Fascinating! Freedom of speech, anybody? Specially in the heartland of Liberal thought?
January 17, 2008
An open letter to readers of The New York Times
I understand that your newspaper of choice has asked William Kristol, the conservative commentator, to provide an opinion column for the paper.
Since I am the op-ed editor of what you Americans call The Times of London, I have followed the controversy that the appointment has caused with great interest.
And with my mouth wide open.
Apparently many of you are outraged to hear of this new columnist. You have been writing in. And the Public Editor has written a column criticising the appointment.
Excuse me, but what on earth is going on?
A quality newspaper should have columns reflecting a wide variety of opinions, even those uncongenial to the majority of its readers. While the bulk of a paper's columnists may reflect the publication's character and view, there must always be space for an alternative opinion.
Thus, for instance, while my paper supported the decision to invade Iraq (which happened to be my view too), many of our columnists (in fact probably a majority) did not concur.
It would never occur to me when selecting an individual columnist to be concerned that some readers might not agree with some of his positions.
And considering that Kristol represents a large strand of American opinion (even if it is a smaller strand of NYT reader opinion) it is entirely unremarkable that his columns should be commissioned.
A great national newspaper is not a reality television show, subjecting its columnists to a telephone vote before running their columns. Nor is being hired to write a column equivalent to being appointed to the Supreme Court, requiring Senate confirmation.
Even when the column appears, drumroll, in the The New York Times.
The most remarkable aspect of this bizarre controversy has been the performance of the paper's ombudsman Clark Hoyt. Well, it was remarkable to me at least. Mr Hoyt argued that Kristol should not have been appointed (or at least that he, Hoyt, wouldn't have appointed him) because Kristol had been a fierce critic of the NYT, and had argued, at one point, that the paper should be prosecuted for an aspect of its coverage.
The job of a reader's editor, surely is to defend the rights of its readers, all of its readers. It is not to start picking a "Fantasy Columnist" team to reflect his own politics. What of people who agree with Kristol? Do they not deserve the protection of the reader's editor?
And as for Hoyt's statement that:
This is not a person I would have rewarded with a regular spot in front of arguably the most elite audience in the nation.
Isn't this the most pompous sentence you have ever read in your life?
Anyway, you are fortunate that The New York Times carries many great columns. If Kristol offends you I have a brilliant technological solution.
Turn the page.
I wish you well from this side of the Atlantic.