Thanks to a story on Drudge Report, the political blogosphere is all atwitter today with the news that the New York Times Op-Ed page rejected a guest column by presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain last week. This rejection came a few days after the Times printed a similar column by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
McCain's piece, which Drudge reprinted in full, attacked Obama's position on troop withdrawals from Iraq and lauded the success of the "surge." In the piece, McCain also stated that he expects "to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of [his] first term in office, in 2013."
In rejecting McCain's submission, New York Times Op-Ed editor David Shipley said that he wasn't "going to be able to accept this piece as currently written," and explained his rationale by saying: "The Obama piece worked for me because it offered new information (it appeared before his speech); while Senator Obama discussed Senator McCain, he also went into detail about his own plans ... 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."
Right on cue, right-wing bloggers have reacted to Shipley's decision with outrage and allegations of liberal media bias. Little Green Footballs fumed that the Times refused McCain's article while running pieces by Yasser Arafat and members of Hamas in the past. The blog Gateway Pundit asked, sarcastically, "Media bias ... What media bias?" and, in citing the full text of McCain's article, continued, "Here's the editorial that The New York Times refused to publish. It is fantastic. It is a brilliant piece of writing that absolutely destroys Obama's phony attempts this week to look like a Commander in Chief ... Barack Obama is a war loser, plain and simple."
These heated protestations overlooked a number of fairly obvious factors relating to this story. For one, in his rejection e-mail, Shipley was friendly and repeatedly emphasized that he'd be "very eager to publish the Senator on the Op-Ed page" and offered to review another draft. In fact, the Times' Op-Ed page has printed submissions from McCain on several other occasions, including a piece in March 2003 titled "The Right War for the Right Reasons" in which the senator argued for the justness of the Iraq invasion.
The sticking point, to some degree, seemed to be Shipley's request that McCain define "victory" in the Op-Ed. That request poses obvious difficulties for McCain, who -- like other supporters of the war -- has been decidedly reluctant to be pinned down on a definition. If you really wanted to, you could claim that Shipley deliberately tried to corner McCain by including what was, in effect if not intention, a poison pill in his request for a rewrite. But such an attempt at policy explication hardly seems to constitute media bias. It's reasonable to expect politicians to be able to explain their positions.
Additionally, the Times' Op-Ed page endorsed McCain in the Republican primary. And if it hadn't, the page's point of view is not a secret, and is unrelated to the paper's news coverage. It seems odd that McCain would be so naive as to expect that the page wouldn't favor the Democratic candidate. Wouldn't it seem a little crazy for liberals to accuse the Wall Street Journal of bias because the paper refused to print a column penned by Obama?
But this sort of tactic may be McCain's most effective campaign strategy at this point. As Michael Scherer, a former Salon reporter, points out over at Time's Swampland blog, Republicans believe the campaign can't focus on McCain and his beliefs if McCain is to win the presidency. Citing a column this morning by Robert Novak, Scherer writes that McCain's best bet is to make the campaign about Obama, as he tried to do in the Op-Ed submitted to the Times.
In a statement, Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for the Times, said:
It is standard procedure on our Op-Ed page, and that of other newspapers, to go back and forth with an author on his or her submission. We look forward to publishing Senator McCain's views in our paper just as we have in the past. We have published at least seven Op-Ed pieces by Senator McCain since 1996. The New York Times endorsed Senator McCain as the Republican candidate in the presidential primaries. We take his views very seriously.