Bill Keller, critical Executive Editor of the New York Times 2003-2011, is now free to write his mind as in-house Op-Ed Columnist. His most recent articles are about the Revolt of the Rising Class – a look at Turkey, Brazil, and the Mandela depth as example for Obama.
Bill Keller (born January 18, 1949) is a writer for The New York Times, of which Keller was the executive editor from July 2003 until September 2011. On June 2, 2011, Keller announced that he would step down from the position to become a full-time writer. Jill Abramson replaced him as executive editor.
Keller is the son of former chairman and chief executive of the Chevron Corporation, George M. Keller. Bill Keller attended the Roman Catholic schools St. Matthews and Junípero Serra High School in San Mateo, California. After graduating from Pomona College in 1970, where he began his journalistic career as a reporter for the campus newspaper called The Collegian (later called The Collage), he was a reporter in Portland with The Oregonian, Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, and at Dallas Times Herald.
Keller joined The New York Times in 1984 and served in the following capacities:
* Reporter in the Washington, D.C. bureau (1984–1986)
* Reporter in the Moscow bureau (1986–1988)
* Bureau chief in the Moscow bureau (1988–1991)
* Bureau chief in the Johannesburg bureau (1992–1995)
* Foreign editor (1995–1997)
* Managing editor (1997–2001)
* Op-ed columnist and senior writer (2001–2003)
* Executive editor (July 2003 to September 2011)
Keller won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for his reporting on the breakup of the former Soviet Union (USSR).
2003 Invasion of Iraq
Keller was one of the leading supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, explaining his backing for military action in his article ‘The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-A-Hawk Club’. Two days after the invasion, Keller wrote the column ‘Why Colin Powell Should Go’ arguing for US Secretary of State’s resignation because his strategy of diplomacy at the UN had failed. In contrast, Keller was much more sympathetic to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, describing him as the ‘Sunshine Warrior’.
Keller spoke on July 6, 2005 in defense of Judith Miller and her refusal to give up documents relating to the Valerie Plame case.
NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program
Keller is reported to have refused to answer questions from The Times public editor, Byron Calame, on the timing of the December 16, 2005 article on the classified National Security Agency (NSA) Terrorist Surveillance Program. The Times series of articles on this topic won a Pulitzer Prize. The source of the disclosure of this NSA program has been investigated by the United States Justice Department. The NSA program itself is being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee as to whether it sidesteps the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and after The Times articles, the Administration changed its procedures, allowing for more safeguards and more Congressional and judicial oversight.
Keller discussed the deliberations behind the Times’ decision to publish the story in a July 5, 2006 PBS interview with Jeffrey Brown that included a discussion of the issues involved with former National Security Agency Director Admiral Bobby Ray Inman.
The Revolt of the Rising Class.
By BILL KELLER
Published – The New York Times: June 30, 2013 3 Comments
ISTANBUL — IN the upscale Istanbul suburb of Bebek, at 9 p.m. sharp, the diners began drumming on the tables or tapping their wineglasses with forks. The traffic passing along the Bosporus chimed in with honking horns and flashing headlights. It was a genteel symphony of solidarity with the protesters who a few days earlier were confronting fire hoses and tear gas in the heart of the city and elsewhere around Turkey.
Related – Premier of Turkey Seeks Limits on Abortions (May 30, 2012)
Those street battles that caught our attention this summer have mostly been policed into submission, and the world’s cameras have moved on, but the afterlife is interesting.
What is happening in Turkey is not “Les Miserables,” or the Arab Spring. It is not an uprising born in desperation. It is the latest in a series of revolts arising from the middle class — the urban, educated haves who are in some ways the principal beneficiaries of the regimes they now reject.
We saw early versions of it in China in 1989, Venezuela in 2002. We saw it in Iran in 2009, when the cosmopolitan crowds thronged in protest against theocratic hard-liners. We saw it in Russia in 2011, when legions of 30-somethings spilled out of their office cubicles, chanting their scorn for the highhanded rule of Vladimir Putin. While Turkey was still percolating, the discontent bubbled up in Brazil, where yet another ruling party seems to be a victim of its own success.
The vanguard in each case is mostly young, students or relative newcomers to the white-collar work force who have outgrown the fearful conformity of their parents’ generation. With their economic wants more or less satisfied, they now crave a voice, and respect. In this social-media century, they are mobilized largely by Facebook and Twitter, networks of tweeps circumventing an intimidated mainstream press.
The igniting grievances vary. Here in Istanbul it was a plan to build a mosque and other developments on a patch of the city’s diminishing green space. In Brazil it was bus fares. By the time the protests hit critical mass, they are about something bigger and more inchoate: dignity, the perquisites of citizenship, the obligations of power.
Because these protesters are by definition people with something to lose — and because the autocrats know it — the uprisings are eventually beaten into submission, at least for the short term. The authorities kid themselves that they have solved the problem. It reminds me of that old pirate joke: the floggings will continue until morale improves.
But morale does not improve. There is a new alienation, a new yearning, and eventually this energy will find an outlet. In some way, different in each country, the social contract will be adjusted.
The protesters in these middle-class revolts tend to be political orphans, leaderless, party-less, not particularly ideological. To reach a new equilibrium, either the rising class must get organized, or the ruling class must get the message, or, ideally, both.
In China and Iran and Russia, where the regimes are more established in their ruthlessness, the discontented may have a longer wait. But watch Turkey. How Turkey, as a partner in NATO and a bridge to the tumultuous Islamic world, finds its new balance has both practical and symbolic significance for the rest of the world.
The United States has long embraced Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the model of a modern Muslim reformer. The Turkish prime minister, during his decade in power, has tamed the army of its coup habit, raised the standard of living dramatically, offered an olive branch to the separatist-minded Kurds and demonstrated — alone in the region — that Islam is compatible with both free elections and broad prosperity. When civil war sundered neighboring Syria, Erdogan (braving the disapproval of an electorate that tends to be more isolationist) condemned the brutalities of President Bashar al-Assad and hosted camps for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have doted on Erdogan. The Islamist prime minister proudly sent three of his four children to universities in the U.S.
By fostering economic growth, by keeping the army in its barracks — and by not messing too much with secular lifestyles — Erdogan has won some grudging support from the worldly elite that originally viewed him and his more pious Islamic following as a lurch back to the Ottoman Empire.
Those days of urban skirmishing, which began at the end of May with a pointless and heavy-handed police crackdown on a sit-in at the disputed park, have opened many eyes to Erdogan’s intemperate and intolerant side — his tone-deafness, his tendency to regard any criticism as a grave insult, his conspiracy theories.
The surprise is that Erdogan’s darker instincts came as a surprise to anyone. Human rights organizations have long lamented the fact that Turkey, while it has a lively press, also has more journalists in jail than any other country on earth. If you troll through the American diplomatic cables divulged in the great WikiLeaks flood, you find abundant talk of how Erdogan has sometimes used police and courts as instruments of political control. But he was a friend in an unfriendly region. The American attitude was, to paraphrase a line F.D.R. supposedly said of another troubling ally: he may be a thug, but he’s our thug. And by regional standards, he wasn’t even that much of a thug.
With the important exception of police brutality, Erdogan’s latest affronts have been matters of speech and style rather than action. He has talked of outlawing abortion (as have some prominent American politicians), but he hasn’t tried to do it. He has described Twitter as “the worst menace to society” and suggested clamping down on social media, but he seems unlikely to have much success there even if he tries. He has conjured a dark conspiracy of secular subversives, bankers and Western media, but that is vintage Erdogan, and vintage Turkey — a country of intrigues that exemplifies the old line: even paranoids have enemies.
So the fact that the rising class has chosen this moment to run out of patience seems to be Erdogan’s bad luck. It may also be Turkey’s good fortune.
One possible outcome is that those unhappy with Erdogan will find an avenue into politics, and give Erdogan the challenge he deserves. The Turkish system (like the American, only more so) favors incumbency and makes it hard to form viable new parties, even if Erdogan’s foes could agree on what they are for. The most visible potential moderate rival to Erdogan, Abdullah Gul, who occupies the relatively powerless presidency, has shown little willingness to take on the prime minister.
But as Sinan Ulgen, the head of an Istanbul think tank, points out, Erdogan is more vulnerable than the autocrats of Iran or Russia, who have oil revenues to float them through a crisis. Turkey’s prosperity — and in large measure Erdogan’s popularity — depends on foreign investment and flocks of tourists. The crackdown on protesters dented Erdogan’s approval ratings; more threatening to his tenure, it spooked investors, emptied hotels and sent the Turkish stock market into a tailspin. “Yes, the protesters have something to lose,” Ulgen told me. “But so does Erdogan.”
In about a year his third term as prime minister is up, and the rules don’t allow for a fourth. He has been exploring options to prolong his time in power, but they require popular support, and Erdogan’s hovers precariously around 50 percent. So whether or not he has the ability to temper his intemperance, he has the incentive. A parliamentarian who is a moderate supporter of Erdogan and was with him during the protests insists, “He got the message.” We’ll see.
For the long-term stability of Turkey, it would be good to have a robust political opposition advocating a pluralism that protects both the devout and the secular. In the meantime, it may be up to Erdogan to save Turkey from himself.
Mandela and Obama
A photograph of Barack Obama meeting Nelson Mandela in 2005, in Mr. Mandela’s office at the newly renovated Nelson Mandela Center of Memory in Johannesburg.
By BILL KELLER
Published: June 29, 2013 35 Comments
GATHERING valedictory material on Nelson Mandela as he faded in a Pretoria hospital the other day, I came across a little book called “Mandela’s Way.” In this 2010 volume, Rick Stengel, the ghostwriter of Mandela’s autobiography, set out to extract “lessons on life, love and courage” he had learned from three years of immersion in Mandela’s life.
Stengel, who is the managing editor of Time magazine, could not resist comparing his hero to another tall, serene, hope-bearing son of Africa: Barack Obama. “Obama’s self-discipline, his willingness to listen and to share credit, his inclusion of his rivals in his administration, and his belief that people want things explained, all seem like a 21-century version of Mandela’s values and persona,” he wrote. “Whatever Mandela may or may not think of the new American president, Obama is in many ways his true successor on the world stage.”
A bit much, yes? Well, Stengel was hardly alone back then in awarding the American president a stature he had scarcely begun to earn. The Nobel Committee, which had awarded its peace prize to Mandela for ending the obscenity of apartheid, bestowed that honor on Obama merely for not being George W. Bush.
Different men, different countries, different times. Perhaps even Mandela — who was more successful liberating South Africa than governing it — could not have lived up to the inflated expectations heaped on Obama. But it is interesting to imagine how Obama’s presidency might be different if he had in fact done it Mandela’s way.
Mandela, in his time on the political stage, was a man of almost ascetic self-discipline. But he also understood how to deploy his moral authority in grand theatrical gestures. Facing capital charges of trying to overthrow the state in the Rivonia Trial, he entered the formal Pretoria courtroom dressed in a traditional Xhosa leopard-skin cape to dramatize that he was an African entering a white man’s jurisdiction. And then he essentially confessed to the crime.
In 1995, Mandela, newly elected president of a still deeply divided country, single-handedly turned the Rugby World Cup — the whitest sporting event in South Africa, long the target of anti-apartheid boycotts — into a festival of interracial harmony. He was, in short, the opposite of “no drama.”
Obama’s sense of political theater peaked at his first inaugural. He rarely deploys the stirring reality that he is the first black man to hold the office. As my Times colleague Peter Baker notes, “Obama’s burden as he sees it, different from Mandela’s, is to make the fact that he’s black be a nonissue. Only then will his breakthrough be truly meaningful.” Still, I think Mandela would have sought a way to make a more exciting civic bond out of the pride so many Americans felt in this milestone.
Mandela understood that politics is not mainly a cerebral sport. It is a business of charm and flattery and symbolic gestures and eager listening and little favors. It is above all a business of empathy. To help win over the Afrikaners, he learned their Dutch dialect and let them keep their national anthem. For John Boehner, he’d have learned golf and become a merlot drinker. “You don’t address their brains,” Mandela advised his colleagues, and would surely advise Obama. “You address their hearts.”
Mandela was a consummate negotiator. Once he got you to the bargaining table, he was not going to leave empty-handed. He was an expert at deducing how far each side could go. He was patient. He was opportunistic, using every crisis to good effect. He understood that half the battle was convincing your own side that a concession could be a victory. And he was willing to take a risk. I don’t envy Obama’s having to deal with intransigent Republicans or his own demanding base, but Mandela bargained with Afrikaner militants, Zulu nationalists and the white government that had imprisoned him for 27 years. By comparison, the Tea Party is, well, a tea party.
Mandela usually seemed to be having the time of his life. Perhaps this is because (sadly for his family) the movement was his life. He shook every hand as if he was discovering a new friend and maintained a twinkle in his eye that said: this is fun. We’ve had joyful presidents — Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan. Obama more often seems to regard the job as an ordeal.
Mandela, above all, had a clear sense of his core principles: freedom, equality, the rule of law. He changed tactics, shifted alliances (one day the Communist Party, another day the business oligarchs) but never lost sight of the ultimate goal. In fairness to Obama, Mandela had a cause of surpassing moral clarity. The American president is rarely blessed with problems so, literally, black and white. And if Obama leaves behind universal health care and immigration reform — two initiatives that have consistently defeated previous presidents — that will be no small legacy. But tell me, do you have a clear sense of what moral purpose drives our president?