NYT Reporter 'Surprised' by McCain Op-Ed Rejection

When a writer for the New York Times questions his own paper, for refusing to publish an editorial by John McCain, and a former Clinton press secretary questions the "balance" of the coverage of Obama’s foreign tour, you know the media has reached a bias tilting point.

On Tuesday night's "Hardball," New York Times political writer John Harwood said of the Times decision to spike a McCain editorial: "I was surprised that they did not take it, especially having just run Barack Obama."

And former Bill Clinton press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, called the press coverage of Obama overseas, "extraordinary" and admitted:  "It’s legitimate question. Is the press coverage between the two candidates balanced?"

The following segment occurred on the July 22, "Hardball:"

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Dee Dee, seven times they have ran, you know, written articles by John McCain or written by his staff, approved by him. How can they be accused of stiffing him if they have such a record?

DEE DEE MYERS, VANITY FAIR: Well I think it was very particular to the exch-, the email exchange to between the op-ed page editor and the McCain campaign where, where the tone of the email came off like, "Oh gee thanks but no thanks, come again another time." And you know, clearly the Times has always reserved the right to edit. You know millions of people submit op-eds to that page, it’s the most powerful page in the country, arguably. And certainly the McCain campaign has been edited in the past, I’m sure of that. But I think there was something in the tone where rather than saying, "Oh we would love to have Senator McCain’s presence on the page this time, but let’s discuss what we need to do get there." The tone was more like, "Mmm, come back next time."

MATTHEWS: What do you make of it John? Is this a, is this a tempest in a teapot raised by the McCain people dumping this little factoid on Drudge and getting a lot of heat about it yesterday or is there legitimate claim that they’re being stiffed by a liberal op-ed page?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC/NEW YORK TIMES: Well I think they decided rather than engage in the back and forth, that they would get the PR hit by putting it out there. Look it is standard practice for newspapers to go back and forth with authors. I’ve certainly been through it a million times on stuff that I’ve written. The question is how different is the standard when you are talking about a nominee of a major party to be President of the United States. I was surprised that they did not take it, especially having just run Barack Obama, but I understand their reasoning for it. And I think when Dee Dee talks about the tone of the note, I think one particular lightning rod for the McCain campaign to seize on is the use of the word "timetables," because John McCain, of course, has been resisting timetables and some people might interpret that or spin it that the New York Times is telling John McCain that he needs to be for a timetable and I don’t think that was the intent of the editor of the page. But that provides some fodder for the McCain campaign.

MYERS: But it also, the, the timing of it. And John’s right they, the, the McCain campaign chose to put it out there as a, as an grievance rather than negotiate a new op-ed piece.

MATTHEWS: Okay is this strategic? Is this part of their plan to, to, to blame the press?

MYERS: Well I think it’s an opportunity.

MATTHEWS: I mean every, every candidate at times, the Clintons blamed the press in the primary season. Everybody seems to decide at sometimes, in their interest, to blame the press.

MYERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: There’s a piece in Vanity Fair, your magazine, this week by Gail Sheehy, in the new edition, that says Hillary Clinton way back in ‘98 with all the problems with Monica and everything-

MYERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: -that there was, she said, "You gotta blame the press." That’s a strategy.

MYERS: Right, right. And that, that clearly was, at times, a strategy. And it was, you know, it was, at times a strategy in the Clinton primary campaign this spring and, and into the-

MATTHEWS: I noticed! How did I notice?

MYERS: You know let me think, did you come up? I don’t know.

MATTHEWS: My name might have been mentioned.

MYERS: But, but, but I think that because of the extraordinary attention paid to Senator Obama’s trip, right now, and he’s in the midst of this extraordinary event overseas that I think the McCain campaign just saw this was one more brick in the load and they decided to put it out and make an issue of it. And it has become, I think, today and a bit yesterday an issue. It’s a, it’s legitimate question. Is the press coverage between the two candidates balanced?

HARWOOD: And Chris that’s exactly the reason why this was the right time for them to do it, from their point of view is that-

MATTHEWS: Right.

HARWOOD: -when you do have all these anchors going over there they’ve, they’ve got to try to find a way to break through the clutter and get John McCain’s argument out in front of the press. When you, when you go after the press like this, as a Republican, you, you try to unite your base a little bit and, and rally them with this familiar argument. And also try to, sort of, turn around a situation where Barack Obama is getting this extraordinary coverage.

MATTHEWS: Would they have done the same thing to the Washington Times? If the same exact thing had happened?

HARWOOD: No! Because there’s no juice for a Republican to go after the Washington Times.

MYERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: Or the Wall Street Journal.

HARWOOD: Exactly. But if you go after the New York Times which, to some conservatives sort of stands for liberal media, that is something where you may be able to get some mileage out of it.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.