The rumors have escalated for weeks. Supposedly, the New York Times editorial board wanted to back Barack Obama in the state primary way back in mid-winter but publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. got a call from a Clintonite and ordered the endorsement to go to her. Tantalizing, but is there any truth to it?
The speculation started, in print, with a Feb. 28 story by Gabriel Sherman in the New Republic that claimed: "The 20-member board had initially leaned toward Obama, Times sources say. But in January, after the board had debated the endorsement in two separate sessions, Times chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. decided to favor Clinton." The Times' editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, did not specifically deny the charge to Sherman, but also did not in any way confirm.
This week, Michael Wolff, in a new Vanity Fair piece on the Times' overall problems, furthered the rumor. "The Times editorial board was, apparently, planning to endorse Barack Obama in the New York primary; the Clinton campaign, getting wind of this, called upon one of its major financial supporters (and eager-beaver prospective Treasury secretary), the private-equity manager Steven Rattner, the best friend and principal adviser of Arthur Sulzberger Jr.," Wolff wrote. "Rattner is thought to have petitioned Sulzberger, and Sulzberger thereupon overruled his editorial board, which then backed Clinton."
This time Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp went to Rosenthal, who told him late yesterday that Wolff was all wrong. "Arthur Sulzberger did not overrule the board," Rosenthal said. "The sentiment of the Times board was overwhelmingly to endorse Hillary Clinton in the primary," Rosenthal told E&P. "Arthur did not overrule anything."
Rosenthal declined to say exactly how the board voted on the endorsement, but stressed that Clinton was the choice of the board members, which did not include Sulzberger. "Michael Wolff's account of our endorsement is completely false," he said. "I haven't a clue why somebody would print something that is not true."
He added that, "it is our policy not to comment on endorsements. But that [the Wolff account] is so wrong, we felt we had to do it."
More to come?
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It features a foreword by Joe Galloway and preface by Bruce Springsteen. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.