The Times gave Obama some editorial space, and McCain submitted his own response. The op-ed editor, David Shipley, a former Clinton speechwriter and special assistant to Billy wrote:
I’d be very eager to publish the senator on the op-ed page. However, I’m not going to be able to accept this piece as currently written. I’d be pleased, though, to look at another draft. Let me suggest an approach…It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama’s piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory — with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the Senator’s Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan… (source).
Under the law, the New York Times had every right to reject McCain’s op-ed. In Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241 (1974), the Supreme Court held that a Florida law that guaranteed a right of equal access to candidates unconstitutionally infringed on the freedom of the press. The legal theory was that the government can’t compel the Miami Herald (or anyone else for that matter) to speak or to issue statements that they don’t agree with. This is the same principle that allows you to refuse to salute the flag (See West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)) or to refuse to display “Live Free or Die” on your license plate. See Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705 (1977). A country where the government can force you to speak is just as scary (if not more so) than a country where the government can stop you from speaking.
That said, Shipley’s action seems to be ill-considered. The law may allow the New York Times to reject McCain’s op-ed, but this smacked of exactly the kind of liberal bias and elitist snobbery that gets the 27 percenters knickers in a bunch.
Shipley had no place trying to force McCain to frame the issues to fit his political beliefs. A newspaper of record should endeavor to provide its readers with unfiltered opinions from the candidates — not opinions framed to suit the editorial page’s biased liberal (or conservative) lens.
The media is the only profession that has its very own constitutional Amendment and that is specifically protected by name in the Bill of Rights. Abusing that privilege makes it all the more likely that the mouth breathers will be able to be conned into an even more dismal view of the First Amendment. Mr. Shipley had every legal right to make this decision, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong-headed.