In recent weeks, the New York Times started punching back at many of its critics, breaking with a longstanding tradition of staying above the fray. Today, that new strategy backfired.

Speaking at Stanford Thursday, Keller compared the quest to save the Times, a powerful and once-wealthy newspaper that brought itself to the brink of financial ruin, with the genocide of poor Africans in Darfur. Politico:

Commenting on the keep-the-Times alive movement, Keller said: "Saving the New York Times now ranks with saving Darfur as a high-minded cause."

As of September 2006, the United Nations estimated 400,000 people dead in Darfur; a U.S. GAO report found the highest confidence in a report of between 98,000 and 181,000 dead. In any case, the casualties appear staggering.

Even those who acknowledge the Times' importance as a journalistic institution, Stanford academics surely among them, would find such a comparison absurdly pompous.

But if Keller sounds imperious, it's likely because the editor and his staff have been on the defensive so much lately. As the New York Observer's John Koblin has shown, the paper has been increasingly vocal in insisting it has a bright future. The paper's spokesperson slammed the Atlantic, which had examined the paper's financial problems, for "uninformed speculation." Keller himself sarcastically attacked journalist Mark Bowden for filling a Vanity Fair piece with "bombast" and "recycled anecdotes."

The Times' old strategy of maintaining a dignified silence might not have been ideal, but if the paper's PR campaign continues like this, it might end up wishing it had confined its self expression to its own pages.