Top 10 Lowlights of the New York Times from Campaign 2008

History will tell that the New York Times actually endorsed John McCain as its preferred Republican nominee, albeit in a hold-your-nose fashion. History will also tell that the paper began souring on its former favorite "maverick" and moderate Republican almost immediately after he clinched the nomination and becoming the only thing standing between the White House and a historic Democratic victory for either the first woman or first black president.

Even before the presidential race narrowed down to an Obama-McCain matchup, the Times did its best to kneecap GOP candidates, reserving special hostility to its hometown Republican, New York Gov. Rudy Giuliani, portraying him as a racist mayor who exaggerated his post 9-11 herosim.

Times Watch has put together the 10 absolute worst stories that appeared in the Times during Campaign 2008, pitting that historic beacon of hope, Democrat Barack Obama, versus the temperamental, inarticulate appeaser of right-wing racists, Republican John McCain.

10) Obama's Anti-War Op-Ed OK, McCain's Pro-War Op-Ed Rejected

In July, the Times refused to run an op-ed by John McCain that laid out recent successes in Iraq, said Obama was wrong in opposing the surge, and accused the Democrat of having "learned nothing from recent history."

Times's op-ed editor David Shipley emailed McCain's staff: "I'm not going to be able to accept this piece as currently written."

Yet the McCain op-ed was in response to one from Obama, "My Plan for Iraq," that had appeared in the Times July 14. Did the Times at least invite the McCain camp to submit an op-ed in defense of the war and the surge (to accompany Obama's call for withdrawal) before Obama's op-ed appeared?

Shipley said he wanted something more forward-looking that paralleled more closely with Obama's piece, which mentioned McCain only twice while sketching out a vision of withdrawing troops from Iraq. The piece McCain submitted to the Times attacked Obama on his past statements on the surge and also went after points from Obama's NYT op-ed.

Shipley laid out some pretty stringent demands on McCain:

It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory -- with troop levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the Senator's Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan.

The last McCain op-ed to appear in the Times came in March 2003 -- ironically, a pro-war piece written on the eve of the Iraq War titled "The Right War for the Right Reasons."

A week later, The Columbia Journalism Review, no Republican stronghold, spotted liberal bias in the Times's rejection of the op-ed. Contributor Lester Feder wrote of Deputy Editorial Page Editor David Shipley's rejection:

Instead of making a statement about its judgment of McCain's leadership -- a judgment that it could defend on principle -- the Times has only reinforced its reputation on the right as a biased liberal broadsheet.

It is unclear what detailed "plans" sounded new to the Times when it accepted Barack Obama's July 14th submission.

Feder correctly pointed out:

The whole point of McCain's rejected op-ed, published today in the New York Post, is that he doesn't think it is wise to offer the kind of Iraq statement that would satisfy the Times. McCain declares that "any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground -- not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Sen. Obama."

9) Cindy McCain vs. Michelle Obama

On October 18 the Times ran an unsympathetic front-page profile of John McCain's wife Cindy under the byline of Jodi Kantor and David Halbfinger, "Behind McCain, Washington Outsider Wanting Back In."

The story itself rehashed old controversies to little effect, but became worse in retrospect when it was revealed how the Times put it together -- trolling Facebook for classmates of McCain's teen-age daughter. Reporter Jodi Kantor's message to an unidentified person on Facebook included the charming requests, "we are trying to get a sense of what [Cindy McCain] is like as a mother" and "I'm trying to figure out what school her 16 year old daughter Bridget attends."

Facebook must have been a dry hole, but Kantor and Halbfinger did their best with old dirt:

She initially seemed like an ideal political partner, giving Mr. McCain a home state, money and contacts that jump-started his career. But as the years passed, she also became a liability at times. She played a role in the Keating Five savings-and-loan scandal, and just as her husband was rehabilitating his reputation, she was caught stealing drugs from her nonprofit organization to feed her addiction to painkillers. She has a fortune that sets the McCains apart from most other Americans, a problem in a presidential race that hinges on economic anxieties. She can be imprecise: she has repeatedly called herself an only child, for instance, even though she has two half-siblings, and has provided varying details about a 1994 mercy mission to Rwanda.


Mrs. McCain busied herself with the American Voluntary Medical Team, a charity she founded to supply medical equipment and expertise to some of the neediest places on earth, like Micronesia, Vietnam and Kuwait in the weeks after the Persian Gulf war.

When Mrs. McCain visited Bangladesh after a cyclone, she stopped at an orphanage founded by Mother Teresa, who was not, as the campaign has said, present for the visit. Mrs. McCain returned with two baby girls; Mr. Gullet later adopted one, and Mrs. McCain informed her husband on landing that they would adopt the other.

In 1994, Mrs. McCain dissolved the charity after admitting that she had been addicted to painkillers for years and had stolen prescription drugs from it. She had used the drugs, first given for back pain, to numb herself during the Keating Five investigation, she confessed to Newsweek magazine. "The newspaper articles didn't hurt as much, and I didn't hurt as much," she wrote in an essay. "The pills made me feel euphoric and free."

The scandal broke just as her husband had been trying to rehabilitate his reputation. He had no idea his wife had been an addict, he told the press.

Kantor gave Mrs. McCain a level of scrutiny she withheld from her laudatory profile of the spouse of the Democratic candidate in which Kantor dismissed Michelle Obama's "For the first time...I am really proud of my country" statement as a "rhetorical stumble" and suggesting the media was overplaying it.

Along with colleague Michael Powell, Kantor helped Mrs. Obama soften her image in a big front-page interview June 18, "After Attacks, Michelle Obama Looks for a New Introduction." The long, laudatory piece was anchored with a large photo, taking up half the upper fold of the front page, of Michelle listening thoughtfully to her husband's famous race speech back in March.

The Times portrayed criticism of Michelle Obama as either hurtful or out of line. Her controversial comment in Wisconsin, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country," which suggested for many both a lack of pride in America and an unpleasant self-absorption, was dismissed by the Times as a mere "rhetorical stumble," with the implication that the media overplayed it (the Times certainly didn't).  

Conservative columnists accuse her of being unpatriotic and say she simmers with undigested racial anger. A blogger who supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton circulates unfounded claims that Mrs. Obama gave an accusatory speech in her church about the sins of "whitey." Mrs. Obama shakes her head.

"You are amazed sometimes at how deep the lies can be," she says in an interview. Referring to a character in a 1970s sitcom, she adds: "I mean, ‘whitey'? That's something that George Jefferson would say. Anyone who says that doesn't know me. They don't know the life I've lived. They don't know anything about me'.....Then came some rhetorical stumbles. In Madison, Wis., in February, she told voters that hope was sweeping America, adding, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." Cable news programs replayed those 15 words in an endless loop of outrage.

There was certainly no outrage pouring out of the Times's news pages -- only affection.

You can read the other 8 entries at Times Watch.

Campaign Watch Media Bias Debate 2008 Presidential Labeling Double Standards New York Times Jodi Kantor Neil Lewis Larry Rohter
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