Welcome to my world, Senator John McCain! The fact that the New York Times has rejected your Op-Ed submission endears you to thousands of earnest opinion writers like me who have files full of pink slips. Rather than bemoaning the editor’s starchy comments on your not-quite-ready-for-prime-time-reading draft, take comfort in burnishing your cred as a regular guy who suffers rejection like the rest of us.
The Lords of the Op-Ed Pages are notoriously difficult to please. Their rules are many, their selection criteria often arcane. Why does one writer’s inane screed get published while another writer’s more thoughtful prose gets trashed? Having worked with many editors over the years, and with the good fortune of having an occasional piece selected for publication only to be put through the mill on copy edits, I can assure every college student that sometimes I feel like I’m in freshman composition all over again when faced with the slashing comments of editors all over my (I thought) well-crafted essays.
In rejecting McCain’s opinion piece on the Iraq War, written in response to an opinion that Senator Barack Obama successfully got past the sharp editorial knives, the New York Times runs a clear risk of appearing to give an unfair advantage to one candidate while suppressing the views of another. People who believe that the “liberal media” are always out to distort conservative views are already having a field day with this episode. But in the elite world of Op-Ed page editors, such tawdry political motives bow to rigid aesthetic judgments about style and substance. Indeed, in order to be true to their ironclad rules for acceptable essays, the editors accept the risk of an angry presidential candidate and the public scorn of at least the more conservative commentators.
McCain wins either way. His essay is now published in many more places than the New York Times reaches. Regular folk will take favorable note of his victimization at the hands of the perceived liberal, intellectual elite. And the Lords of the Op-Ed Pages will redouble their endless quest to purge their pages of plebian prose.