Keller, 54, a former Times managing editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent, was chosen as the permanent replacement for Howell Raines.
Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd resigned under pressure on June 5, five weeks after the discovery that Jayson Blair, one of the paper’s young stars, had made up parts of stories and lifted material for many of his reports.
No replacement was named yesterday for Boyd. The Times said that Keller, whose appointment takes effect July 30, would announce additional members of his team.
Keller had been considered a top candidate to succeed Joseph Lelyveld as executive editor when Lelyveld left in 2001. Instead, Raines was picked for the job, and Keller became a Times columnist and senior writer for the magazine.
“This news organisation is a national treasure,” Keller said in a statement. “I will do everything in my power to uphold its high standards, preserve its integrity and build on its achievements.”
Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr called Keller “a talented journalist, an accomplished manager and a trusted leader.”
“I am grateful that Bill has accepted this new challenge and am confident that in the years to come, he will help us build on the Times’ unparalleled tradition of journalistic excellence,” Sulzberger said.
The May 1 resignation of Blair, a national correspondent who had been at the paper for four years, set off a firestorm of criticism of top editors’ decision to promote him and their failure to catch his mistakes. Many at the paper bitterly criticised the management style of Raines and Boyd.
Lelyveld was called in to head the paper until Sulzberger picked a new executive editor.
Blair quit after he was accused of using material from a San Antonio newspaper article without attribution. The Times, in a 7,500-word story on May 11, said Blair had plagiarised material, invented quotes and written stories under datelines of places he’d never been to.
The Times described the episode as “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper”.
Keller, who once described himself as a “reporter who spent his whole life swearing he’d never be an editor”, joined the Times in 1984 as a Washington correspondent. He later worked in Moscow, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for his coverage of the Soviet Union. He also headed the Times’ bureau in Johannesburg and became foreign editor in 1995.
As a columnist, Keller often devoted his columns to foreign policy. And while the Times was often perceived as opposing the action in Iraq, Keller backed it.
“I supported the war, with misgivings about the haste, the America-knows-best attitude and our ability to win the peace,” he wrote in a June 14 column. “The deciding factor for me was not the monstrosity of the regime (routing tyrants is a noble cause, but where do you stop?), nor the opportunity to detoxify the Middle East (another noble cause, but dubious justification for a war when hardly anyone else in the world supports you). No, I supported it mainly because of the convergence of a real threat and a real opportunity.”