But the problem for the Times is that the important story was not Freeman’s appointment, but the response to it, which leapt from the blogosphere to Capitol Hill awhile back. And by the middle of this week, we were not “approaching the point” where a story on that campaign was in order—we’d passed it some time ago. As early as Feb. 27, reports were appearing that Charles Schumer, the powerful Democratic senator from New York, had expressed his misgivings about Freeman to the White House. On March 3, a group of congressmen requested the inspector general’s investigation. And on Monday, a group of GOP senators took their complaints directly to Blair, Freeman’s would-be boss.
Whether or not the NIC chairmanship is objectively important, a lot of fairly powerful people seemed to have an interest in keeping it out of Chas Freeman’s hands, for reasons that seemed largely driven by his views on the Middle East. At root, the dispute was over the foreign policy viewpoints that public officials—even fairly obscure ones—are “allowed” to hold. The very fact that so much effort was expended in a battle over a mid-level position was an important story about the broader struggle to control the future direction of America’s foreign policy—one that could have, and should have, been covered before this episode ended.
The Times’s inattentiveness to the story not only kept its readers in the dark while the story was unfolding, it also put the paper at a competitive disadvantage when Freeman did, in fact, withdraw. Mazzetti’s article in Wednesday’s print edition was one of the weaker pieces anywhere about the controversy. Yesterday’s follow-up was better, but the Times’s coverage didn’t add much to what had already been reported by, among others, Ben Smith of Politico, who filed his recap two days earlier, within hours of Freeman’s exit. And it fell well short of what the Washington Post was reporting by that point, even though the Post had beaten the Times to the story by only a day.
Sometimes, a day makes all the difference.