Shortly before John McCain suspended his campaign to help with the Wall Street bailout, his generals declared war on The New York Times.
In a conference call this week, McCain senior aide Steven Schmidt bellowed: "Whatever The New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization. It is a pro-Obama advocacy organization that every day impugns the McCain campaign, attacks Sen. McCain, attacks Gov. (Sarah) Palin. ... Everything that is read in The New York Times that attacks this campaign should be evaluated by the American people from that perspective."
Strong stuff. And, to be fair, not exactly accurate. Biased or not, The New York Times is, of course, a "journalistic organization." There are many rooms in the mansion of journalism, and being fair or even-handed is not what makes journalism journalistic. In Europe, virtually all of the major papers are more ideologically biased than the Times, and I say that as someone whose father taught me to distrust the Times the way some Irishmen once taught their kids to distrust the English.
But to admit that Schmidt exaggerates his case is not to say that the truth isn't on his side. You can't exaggerate a lie.
One good test of how the Times has been covering the race is to see who is defending it. Liberal pro-Obama columnist E.J. Dionne protested the McCain attack as an attempt to "intimidate reporters and discredit those who try to give an honest account of the campaign."
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen lamented on a left-leaning media site that if the McCain campaign thinks the Times is a "political action committee working for Obama ... then why does the Times have to treat the McCain crew as a Œnormal' campaign organization, rather than a bunch of rogue operators willing to say absolutely anything to gain power and lie to the nation once in office?"
The answer should be obvious: The New York Times doesn't owe fairness to McCain, it owes accuracy to its readers. Fairness to McCain would simply be a happy byproduct of that accuracy.
But the most telling defender of the Times was the Obama campaign itself, which leapt to vouch for the Gray Lady's probing investigative integrity. (Note: this is the same campaign that implored the Justice Department to shut down anti-Obama ads it didn't like and encouraged supporters to harass and shout down journalists - including my National Review colleagues David Fredosso and Stanley Kurtz - who've tried to investigate Obama's record with a gusto not to be found at America's "paper of record.")
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