Public Editor Accuses New York Times of 'Progressive' Marriage Equality Bias

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com August 27 2012 11:00 AM ET

The retiring public editor of The New York Times accused the leading national newspaper of exercising a “progressive” bias in its coverage of topics including marriage equality, prompting a sharp rebuke from the executive editor over the weekend.

Arthur Brisbane registered the criticism in the final column of his two-year term as public editor. Margaret Sullivan, the former editor of the Buffalo News, will succeed him in the ombudsman role next week.

"When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so," wrote Brisbane. "Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times."

"As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects," he continued.

Jill Abramson, executive editor for the Times, disagreed with Brisbane’s “sweeping conclusions” in comments to Politico.

"I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base," she said. "But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping 'the paper straight.' That's essential."

Brisbane gave Fox News a talking point by saying Times editors "overlove" gay marriage. The newspaper has indeed published editorials proclaiming support for marriage equality, but so have other major newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times.

The Times dominated the coverage on marriage equality in New York last year, breaking developments including the financial involvement of high-profile Republican donors. Its efforts were widely praised by advocates, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, who spearheaded the campaign to pass the legislation. The Democrat lauded the coverage at a panel discussion on the marriage equality bill's passage hosted by The New York Times last October.

“The coverage by the Times on this issue was extraordinary, and I say that having often been a critic of Times coverage. I want you to know, I am a multi-generation critic of Times coverage,” said the son of former Governor Mario Cuomo to laughter from the crowd. “I have grown up on criticism of Times coverage, but the coverage here was really extraordinary. When we talk about the role of journalism and how journalism can assist in public policy and aid in public policy making, this was an example of [that],” he continued.

Neal Broverman contributed to this report.