The Times’ Timing: Three Theories

The New York Times piece on John McCain’s lobbyist ties has people scratching their heads over not just why the paper ran it, but why they ran it now. A few rationales being floated:

Theory #1: The Times wanted to influence the election. Rush Limbaugh argued on his radio show that now that McCain has secured the nomination, he has been trying to rally the Republican base by drifting further right. Which, according to Limbaugh, made the Times regret its decision to endorse him. Therefore, they wanted to take McCain down a notch.
Verdict: Silly. If anything, the timing avoided influencing the GOP nomination. (See next theory.) Plus, this theory assumes that news reporters care what their editorial page thinks.  

Theory #2: The Times wanted to avoid influencing the election. Back in December, Matt Drudge reported that “[executive editor Bill] Keller expressed serious reservations about journalism ethics and issuing a damaging story so close to an election.” By that logic, the Times held the piece long enough that it would not decide the outcome of the GOP primary.
Verdict: Likely. Keller has been relatively accommodating when it comes to holding stories that could unduly influence events. (See the Times ’ wiretapping story, which he held for over a year .) Any earlier, and the Times would have been accused of meddling.

Theory #3: The New Republic was about to break it. According to Gabriel Sherman’s behind-the-scenes TNR piece , a McCain aide claimed that the Times “did this because The New Republic was going to run a story that looked back at the infighting there, the Judy Miller-type power struggles—they decided that they would rather smear McCain than suffer a story that made The New York Times newsroom look bad.”
Verdict: Possible. Sure, the TNR piece included details of the struggle over Iseman and would have scooped the Times . But it’s not like the Times avoided the negative TNR story by rushing their own piece to print. If anything, they guaranteed it would run soonest.