Puzzlement Over NYT Opinion Editor's 'Petty Fib' on Times' Endorsement of McCain

The Times' Andrew Rosenthal told James Taranto his paper had not endorsed John McCain in the Republican primary in 2008: "We said he was best of BAD choices. No endorsement." So why did other newspaper and even the Times itself say it endorsed McCain?

Andrew Rosenthal may think twice before engaging in political parlay with James Taranto again. Rosenthal, the New York Times' editorial page editor, came out on the losing end of a Twitter argument with Taranto, who puts together Opinion Journal's Best of the Web, a Wall Street Journal project. Taranto summarized it in Monday's edition.

It started with an article by Slate's David Weigel shows Obama crushing GOP candidate Herman Cain among North Carolina voters, 86%-6%, barely improving on the Republican's 2008 candidate John McCain, who got 5 percent of the black vote.

Take it away, Taranto:

Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of the New York Times, had what some might regard as a less thoughtful take. We first learned of Weigel's article from Rosenthal's tweet, which read: "No [sic] suprising [sic]. McCain was fringe. Cain is fringe."

We tweeted back: "Says the editor whose page endorsed him [McCain] in the Republican primary." Which prompted a surprising reply from Rosenthal: "Was wondering where you were. Might read the editorial. We said he was best of BAD choices. No endorsement."

We did read the editorial, which appeared Jan. 25, 2008. Not only did it appear to us to be an endorsement-albeit a backhanded one-but it contradicted Rosenthal's assertion that "McCain is fringe": "Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe."

Taranto eventually asked Rosenthal: 'Did you endorse Mrs. Clinton in the Democratic primary?" Rosenthal didn't reply, but Taranto found out in the paper's October 23, 2008 editorial endorsing Obama:

"...Watching him being tested in the campaign has long since erased the reservations that led us to endorse Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries."

That editorial's next paragraph referred to "Mr. McCain, whom we chose as the best Republican nominee in the primaries"-wording that matches the language of Rosenthal's tweet. If there is some lawyerly distinction between "endorsing" and "choosing as the best candidate," it seemed to us to be without a difference. To our mind, the latter is a definition of the former.


To judge by the headlines from 2008, other news organizations understood the editorials the same way we did. Reuters: "Clinton, McCain Win New York Times Endorsements." Associated Press: "New York Times Endorses Clinton, McCain in Primary Race." Boston Globe: "NYT Endorses Clinton, McCain."

Even the Times understood it that way; as Taranto discovered, the paper's 'website featured an interactive graphic on Feb. 2, 2008, titled 'Endorsements of All Shapes and Sizes.' Roll your mouse over the Times's nameplate, and up pops a box that reads: 'The New York Times endorses Clinton, McCain.''

Taranto concluded with puzzlement over why Rosenthal would bother fibbing about such a thing:

....The false claim that the Times did not endorse McCain in the Republican primary is not a malicious lie, or even an inadvertently harmful one. Indeed, we can think of few matters less consequential than the New York Times editorial board's opinion of a Republican primary. The pettiness of the fib is what makes it so very strange.