Keller Snipes at Fox and 'Mumbling' Murdoch, Hypocritically Ducks 'Baseball Bat' Offer

Bill Keller may be resigning from the top job at the Times, but his hostility for Rupert Murdoch and Fox News remains: "There are commentators on Fox News who, if they didn't have The New York Times, would be selling exercise equipment on late-night TV." And would he take a baseball bat to Murdoch's head? Keller says "No Comment."
Esquire's Scott Raab recently interviewed the Times' soon-to-be-former executive editor, Bill Keller, on the release of a documentary, "Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times." Keller gave no hint of resignation plans in the lunchtime chat at a Midtown restaurant, artfully evading the question "Do you see yourself doing this job in five or ten years?"

Keller was in usual form, sniping at Fox News and taking another personal swipe at Fox's owner, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, and reacting in hypocritical fashion to Raab's offer that he take a "baseball bat...and one free swing" to either Murdoch or an alternate Times bugbear.

Raab: Someone once asked you, "What do you think of Rupert Murdoch?" And you said, "I've never met the man." That was a great answer.

Keller: I actually have met him now. Last year Emma and I went to the Oscars. One of the lavish parties is given by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg. Diller, I think, thought it would be really cute to grab Murdoch and drag him over. It was really cold, and they were passing around these little trays of hot tomato soup in mugs. We were sitting there drinking our soup. I couldn't understand a damn thing he was saying. A whole bunch of people were meeting and greeting, and he's got a very thick Australian accent and he kind of mumbles, and so we had about 15 minutes of incredibly awkward conversation.

Keller previously swiped at Murdoch when reviewing for the Times Book Review a biography of Time magazine founder Henry Luce in April 2010: "The last of his breed of media tycoon is a 79-year-old Australian billionaire whose impact has been more corrosive than cohesive." For the record, Murdoch is an American citizen.

Raab teed Keller up for another swing at Fox:

Raab: Besides the Times, Fox News may be the most powerful single institution in the media right now - and your shop seems to be its punching bag.

Keller: There are commentators on Fox News who, if they didn't have The New York Times, would be selling exercise equipment on late-night TV.

Then there was this exchange.

Raab: I'm going to have the "gelato drowned in espresso." [To Keller] So you've got a baseball bat in your hands and one free swing - and Jayson Blair, Judy Miller, and Rupert Murdoch are lined up for you. Which one do you skull?

Keller: I think I've answered enough questions that I'm entitled to say "No comment" to that one.

Keller's apparent lack of offense to the metaphorical offer of violence is certainly odd from the editor of a paper which suggested on its front page that Sarah Palin's campaign "crosshairs" had something to do with schizophrenic Jared Loughner's killing spree in Tucson.

In other Kellerabilia, Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine revealed Times media reporters complained Keller's reactionary attitude toward new media in his Sunday column was making their jobs harder.

Keller initially proposed mainly covering foreign leaders, but his column soon became notorious as an expression of old-media id.


Keller's columns infuriated some members of the newsroom, especially the Times' media desk, who felt that the executive editor should be a kind of impartial honest broker. Times media editor Bruce Headlam and media columnist David Carr had an intervention with Keller to explain how his columns were hurting their ability to cover the industry. "I heard from Bruce, Dave, and Brian [Stelter] after the Arianna column had complicated their lives, which it was not intended to do," Keller told me. "Even though I knew I would cause a certain amount of consternation in the building, I decided that was okay because it was worth having a conversation about this."

Then, last month, Keller wrote a column critical of Twitter, calling it "the enemy of contemplation." Inside the Times, the column set off more alarms. Social-media staffers complained that Keller was signaling that he didn't like Twitter even as the paper was trying to encourage reporters to embrace the new tool....