Editor Bill Keller's Judgment Clouded by Liberal Politics

Executive Editor Bill Keller's political paranoia clouded his editorial judgment, leading him to omit Barack Obama's middle-name "Hussein" from a front-page profile out of "caution."

The Times recently took some heat from the left for spelling out Barack Hussein Obama's full name three times on its front page the day after he was officially nominated as presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.

Pursuing the controversy, Public Editor Clark Hoyt asked Executive Editor Bill Keller why the Times had omitted Obama's middle name "Hussein"from a special front-page profile from June that seemed to require it, by the lights of the Times' style guidelines.

Keller apparently let liberal paranoia interfere with his editorial judgment on that occasion. Keller explained that he had omitted Obama's middle name because a conservative talk radio host had recently used it disparagingly at a McCain rally.

My assistant, Michael McElroy, checked and found that the "Man in the News" profiles of every presidential candidate since 1960 have used full middle names in the headline and the article - from John Fitzgerald Kennedy to John Sidney McCain III - with one exception. When Obama sewed up the Democratic nomination in early June, the front-page "Man in the News" was plain old Barack Obama.

That was "a deadline misstep - mine," said Bill Keller, the executive editor. A few months earlier, Bill Cunningham, a conservative talk radio host, had used Obama's middle name three times while disparaging him at a McCain campaign rally. McCain quickly repudiated the remarks. "That was still in the air," Keller said, "and it seemed to me appropriately cautious to omit his middle name." Keller said that by the next day, "it struck me as a mistake."

The Times has previously wagged the finger at conservatives who spelled out BHO's full name. From a July 4 story by Patrick Healy quoting McCain aides:

The McCain camp faces the challenge of negatively defining an opponent who has a relatively short tenure in office and a thin record to dissect, unlike longer-serving senators like Mrs. Clinton or John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee. McCain advisers also say they are wary of unleashing allies to attack Mr. Obama, given how some conservatives have overstepped and been criticized for racially tinged remarks. ...At the same time, they said they were trying to be careful about overreaching, noting that Mr. McCain has pledged to run a "respectful" campaign. They said Mr. McCain felt forced to distance himself from conservatives who sought to damage his opponent by using Mr. Obama's full name, Barack Hussein Obama, or by running a commercial that played up his ties to his former pastor, who has been criticized as making racially inflammatory remarks.

From a February 27 Michael Luo story:

Mr. Obama's middle name, which is Muslim in origin, comes from his late father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., a Kenyan. [Radio host Bill] Cunningham, like some other conservative commentators, uses it frequently when referring to Mr. Obama, apparently to draw attention to his ancestry. Mr. Obama has been dogged by whispered rumors that he is a Muslim; he is a Christian.