changan,
And the arrows are flying, twanging.
So many deeds cry out to be done,
And always urgently;
The world rolls on,
Time presses.
Ten thousand years are too long,
Seize the day, seize the hour!
The Four Seas are rising, clouds and waters raging,
The Five Continents are rocking, wind and thunder roaring.
Our force is irresistible,
Away with all pests!

Choire Sicha: Eep. Well, you know, sometimes our ideas change as we age.
Tom Scocca: Yes. And sometimes the quality of feedback we get changes.
Choire Sicha: Although I don’t know if regimes of terror are quite the right analogy!
Choire Sicha: Although I have heard not dissimilar terms from inside both headquarters!
BIGFOOTIN'Tom Scocca: Nevertheless, it’s not possible for people to treat the top boss as a normal reporter. So the reason that Bill Keller may be feeling “bizarre vibes” is that this littlefoot/bigfoot dance makes people feel weird.
Tom Scocca: “I’m just a regular reporter! Who assigned myself to the story!”
Choire Sicha: Sure! Never not awkward!
Tom Scocca: And I am personally quite strongly against making writing and editing into mutually exclusive career tracks.
Choire Sicha: That’s because you’re an opportunist. Oh no wait: because you’re poor.
Tom Scocca: Yes. It’s because it’s never clear to me which one of those two things, if either, I’m more able to make a living at.
Choire Sicha: Also editors I think forget something about how to write. They have work lives where they say things like “Well that won’t play in Nassau county!” Their job is to make reporting, in a way, less specific. Which is the opposite of the writer’s job.
Tom Scocca: Maybe Keller should have sent A.G. Sulzberger to cover Iran.

Previously: Matt Taibbi Has A Bad Pottymouth