In the last month, there have been 12 New York Times stories datelined Tehran. Most written by Beirut bureau chief Robert F. Worth and/or Iran-based reporter Nazila Fathi, two glaringly written by executive editor, Bill Keller. Keller’s byline last appeared in the Times in August ‘08 (his Iseman non-apology from February doesn’t count). Why now? when did he go to Iran anyway? Keller, who saw the Soviet Union’s collapse from the very front row, and won a Pulitzer for his coverage, is a career foreign correspondent. Maybe he got the bug again?
More or less, Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty tells me. “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. Bill had not planned to write articles but when the story got so big, he did so.” She believes he left last Monday.
Now, when Keller accepted the foreign editor gig in 1995, he did it because, as Joe Hagan wrote in New York, “what could you do after covering the fall of communism and apartheid, anyway?” Well, what do you do after being top dog at the Times? Maybe finish that forgotten book contract? Or, cover the next big story: the Middle East? Divining Keller’s future is like reading a very porous tea leaf. He told Gawker in January he wasn’t planning on retiring, so who am I to speculate? I have fill-in-the-blank business cards.
CJR calls the byline a sign of “creeping Meachamism,” which LOL. Keller’s first story (the second is co-authored) is what you’d expect from someone who’s just been beamed in - no cultivated sources, only “perspective”. His wording is skittish: Iranians are protesting for “a bit” more freedom, “a less” reviled image in the world. His conclusions, vacillating and aloof, are as soft as al dente spaghetti.
Q: Was the election a sham, or did Ahmadinejad win because of “interlocking leadership of clerics, military officers and politicians” and the poor?
Bill: idk. “One [theory] (from somebody’s brother who supposedly knew someone inside) had it that vote counters simply were ordered to doctor the numbers.” What?!? did he get this off twitter’s #iranelection feed? (Also, he really likes adverbs in his ledes, to wit: “essentially conservative” this, “voters passionately” that; “a triumph unimaginably sweet, but perilously incomplete.”) It is impossible (is it, Bill?) to know if readers were impressed or just didn’t recognize Keller’s name, but the story failed to get onto the most e-mailed list.
Reporting live from Iran is clearly the sexy new beat, but maybe the paper is better served with the executive editor in house instead of reporting from the front lines?
McNulty does not know his departure date.
This thing becomes that thing: Memo from Tehran->News Analysis->Reporter’s Notebook.