Let’s assume what’s obvious: The story wasn’t close to a game changer. Let’s also agree that even if Strom did tell her source what the source says she said–namely that the paper didn’t want to print “a game-changer for either side that close to the election”–it might not mean all that much. Reporters tell sources things all the time to gracefully explain why they’re being dropped. The real reason might be something else–like that the reporter doesn’t believe the source is sufficiently credible, in which case it’s easier to give a fake reason.
But here’s the thing: Are you really confident that the NYT wouldn’t spike an anti-Obama story in the waning days of the election out of fear–conscious or semi-subconscious–that it might badly hurt him? I had a revealing argument with a politically sophisticated friend–call him “Max”– when the “game changer” charge first surfaced. Max’s argument: Suppose it were a scandal sufficiently big to sink Obama. Any red-blooded Times reporter would be proud to publish it and tack Obama’s scalp to the wall. To have taken down a presidential nominee–that would be a professional achievement, maybe a Pulitzer. They’d be high-fiving in the newsroom.
I think my friend is right about the culture of the newsroom–about 45 years ago. As for today, I think he’s living in a dreamworld. Even if the Times had published such a story, Times reporters would certainly not have high-fived the colleague who’d cost Obama the election. Not after two terms of Bush. And I have no faith the paper would even have published it (before allowing the reporter to slink out of the building). In part, that’s because I have no faith that I’d publish it. The old adversarial ethic–I play my role and let the system take care of the moral consequences–rightly went mostly out the window with the ascension of the Sixties cohort.
In part it’s because, if there’s one major change Pinch Sulzberger has presided over at the Times, it’s the end of the pretense that his reporters have to be ashamed of their strong political beliefs. And we know, in the case of the Times, what those beliefs mostly are. …
Related: I know I’m shocked at this headline, how ’bout you? “Reuters Ignores Obama Link to Convicted Democrat Fundraiser.”