Exactly one year ago this weekend, the the Huffington Post's Danny Shea broke the news that, as Jim Morrison might have put it, the Kristol Ship was about to sail at The New York Times. Much uproar ensued across the blogosphere. I recalled Kristol's call for the paper to be prosecuted, on Fox News in 2006, after its big banking records scoop: "I think it is an open question whether the Times itself should be prosecuted for this totally gratuitous revealing of an ongoing secret classified program that is part of the war on terror."
A day after the Huffington Post reported it, the Times announced that it had indeed hired the conservative pundit as a new weekly op-ed columnist, on a one-year contract.
Liberal bloggers really reacted now and Kristol said, in an interview with Politico.com, it gave him some pleasure to see their "heads explode." Kristol, of course, was perhaps the most influential pundit of all in promoting the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has strongly defended the move ever since.
Times editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal backed the move. Rosenthal told Politico.com shortly after the official announcement that he failed to understand "this weird fear of opposing views....We have views on our op-ed page that are as hawkish or more so than Bill... The idea that the New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual -- and somehow that's a bad thing," Rosenthal added. "How intolerant is that?"
The paper, however, noted in its own announcement: "In a 2003 column on the turmoil within the Times that led to the downfall of the top two editors, he wrote that it was not 'a first-rate newspaper of record,' adding, 'the Times is irredeemable.'"
Fun soon followed when, on January 7, eight paragraphs into his new stint as op-ed columnist, Kristol already made an embarrassing error.
His column, which suggested (with his usual prescience) that the Democrats not underestimate Mike Huckabee's chances to win it all, included a paragraph just past the midway point, in which he quoted the "conservative writer Michelle Malkin" as saying, "For the work-hard-to-get-ahead strivers who represent the heart and soul of the G.O.P., there are obvious, powerful points of identification."
There was just one problem : She never said or wrote it, as she was quick to point out herself on her michellemalkin.com site: "Since I never usually appear on the New York Times op-ed page unless someone's calling me a fascist, I was pleasantly surprised to see the quote. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I didn't write what Kristol attributed to me. A different MM - Michael Medved - was the author."
Several long hours passed before Malkin was changed to Medved in the column at nytimes.com, with a note at the bottom of the column disclosing the original error. But as Jon Stewart is fond of saying, "Bill Kristol, aren't you ever right?"
Six days later, in a message that probably did not going down well in the New York Times' front office, the paper's public editor, Clark Hoyt, said the Times needed to hire a conservative of some stripe but called the hiring of Kristol as an op-ed columnist a "mistake."
He also wrote that of nearly 700 messages he has received about the selection, only one praised the pick. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., he revealed, "was surprised by the vehemence of the reaction."
Hoyt concluded the column: "This is a decision I would not have made. But it is not the end of the world. Everyone should take a deep breath and calm down.... If Kristol is another [William] Safire, he has the chance to prove it. If not, he and the newspaper will move on, and the search will resume." Kristol proceeded to suggest Clarence Thomas for vice president and then promote Sarah Palin. He even accused Stewart of relying too much on information in the...New York Times.
Now, a year later, the Times indeed has a chance to "move on." What do you think will happen?
Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher. His latest book on Iraq and the media is titled "So Wrong for So Long." His book on the 2008 campaign will be published next month.