Endorsed by Caroline: What Was the Times Thinking?

Beginning at about 11PM Saturday night, the big news of the weekend, nearly eclipsing the South Carolina results, was Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg's endorsement, in a Sunday New York Times op-ed column, of Barack Obama for President.

Much has been written about why someone who has never before evidenced any particular political proclivity felt the need to declare for a candidate in a primary in a state in which there doesn't seem to be much doubt who is likely to win. Some theorize her recent political conversion may stem from a lifelong search to recapture the dad she never knew or from an antipathy toward the Clintons.

One presumes that the Times has rather strict and narrow criteria for who and what they choose to publish in those scarce column inches left over after their regular columnists have had their say. Especially in editorial "real estate" which is so coveted and especially on a Sunday, which one might consider tantamount to beachfront in East Hampton.

One would also expect that one standard would be that the author has demonstrated some prolonged interest and acquired expertise in the field of the commentary: for example, an academic, a published author, a former government official. To my knowledge, Caroline Kennedy had a brief career as a lawyer, then authored a couple of well-reviewed volumes on privacy and constitutional law, and a collection of her mother's favorite poetry.

So, why does the Times elect to publish a column basically extolling hope for the future as the prescribed elixir for our children? Could it be (gasp!)... a desire for publicity? A certain knowledge that Caroline Kennedy's name -- just like Britney on the cover of US Weekly-- will attract attention, hit the wires, and maybe sell more newspapers or get more eyeballs to the Web? When I looked this morning, her column was the most frequently e-mailed at the moment.

If that's the case, the Times has declined a bit in my estimation. No better, really, than People magazine. I still believe (I know, I know, I'm too old to be this naïve) that the principal function of journalism -- including the editorials and commentary -- is to educate. While I have no beef with Caroline, nor with her electoral choices, I am suspicious of the motives of the Times in publishing her opinions. There are way more qualified "endorsers" and way more educated and involved kids of politicians (if that's what they were after) available. Their last names just aren't "Kennedy."