Now that Republican John McCain is the only thing standing between a history-making Democratic president (first black or first woman), it seems the Times' treatment of McCain has grown considerably cooler than when he was the moderate "maverick" among conservative Republicans and the target of virtually unsullied praise in the paper's news pages.
First there was last week's already infamous (and unsubstantiated) allegations of a McCain affair with a lobbyist. Before that, McCain's temper got a rare turn in the media spotlight. On Sunday, the Times' attention turned to concerns over McCain's age in mocking terms in Michael Cooper's "McCain's Age, Analysts Say, Is Likely to Figure in His Selection of a Running Mate."
The quest to win the presidency at an age when he would be too old to be a commercial airline pilot or even a judge in some states has already led Mr. McCain to adopt a more grueling campaign schedule, and a more vigorous style, than several of his younger rivals. Now that Mr. McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee, political analysts say, his age will most likely factor into his selection of a running mate.
Some suggested Mr. McCain might want to tap a younger running mate to balance the ticket, particularly if he were to face a young opponent like Mr. Obama, 46. Others said his age would simply heighten his need to choose somebody whom voters would feel comfortable with as president should anything happen to him. (Not to be morbid, but eight vice presidents have succeeded presidents who died in office.)
But he does have white hair, scars from a bout with melanoma and limited flexibility from the injuries he sustained as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. And the fact remains that by the end of a second McCain term, he would be in his 80s.
The story concluded with some seemingly obligatory mocking of Dan Quayle.
Some cautioned that picking too young a running mate might simply call attention to the age difference. "I don't think McCain will have to worry much about finding a younger candidate - and he would be well advised to remember Dan Quayle if he does so," said Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University. "It's not age that he will battle this fall, but vision."