Blair related how he hoodwinked the editors in an autobiographical book titled, "Burning Down My Masters' House."
As of this writing, McCain has emerged triumphant and the Times has egg all over its face. Even Times admirers in the media, where the paper has long been regarded as the gold standard of journalism, are professing astonishment at the story. Something is either terribly wrong at the Times, or the Times is withholding something.
For, among American newspapers, the Times has always been among the most reluctant to get into personal lives. Its own rules for anonymous sources were violated in this story. The sources never said they knew of an affair, only that they suspected one. That does not rise to the Times' own standards for backing up a story that could abort the nomination of a Republican front-runner for president and throw the party into chaos.
Also, the Drudge Report on Dec. 20 revealed a battle inside the paper over whether to publish this story. It was withheld, as McCain, the Times' endorsed candidate for the nomination, began eking out a series of victories in the primaries.
If Keller felt the story, a head shot at McCain, was fit to print on Feb. 21, after McCain had won the nomination, why was it not fit to publish on Dec. 21, when an untainted Republican like Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney might have won?
Was the Times deliberately withholding, then deploying, dirt, first to advance, then to destroy McCain and the GOP chances in November? Is Bill Keller using the information his reporters gather to try to affect the outcome of a presidential race?
In the absence of a Times defense of this seemingly indefensible story, what other conclusion is there for the timing?
"We're going to go to war with them now," said McCain adviser Charlie Black. McCain's people have every right. For the Times has sought to inflict a mortal wound on their candidate's character, and McCain's people contend it is all malicious innuendo or lies.
On the table now is not just McCain's credibility, candidacy and career, but the character and credibility of The New York Times.
One of the two is going to lose, big-time.