Why John McCain Owes The New York Times a Thank You Card

02/21/2008 12:56 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Republican Right is already howling over the bombshell dropped by The New York Times on John McCain, the GOP's all-but-official nominee. It's an outrage, they say. A deliberate torpedo. A liberal media smear.

Sorry, but these guys have got it backwards. The Times, in fact, couldn't have found a moment more favorable for Johnny Mack to let this fearsome cat out of the bag. If McCain could have personally chosen when to have this story break, it would have been right about now.

Not to say that the well-researched piece that broke late Wednesday evening isn't any candidate's nightmare. It's not only a detailed run-down of McCain's awfully close friendship with a pert and well-connected lobbyist thirty years his junior; the Times also does an admirable job of rehashing the Senator's long record of cozying up to the same sort of lobbyists against whom he repeatedly rails in public.

So what's my beef? The timing, folks. The timing. Everyone who knows anyone has been hearing about this story for some months. Back in December, Matt Drudge got wind of it from inside the Times and teased it at the top of his site. We all waited, but the shoe never dropped.

Under what is said to be intense pressure from McCain and prominent D.C. criminal attorney Robert Bennett, who was hired to help deal with the matter, the Times capitulated and held off on publishing the story - offering no explanation, then or now. And if you read through the piece just published, there doesn't seem to be any new information that the Times couldn't have had two months ago.

So what, you ask? Just one small detail: In the intervening weeks between the moment when the Times was first going to publish the story and finally did publish the story, the same New York Times endorsed John McCain! And while he's described in the endorsement editorial as a "staunch advocate of campaign finance reform" he's tagged in this Wednesday's news piece as having accepted favors from those with matters that came before the very committee he used to push that reform. And many, many other favors.

More importantly, if the Times had published its expose when it first had it over Christmas, it would have preceded all of the Republican primaries and caucuses. To say it would have changed the dynamic of the GOP race is perhaps the understatement of the decade. You can bet Mitt Romney and even Mayor Rudy are up late tonight gnashing their teeth and pounding their heads against the wall over this one.

So should Republican voters. They've been seriously toyed with by the paper of record. The Times gives them McCain. And then, only after it's too late to reconsider, it takes him away. McCain might, indeed, be seriously wounded by this week's revelations. If they had come out two months ago, he would have been reduced to a political asterisk, a footnote alongside Tommy Thompson and Tommy Tancredo.

Yes, we know how the Times will plead: innocent. There's a clear division, you see, between the news side and the editorial pages of the paper. Tut tut.

More like a clear division between the real and the surreal.