NYT executive editor Bill Keller loves to regularly stick it to the "armchair experts" who attack his newspaper.
Keller did it again this past week in his latest "Throw Things At Bill" speech to the staff, in which he said:
One of the armchair experts quoted by the public editor wondered why we don’t eliminate the Sports section. I’d like to be as clear as possible: none of those things is on the table.
But hey, wait a minute...that "armchair expert" was none other than Keller himself!
Here's the line from Clark Hoyt's recent Public Editor column to which Keller referred:
More radical moves, like dropping the sports section, have been rejected because they would undermine the quality of The Times or would not save much money, Keller said.
To be fair, it's entirely possible Keller made the comment while seated in an armchair.
We remembered the line so well because the Sunday morning it appeared, it prompted us to email sports editor Tom Jolly, to find out whether he'd heard anything about a plan to drop his section from the paper.
Frankly, we'd been struck by the fact that Hoyt had attributed the idea to Keller. The prospect of killing the NYT sports section would seem unimaginable, especially to the paper's executive editor.
"All I can tell you is that the idea was never raised with me," Jolly replied via email that morning, when we asked if anyone had ever mentioned the idea.
Ten minutes later, we got an unsolicited followup email from Jolly.
"Just to clarify: That would suggest to me that it was not on the table in a serious way," Jolly wrote.
That second email got us to wondering why Keller would have even brought up the notion of killing the sports section with Hoyt. If it wasn't on the table, why refer to it at all?
So we wrote back to Jolly with a couple of followup questions:
Do you have any idea why Keller would have mentioned sports to Hoyt, even as a move they rejected? "Rejected" implies that it was proposed. And the elimination of sports is the only "radical move" mentioned in Hoyt's sentence, attributed to Keller.
We don't want to make too much of this, if it's truly a non-story. But the thought that anyone at the NYT even entertained the notion of eliminating sports coverage was pretty shocking to us. Was it to you?
Jolly, clearly a courteous fellow, wrote us right back.
"We're in an environment in which all ideas deserve consideration, no matter how radical," Jolly said. "As you might expect, my own belief is that our sports section helps distinguish the NYT from the Journal, which is probably our chief competition going forward."
Good answer. We agree. And so, apparently, does the armchair expert.