The New York Times waited just hours after President Bush commuted the sentence of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., before issuing an editorial condemning the president's decision. It puts the paper in the position of favoring a judge's decision to impose a 30-month prison sentence on a person whose main crime, if there was one, stems from his effort to protect his ability to serve as a source for a New York Times reporter. Does the New York Times think its readers have forgotten the tenacious legal and public relations battle the paper fought to prevent the special prosecutor in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald, from wringing from its reporter Libby's name? Or the stream of top executives from the paper who visited the reporter in jail while she was refusing to give up her source?
None of that was mentioned in the editorial complaining of Bush's decision to commute the sentence. But had the Times and its lawyers succeeded in their legal and public relations quest to prevent their reporter from having to testify in the case, the consequence would have been the same — Scooter Libby would have been an unconvicted man. Somehow, when President Bush makes that happen, the Times deems it worthy of contempt. If it had happened as a result of the maneuverings of the Times' first amendment lawyers, they'd no doubt be celebrating over on West 43rd Street.
The Times editorial made much of the supposed hypocrisy of the tough-on-crime right in supporting the decision to commute the sentence. It ran out its editorial under the headline "soft on crime," though it has been soft on crime for years, save for when Republicans are in the dock. Its support for throwing a public official in jail for 30 months for the crime of trying to deflect attention from his having talked to a Times reporter, after going to the mat on behalf of the Times reporter's right to keep the source's name a secret — well, it's a Times classic, one to make New Yorkers recognize that the hypocrisy in this case isn't on the right wing.