Top 10 Lowlights of the New York Times from Campaign 2008

The theme from 2008: The hopeful Obama vs. the fallen "maverick" McCain.

The Favored One (Obama) vs. the Fallen One (McCain):

Top 10 Lowlights 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. The Times displayed bias by omission as well, refusing to run a story about Democrat John Edwards' mistress until he confessed to the infidelity, putting forward two excuses - that Edwards was not in the running for vice president, and that the stories were anonymously sourced - both contradicted by the paper's own reporting.

But given the historically long campaign and the simply overwhelming amount of biased coverage, this year's Times Watch campaign wrap-up focuses on the paper's coverage of the general election, which pitted the historic beacon of hope, Democrat Barack Obama, versus the temperamental, inarticulate appeaser of right-wingracists, Republican John McCain. Here, in increasing order of gruesomeness, are the 10 absolute worst stories appearing in the New York Times during Campaign 2008.

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' 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 Timesat leastinvite 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 onlytwice while sketching out a vision of withdrawing troops from Iraq. The piece McCain submitted to the Timesattacked Obama on his past statements on the surge and also went after points from Obama's NYT op-ed.

Shipleylaid outsome 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, TheColumbia Journalism Review, no Republican stronghold, spotted liberal bias in the Times' 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 dismissedMichelle 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' news pages - only affection.

8) Larry Rohter's Phony Fact-Checking

Throughout the campaign, reporter Larry Rohter proved his pro-Obama bona fides in his slanted "Fact Check" stories, which under the guise of evenhanded analysis consistently tilted the scales toward the Obama campaign. Rohter really outdid himself in his October 6 post on, "Drilling Down on the Facts in McCain's Speech."

Speaking in Albuquerque on Monday, Senator John McCain attacked Senator Barack Obama on several fronts that by now have become familiar. But many of his charges relating to the economic meltdown, taxation and health care contained inaccuracies or exaggerations of his own position or Mr. Obama's.

For instance, Mr. McCain claimed that "as recently as September of last year," Mr. Obama "said that subprime loans had been, quote 'a good idea.'" But that quote is taken out of context and reverses the intent of Mr. Obama's remarks, which were clearly meant primarily as a criticism of practices on Wall Street.

Rohter accused McCain of oversimplifying "a complicated situation" when he claimed Obama "was silent on the regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and his Democratic allies in Congress opposed every effort to rein them in."Rohter harrumphed:

But Republicans controlled the Senate and its agenda then. That suggests that Mr. McCain's Republican colleagues, some of whom opposed regulation of markets on purely philosophical grounds, had at least in part a hand in the bill's failure to come to a final vote.

Apparently nothing is ever a Democrat's fault. Then, it was on to taxes:

Mr. McCain also criticized Mr. Obama's policies on taxes, in language similar to last month's first debate, with a few new fillips. But fact-checking organizations have already repeatedly dismissed the bulk of the accusations he made as inaccurate or exaggerated.

One must perversely admire the way Rohter painted McCain's health care plan.

It is true that Mr. Obama's health care plan envisions more of a role for government than does Mr. McCain's, which focuses on individual or family credits and a larger role for the private sector in the name of deregulation. Mr. Obama would, for example, expand Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which Mr. McCain has opposed.

Does Rohter seriously believe McCain constructed a health care policy as some kind of homage to "deregulation," a term Rohter knows to be poisonous in the current financial climate?

Rohter's previous September 11 "Check Point" feature fiercely defended Obama from what Rohter called a "seriously" distorted attack, this time on Obama's position on Illinois legislation proposing sex education for kindergarten students, which Obama supported as a legislator. The headlinemade no room for niceties: "Ad On Sex Education Distorts Obama Policy."

Rohter's July 11 story, "The Candidates Speak Off the Cuff, and Trouble Quickly Follows," also clearly took Obama's side,with Rohter defending Obama's statement that"you need to make sure your children can speak Spanish" by accusing conservatives of misrepresenting his remarks.

Conservative and "official English" groups immediately interpreted Mr. Obama's statement as an endorsement of the idea that "Americans should be forced to learn to speak Spanish," in the words of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC. But that not only misrepresents what Mr. Obama said, it also ignores the views he has expressed in the past on the proper role of English and foreign languages in American life.

7) Obama's Lincolnesque Race Speech Erased Rev. Wright's Wrongs

Barack Obama's friends briefly caused concern in the Barack Obama campaign when clips featuring Obama's minister Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his inflammatory anti-American preaching began circulating on the web. Obama was obliged to make a much heralded "race speech" in March, delivered in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. When Obama had finished, the media rose as one to applaud. The Times in particular assured its readers that Obama's politically necessary speech in fact marked the second coming of Lincoln and JFK.

The Times treated the speech precisely the way the Obama campaign wanted it treated - as a transcendent statement on race in America past, present, and future (withObama'slong connection toRev. Wright a secondary consideration) and not a desperate response to the specific bizarre remarks by Wright, who ranted from the pulpit of Trinity Church in Chicago that America deserved 9-11 and that the government used the AIDS virus to wipe out minorities.

Janny Scott's "news analysis" of March 19, "A Candidate Chooses Reconciliation Over Rancor" compared the speech to Lincoln, JFK, and LBJ.

It was an extraordinary moment - the first black candidate with a good chance at becoming a presidential nominee, in a country in which racial distrust runs deep and often unspoken, embarking at a critical juncture in his campaign upon what may be the most significant public discussion of race in decades.

In a speech whose frankness about race many historians said could be likened only to speeches by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln , Senator Barack Obama, speaking across the street from where the Constitution was written, traced the country's race problem back to not simply the country's "original sin of slavery" but the protections for it embedded in the Constitution.

Yet the speech was also hopeful, patriotic, quintessentially American - delivered against a blue backdrop and a phalanx of stars and stripes. Mr. Obama invoked the fundamental values of equality of opportunity, fairness, social justice. He confronted race head-on, then reached beyond it to talk sympathetically about the experiences of the white working class and the plight of workers stripped of jobs and pensions.

The title of a hagiographic editorial that same day gushed about "Mr. Obama's Profile in Courage."

Larry Rohter and Michael Luo contributed to the glowing notices the next day with "Groups Respond to Obama's Call for National Discussion About Race." (Wasn'tObama's post-racialcampaign supposedly part of his appeal?)

And the Times breached its usual concern about the separation of church and state in a front-page story by religion reporters Laurie Goodstein and Neela Banerjee on March 23, Easter Sunday. The Times canvassed pastors at mostly urban liberal churches to see how Obama's speech would politicize - um, enrich-their Easter sermons in "Obama Talk Fuels Easter Sermons - Some Religious Leaders Interweave Race and Resurrection."

After quoting various preachers at urban churches, the Times praised Wright:

Television programs showed recorded parts of sermons by Mr. Wright, who is nationally known for his work in creating economic development programs in the inner city, inspiring many other black pastors to do the same, and for his fiery, prophetic preaching style. In the excerpts, Mr. Wright thunders that the government has inflicted AIDS on black people, and that the United States deserved the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The Wright controversy may have wounded Obama among the electorate, but the Times saw smooth sailing. Not until Wright embarked on a media tour (including an embarrassing speech at the National Press Club) did Obama cut ties with him.

6) McCain Disqualified at Birth?

Soon after the paper endorsed John McCain, albeit in a hold-your-nose fashion, as its preferred Republican presidential nominee, the Times began to call McCain's age and even his presidential eligibility into question. Reporter Michael Cooper got the ball rolling in a February 24 story, printed the week after the paper's notorious affair allegations: "McCain's Age, Analysts Say, Is Likely to Figure in His Selection of a Running Mate."

The quest to win the presidency at an age when he would be too old to be a commercial airline pilot or even a judge in some states has already led Mr. McCain to adopt a more grueling campaign schedule, and a more vigorous style, than several of his younger rivals. Now that Mr. McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee, political analysts say, his age will most likely factor into his selection of a running mate...But he does have white hair, scars from a bout with melanoma and limited flexibility from the injuries he sustained as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. And the fact remains that by the end of a second McCain term, he would be in his 80s.

Was the Times not aware of all that when it endorsed him?

Congressional reporter Carl Hulse went even further on February 28, reporting on a controversy over whether John McCain's birthplace (the Panama Canal Zone, where his Navy officer father was stationed in 1936) made the Arizona senator ineligible for the presidency. Article II of the Constitution declares that only a "natural-born citizen" can serve as president. Hulse reported the McCain campaign was researching the question due to "mounting interest" and "Internet buzz."

Mr. McCain's likely nomination as the Republican candidate for president and the happenstance of his birth in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 are reviving a musty debate that has surfaced periodically since the founders first set quill to parchment and declared that only a "natural-born citizen" can hold the nation's highest office.

Almost since those words were written in 1787 with scant explanation, their precise meaning has been the stuff of confusion, law school review articles, whisper campaigns and civics class debates over whether only those delivered on American soil can be truly natural born. To date, no American to take the presidential oath has had an official birthplace outside the 50 states.

"There are powerful arguments that Senator McCain or anyone else in this position is constitutionally qualified, but there is certainly no precedent," said Sarah H. Duggin, an associate professor of law at Catholic University who has studied the issue extensively. "It is not a slam-dunk situation."

The story went nowhere, but legal reporter Adam Liptak's story July 11 resurrected it under the hopeful headline, "A Hint of New Life to a McCain Birth Issue," and detailed findings from a Democratic college professor allegedly showing McCain unable to satisfy the constitutional requirement of being a "natural-born citizen."

In the most detailed examination yet of Senator John McCain's eligibility to be president, a law professor at the University of Arizona has concluded that neither Mr. McCain's birth in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone nor the fact that his parents were American citizens is enough to satisfy the constitutional requirement that the president must be a "natural-born citizen."

The analysis, by Prof. Gabriel J. Chin, focused on a 1937 law that has been largely overlooked in the debate over Mr. McCain's eligibility to be president. The law conferred citizenship on children of American parents born in the Canal Zone after 1904, and it made John McCain a citizen just before his first birthday. But the law came too late, Professor Chin argued, to make Mr. McCain a natural-born citizen.

In contrast, the Times never brought up Internet rumors about the validity of Obama's birth certificate.

5) Gaffe Machine McCain vs. Mistake-Free Obama

Throughout the long campaign, John McCain was portrayed as a gaffe machine, his every utterance scrutinized for potential mistakes, while Barack Obama ran a supposedly gaffe-free campaign yet got away with enormous factual whoppers.

The Times leaped on an apparent McCain mistake about troop levels in Iraq in "2 Campaigns Flare Up Over Iraq Troop Levels" by Michael Luo and Sarah Wheaton from May 31:

A fierce debate erupted on Friday between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama over whether Mr. McCain misspoke at a town-hall-style meeting the previous day when he said that American troops in Iraq had been reduced to "pre-surge levels."

Mr. McCain has been hammering Mr. Obama on his judgment on national security and his comprehension of the situation in Iraq, noting that the Democrat last visited Iraq two and a half years ago.

The Obama campaign pounced Friday on Mr. McCain's statement on troop levels, arguing that the Republican candidate was the one who was out of touch with the facts in Iraq. In a conference call, Obama aides reviewed a series of what they said were gaffes Mr. McCain had made talking about the war.

McCain's speaking struggles prompted a front-page analysis July 6 by Mark Leibovich, "McCainBattles a Nemesis, the Teleprompter." Leibovich forwarded insults of McCain from the liberal comedy show "The Colbert Report," then replayed some of the candidate's greatest gaffes.

There are any number of Web videos of Mr. McCain to prove the point. They include the moment he playfully called a young man a "jerk" at a town-hall-style meeting in New Hampshire last year after he asked Mr. McCain if his age made him a candidate for Alzheimer's disease in the White House (Mr. McCain typically uses jerk as a term of affection), or when he suggested to Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" that he brought him a special gift from Iraq - an improvised explosive device.

Small misstatements become instant YouTube fodder - as when Mr. McCain vowed to "veto every single beer" that included lawmakers' pet spending projects (he meant "bill") or when he said the government should have been able to deliver "bottled hot water" to dehydrated babies in New Orleans. (It is fortunate for Mr. McCain that there was no YouTube in the 1980s when he jokingly referred to the retirement community Leisure World as "Seizure World.")

By contrast, the Times consistently ignored Obama's gaffes, like seeing fallen heroesin a Memorial Day audience, or counting up 58 states in the Union, or his evident belief that the climactic scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (in which Cary Grant hangs off Mt. Rushmore) was actually shot at Mt. Rushmore, asking a park ranger, "How did they get up there in the first place?"

"They didn't. It was a movie set," Jensen told him.

That sounds like a Dan Quayle joke waiting to happen, but the Times tossed the incident aside, a puzzle piece that didn't fit its narrative of a sophisticated Obama. Reporter Michael Powell even trailed Obama to South Dakota in early June and mentioned his late night visit to the national landmark without bringing up Obama's confusion.

4) Sarah Palin Meets the New Traditionalists at the New York Times

John McCain inspired the 2008 GOP National Convention in Minneapolis with his surprise selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, and in the process turned some Times' female reporters into social traditionalists, fretting whether Palin, a mother of five soon to be a grandmother, would be able to juggle the duties of mother and national office.

The Times' strange in-house social conservative backlash started with a September 1 "Political Points" podcast from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn, where listeners met the newly minted traditionalists at the Times, two female reporters who seem to doubt whether or not a woman could have it all - at least if the woman was a Republican vice-presidential nominee.

The conversation was dominated by the news that Palin's daughter Bristol was pregnant, resulting in a richly hypocritical conversation in whichtwo Timesfemale reporters stated that the issue was fair game:

Host Jane Bornemeier: "Jackie, you were just talking to Steve Schmidt, the senior advisor for the McCain campaign. What does he say about how this will affect the convention going forward, and what the fallout is among Republicans?"

Reporter Jackie Calmes: "Well, to hear Steve talking, [unintelligible] think there will be no fallout, and that he attacks - the questions - as offensive, and that the American people will respect the privacy and will in fact turn against the media and anybody else who tries to make an issue of this. But it's a difficult argument to make, considering that in the days since Sarah Palin was announced as Senator McCain's running mate, the campaign has made a very big deal of every other element of her personal life, and her personality and her family life, and so it would be highly unrealistic to think that the public wouldn't be hugely interested in this."

Calmes blamed McCain and Palin for the attention the media was giving to Palin's pregnant daughter before reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg chimed in:

"But I just want to say that one of the questions I put to Steve out there, when a lot of reporters had gathered around Steve Schmidt, was that, you know, there will be - they're trying to appeal to women with her candidacy, women voters, and I do think there will be a number that will be against the media, there always are, for not respecting privacy. But at the same time there will be the question of why Gov. Palin and Senator McCain would embark on this campaign together, knowing it would subject this 17-year-old to having, not just national but international attention to her pregnancy."

Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg: "You know Jane, I think that the campaign was really calculating that the standard that was used for Chelsea Clinton and the Bush girls and now the Obama girls would be applied to the Palin family, which is that the kids are left out of it. But frankly I'm not sure that it will work this time, precisely because of what Jackie said, they've made a big issue of her personal life. She herself, Gov. Palin, has a new baby, and so one question that comes up, is this is a woman that has a lot going on in her personal life, she's got a new baby herself, her daughter's about to get married and have a baby, a lot going on there. I do think it's a fair question to ask how she will juggle those responsibilities. Maybe it's a question that wouldn't be asked of a man, as Steve Schmidt said, but it is a question that I think Americans will ask."

Stolberg's post on September 3, "DeLay Offers Advice to Palin: Be Yourself," showed she couldn't let Palin's daughter's pregnancy go. After quoting former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay giving Palin advice, she followed up by rehashing liberal media talking points about Palin and actually asked DeLay if Palin should talk about her husband's quarter-century old DUI:

But what about the business of Ms. Palin's complicated family: her feud with her state trooper brother-in-law, which sparked an ethics investigation; her husband, who was arrested on drunk driving charges 24 years ago; her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, whose pregnancy - and decision to get married to keep her baby - has prompted conservatives to rally around Ms. Palin as a woman who opposes abortion and practices what she preaches? Does she need to address all that?

"No," Mr. DeLay said flatly.

Finally, White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller launched this attack on Palin in a September 4 story after Palin's acceptance speech:

Ms. Palin's speech came after Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York launched a withering attack on Mr. Obama as part of a relentless assault by Republicans arguing that Ms. Palin, the former mayor of a town of less than 7,000 people who has been governor of Alaska for 20 months, had a more impressive resume than Mr. Obama.

3) A Stark Supreme Court Double Standard

A May 28 Supreme Court preview story by law reporter Neil Lewis warned nearly 20 times that McCain would appoint "conservatives" to the Court - yet no labels were applied to Obama's potential picks.

Lewis's report was headlined "Stark Contrasts Between McCain and Obama in Judicial Wars." But the truly "stark contrast" was in how Lewis treated the respective camps with regard to their hypothetical Supreme Court nominations. Lewis painted an uninvolved McCain as paying "fealty" to "the conservative faithful," while an engaged Obama would be merely trying to reverse the "current conservative dominance of the courts" without displaying any liberal ideological thrust of his own. While there were tons of "conservatives" (18 in all in a 1,400-word story) emanating from the McCain camp but not a single "liberal" to be found around Obama.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, has already asserted that if elected he would reinforce the conservative judicial counterrevolution that began with President Ronald Reagan by naming candidates for the bench with a reliable conservative outlook.

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has been less explicit about how he would use the authority to nominate judicial candidates, but he would be able to - and fellow Democrats certainly expect him to - reverse or even undo the current conservative dominance of the courts.

Lewis implied Republicans were ignorant of the nuances of the law and mere puppets of conservative lawyers, as opposed to Obama's "long and deep interest in the courts and the law."

Like Mr. McCain, neither Mr. Reagan nor Mr. Bush was a lawyer and, adopting the same rhetoric as Mr. McCain is now using, they became enthusiastic instruments of those conservative lawyers who were diligent in choosing conservative judicial nominees.

Mr. Obama, on the other hand, is a lawyer and has had a long and deep interest in the courts and the law. Cass R. Sunstein, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and an Obama adviser, said in an interview that because Mr. Obama had taught constitutional law for 10 years at Chicago, "he is immersed in these issues."

Lewis went on to name five hypothetical Obama Supreme Court nominees, yet labeled none of them as liberal. He even got another unlabeled liberal to deny that Obama would be liberal, or as Lewis puts it, "ideological."

Prof. Charles J. Ogletree Jr. of Harvard Law School, who taught both Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, sought to dispel the idea that Mr. Obama's nominees would be especially ideological. "It seems likely to me that he won't have an agenda of trying to pack the courts to necessarily move it in a different direction," Professor Ogletree said in an interview.

2) Bizarre: McCain's Celebrity Ad Racist?

The Times reacted badly to an effective McCain camp ad likening Obama's "celebrity" status to lightweight celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, suggesting the ad was not only silly and unfair but....racist.

The back and forth of racial accusations between the Obama and McCain camps made the August 1 front page ("McCain Camp Says Obama Plays 'Race Card'"). Reporters Michael Cooper and Michael Powell suggested it was the GOP, not Obama, injecting race into the campaign, and relayed some dubious anecdotes to suggest Obama was a victim of racist Republican attacks.

Senator John McCain's campaign accused Senator Barack Obama on Thursday of playing "the race card," citing his remarks that Republicans would try to scare voters by pointing out that he "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

The exchange injected racial politics front and center into the general election campaign for the first time, after it became a subtext in the primary between Mr. Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It came as the McCain campaign was intensifying its attacks, trying to throw its Democratic opponent off course before the conventions.

"Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck," Mr. McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, charged in a statement with which Mr. McCain later said he agreed. "It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."

In leveling the charge, Mr. Davis was referring to comments that Mr. Obama made Wednesday in Missouri when he reacted to the increasingly negative tone and negative advertisements from the McCain campaign, including one that likens Mr. Obama's celebrity status to that of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

The Times then had the nerve to accuse McCain campaign manager Rick Davis of injecting race into the race, even though the paper itself had quoted Obama raising the race issue with his "all those other presidents on the dollar bills" comment.

With his rejoinder about playing "the race card," Mr. Davis effectively assured that race would once again become an unavoidable issue as voters face an election in which, for the first time, one of the major parties' nominees is African-American.

And with its criticism, the McCain campaign was ensuring that Mr. Obama's race - he is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas - would again be a factor in coverage of the presidential race. On Thursday, it took the spotlight from Mr. Obama when he had sought to attack Mr. McCain on energy issues.

Soon came thisslanted stroll down campaign memory lane:

In the 2006 Senate race in Tennessee, Republicans ran an advertisement against a black candidate, the Democrat Harold E. Ford Jr., that featured a white woman saying, with a wink, "Harold, call me." Some have drawn parallels between that commercial and the McCain campaign's advertisement juxtaposing Ms. Spears and Ms. Hilton with Mr. Obama.

After accusing the McCain camp of having first "invoked race," Cooper and Powellcontinued:

Mr. Obama has been the victim of some racist and racially tinged attacks this year, particularly during the primaries.

Underground e-mail campaigns have spread the false rumor that he is Muslim and questioned his patriotism by falsely charging that he does not put his hand over his heart when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. A button spotted outside the Texas Republican convention asked, "If Obama Is President...Will We Still Call It the White House?"

Islam is a religion, not a race. The Times obviously has a subtle grasp of race issues if it can tease race out of the "hand over his heart" accusation. And must black actor-comedian Chris Rock apologize for the tag line to his 2003 movie "Head of State," a comedy about a D.C. alderman who unexpectedly rises to the presidency: "The only thing white is the house."

The Times' editorial board went even further, posting a ridiculous entry on its "The Board" blog callingthe "Celebrity" ada "racially tinged attack" on Barack Obama:

The presumptive Republican nominee has embarked on a bare-knuckled barrage of negative advertising aimed at belittling Mr. Obama. The most recent ad compares the presumptive Democratic nominee for president to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton - suggesting to voters that he's nothing more than a bubble-headed, publicity-seeking celebrity.

The ad gave us an uneasy feeling that the McCain campaign was starting up the same sort of racially tinged attack on Mr. Obama that Republican operatives ran against Harold Ford, a black candidate for Senate in Tennessee in 2006. That assault, too, began with videos juxtaposing Mr. Ford with young, white women.

1) McCain Affair Allegations Backfire on the Times

Anonymous allegations of a John McCain affair with a telecom lobbyist surfaced in a February 21 front-page story and promptly backfired, as the paper did what McCain himself had been unable to do up to that point in the campaign - rally conservatives to his side.

The bombshell fizzled out among conservatives and liberals alike, who dismissed the story from the Times' four-person team (reporters Jim Rutenberg, Marilyn Thompson, David Kirkpatrick and Stephen Labaton) as a strained mix of innuendo and old news:

Early in Senator John McCain's first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client's corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself - instructing staff members to block the woman's access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist's client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

Yet the Times could get no one on the record willing to allege an affair between McCain and Iseman. After dumping that innuendo, the Times waltzed down well-trod portions of Memory Lane to recap the Keating Five Savings and Loan scandal, reminding readers that Charles Keating, the notorious owner of Lincoln Savings & Loan Association, contributed heavily to McCain's Senate campaigns.

Not even the liberal New Republic was impressed:

So here's the essence of the Times' 3,000-word "bombshell" on John McCain.

John Weaver, whom McCain fired last summer (identified in the Times piece as "now an informal campaign adviser" to McCain, which sounds like a puffed-up euphemism for "unemployed") says that 8 years ago, he and two other former employees who have since "become disillusioned" (read: disgruntled), suspected that McCain was having an affair with a lobbyist.

The rest of the article, rehashing old news about the Keating Five, is, as Rich Lowry says, complete "window dressing." If you had been wondering whether the Times was in the tank for Obama, well, here's your answer.

Daniel Politi noticed the awkwardness in his "Today's Papers" column for Slate.

The story itself is rather odd because it begins with the explosive revelation that McCain might have had an affair, but it then tries to blend it in with a look back at the Keating Five scandal and other instances where McCain stepped away from his persona as a lawmaker who fights against special interests, which could have been interesting by itself as a mere memory-jogger. The NYT then waits until near the end of the story to go back to the relationship with the lobbyist. Overall, the paper presents surprisingly little evidence that there actually was inappropriate behavior beyond the concerns of some staffers, which makes one wonder what was left out of a piece that was undoubtedly heavily vetted by lawyers.

Not even the Times' often-toothless internal watchdog, Public Editor Clark Hoyt, thought the paper had delivered the goods, writing in the February 24 Week in Review:

A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.