Why wouldn’t the New York Times promote its own reporting?

Because editor Bill Keller would rather bury his paper’s own accomplishments than admit that Julian Assange and his organization conduct proper journalism, that’s why. ForbesAndy Greenberg blogged today about the curious absence of Wikileaks reporting in yesterday’s Pulitzer Prize ceremonies:

It’s not every year that classified histories of two wars and massive troves of diplomatic secrets appear in America’s newspapers. So it may have surprised some to read through the list of Pulitzer prizes Monday and see no mention–among the winners or even the finalists–of WikiLeaks’ revelations.

But WikiLeaks wasn’t dissed by the Pulitzer judges. In fact, the New York Times, which dominated WikiLeaks coverage in the U.S., never submitted its reporting on WikiLeaks for the prize…

It’s not clear just why the Times decided not to seek a Pulitzer for its groundbreaking WikiLeaks coverage. When I asked executive editor Bill Keller about the decision by email, he responded that “We don’t generally talk about what we enter or don’t enter, or why.”

It could be argued that the Times wanted to focus on source material that it more actively obtained and that wasn’t shared with any other publications. But neither of those factors stopped the newspaper from submitting its historic reporting on 1971’s Pentagon Papers and winning a Pulitzer for that coverage in 1972: There, too, the material came from a single, willing source–Daniel Ellsberg–and was shared with many other media outlets.

Not to beat a dead horse, but Keller truly symbolizes all that is wrong with the so-called “mainstream media.” Not only has he consistently taken cheap potshots at Assange, who provided his paper with a historic trove of secret documents, but he has become increasingly vocal in his criticisms of other new-media types as well.

In short, Keller sees the writing on the (pay)wall — and it’s some guy working out of his basement for free that’s doing that writing, not Keller’s crack team of media elites. The New York Times has become the place one goes for news and nothing more, if even that. Friedman, Brooks, Krugman, et al are starting to look like one massive puddle of ideological rigidity, incoherence, or both. Meanwhile, for analysis that goes beyond the most shallow surface of contemporary issues, people are going elsewhere: to The Dish, or Salon, or Slate, or any one of a number of insightful blogs and columns written by people working from much humbler offices (or Starbucks branches) than those vaunted NYT columnists would ever deign to frequent.

Keller’s decision, then, not to exert much effort in emphasizing what was certainly one of his paper’s most significant stories (if not the most significant story) of the year reeks of nothing but old-media paranoia. In this, at least, he is justified, as the prominence of Wikileaks has put Keller in a tight spot: he can either downplay (as he has) his own publication’s well-known reporting of the Wikileaks cables in order to marginalize Assange, or he can promote the reporting and simultaneously implicitly endorse the Wikileaks founder as a fellow journalist. I can’t say I feel particularly sympathetic to his plight.

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About Jay Pinho

Jay is a recent graduate of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) in New York. Previously he studied international security at L'Institut d'Études Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris. He currently writes about politics, foreign affairs, and journalism and continues to make painstakingly slow progress in amateur photography.

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