Apparently, those of us at Campaign Desk weren’t the only ones who decided to devote Saturday to basketball rather than good journalism: The anonymous source referees at The New York Times obviously walked off the job themselves. How else to explain Jim Rutenberg’s flagrant unsportsmanlike conduct via a front-page story about the Bush campaign’s 90-day media strategy to “define” John Kerry?

Rutenberg starts out fine, bringing the ball downcourt within the rules of the game, as he quotes Mark McKinnon, Bush’s media strategist, and Matthew Dowd, the chief campaign strategist. So far, straight out of the source rules playbook.

But, uh-oh, midway in the article, Rutenberg sees his opportunity and charges to the basket, knocking aside opponents and the Times’ rules as well: “‘The goal is right now,’ said a Bush adviser, ‘while he’s [Kerry] weak, while they’re financially struggling, to strip him of all the good that somehow in my opinion erroneously got attached to him.’” A two-pointer and no whistle.

Emboldened, Rutenberg next strips his hapless opposition of the ball and goes for the dunk, quoting an unidentified “associate of Mr. Bush” (Laura? Barney? Bush’s evil twin Skippy?) who, it turns out, has quite a way with words.

“[Kerry] peels like an onion,” said the unnamed source, as Rutenberg throws the ball through the hoop with authority. “With some candidates there’s a hard shell. With him there’s a soft skin.”

Home free, Jim.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.