NYT's Keller: Journalists Should Give Equal Weight To Both Sides (Unless I Disagree With One of Them)

"It doesn't mean, for example, that you give equal time for people who deny climate change."

On CNN's Reliable Sources, New York Times columnist Bill Keller spoke with guest host David Folenflik about exchanges he had with Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who broke the Edward Snowden leaks. Those exchanges were featured in a recent Keller piece. According to the Times columnist, Greenwald believes in "adversarial journalism." The concept of adversarial journalism is that a reporter should announce his position publicly then confront the story from that point of view. Bill Keller pontificated about his belief in the more traditional journalist position: listening to and giving equal credence to both sides, but hypocritically then finished with "it doesn't mean, for example, that you give equal time for people who deny climate change."


You know, the shortcoming of activist or adversarial journalism is two-fold. One of them is if you go into a story with a conviction that you know what's right; you’re not going to listen to opposing points of view and gave them quite the same respect. You should go into news coverage with some sort of humility. A lot of times the stuff that we really think we know is wrong and we should be prepared to have that proven in the course of our investigation. The other thing is if you declare your point of view publicly, the other thing that kicks in is this basically human nature, the sense of pride. Once you have announced that you are for x there is, at least subconsciously, a temptation to stick up for that point of view in your writing maybe give short shrift to the facts that don’t quite confirm your point of view, or frame the debate in a way that's not impartial.

Folenflik responded by saying that the "intensity of reporting that appears on pages of The New York Times certain values like humility and civility and respectfulness. These are not ones I would ascribe to Glen Greenwald."

Keller then opened up more on Greenwald:

You know, sometimes our exchange he portrays it as if what impartial journalist do is stenography. You take down what one guy says and what the other guy says and then presents it to readers with no analysis or judgment implied. I don’t think that anybody who reads The New York Times or the Washington Post or any of the sort of serious mainstream news organizations believes that. Civility means you listen respectfully up to the point where somebody is lying to you and if somebody is lying to you and you can demonstrate it, you say so. You know, humility means that you offer people a chance to poke holes in whatever working thesis you have developed. But it doesn't mean, for example, that you give equal time for people who deny climate change.

So which one is it, Mr. Keller? Should a journalist give equal time to each point of view, or only the point of views that you believe?