(CNSNews.com) - The New York Times' attempt to get a former high-ranking Republican congressman to write a commentary critical of the current U.S. House majority leader is not the first time the newspaper has sought to create dissension among Republicans.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger had a similar opportunity presented to him by the Times in 2003, but he turned down the chance to write a commentary criticizing President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq.
The newspaper's recent bid was directed at former Louisiana Congressman Bob Livingston, who was asked to write a column critical of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
DeLay, who is outranked only by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, contends that he is the target of a smear campaign orchestrated by members of the establishment media, including the Times and the Washington Post, and by liberal groups who want to see him run out of office.
DeLay has been attacked for trips he took that may have been financed by lobbyists and for his decision to keep his wife and daughter on the payroll of his political action committee.
On Monday, syndicated columnist Robert Novak reported that Livingston, who in 1998 was about to be elected speaker of the House until his admitted marital infidelity ruined those plans, was contacted on March 24 through an email sent by New York Times editorial page staffer Tobin Harshaw.
Livingston indicated through his aide Chris Terrell that any op-ed he would write would be supportive of DeLay, prompting Harshaw to respond: "We are seeking those who would go on the record or state for the good of the party he [DeLay] should step aside," reported Novak in his April 11 column.
The New York Times has refused to respond to the specific circumstances regarding Livingston, telling Novak that they do not comment on "assignments, written or unwritten."
But Dan Allen, DeLay's director of communication, told Cybercast News Service on Monday that the New York Times' behavior, as reported by Novak, was "beyond the pale.
"It seems that the New York Times, especially the editorial page, is looking to push an agenda here," Allen said, referring to it as "op-ed shopping."
The Times reportedly also solicited an op-ed in March of 2003 from Eagleburger, the former secretary of state in 1992 under President George H. W. Bush.
Eagleburger told Fox News Channel's "Hannity and Colmes" on April 2, 2003 that there "are some who want this (the George W. Bush) administration to look bad."
"...I was approached by The New York Times to write an op-ed piece," Eagleburger said. "To make it very short, when I talked to them about it, I was told what we want is criticism of the administration," he explained. "Right out! Flat out! [The New York Times] told me we want criticism of the administration. Needless to say, I did not write the op-ed piece," Eagleburger said.
Allen said the New York Times is publishing old news about his boss.
"The New York Times is putting stuff on the front page that was written about in May of 2003 -- same exact story -- there was nothing new there. They are singling out Tom DeLay instead of focusing on the fact that there is nothing illegal about having a family member on a campaign payroll and the fact that a lot of Democrats do the exact same thing. Yet the New York Times would not put that on the front page of their paper," Allen said.
Clay Waters, director of Times Watch, a conservative media watchdog group that monitors the New York Times, told Cybercast News Service that if the newspaper's op-ed staff "really did try to make news instead of providing opinion on the news, then it clearly crossed a line.
"It would match a pattern that Times Watch has noted in the paper's news reporting on the DeLay ethical investigations, where they've tried to imply this growing queasiness in Republican ranks about DeLay that really isn't there yet," Waters said.
Times Watch is a project of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of Cybercast News Service.
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