The recent New York Times debacle over the Op-Ed submitted by Senator McCain raised a question that is much broader and more significant than just whether the NYT considered it newsworthy. Usually, the Op-Ed pages are a place for thought-leaders to provide their unique perspectives and insights on contemporary issues. But, all too often, in the case of submissions by elected officials and political candidates of all political persuasions and parties, their Op-Eds are not even written by them. Instead, although they receive the "by-line", the material is usually written by their staff or political consultants. It is a problem that has bipartisan offenders and impacts. In effect, attribution to the candidate or office-holder amounts to nothing more than a political ad tagline akin to, "I'm Paul Politician, and I approved this message". To post them on the coveted Op-Ed pages of major publications is, at best, a dilution of the publication's commitment to journalistic authenticity, and, at worst, disingenuous. It could be said that it offends the social contract between the publication and the reader who expects to gain insights directly from thought-leaders whose views affect their lives.
It is not enough for an elected official or candidate to read the material presented to them and approve its submission, let alone just approve the concept after being apprised that an Op-Ed on a particular topic was prepared under their name. Op-Ed pages are distinct from the posting of a staff-written position paper on a candidate's website because of the presumptions of broad-based social value (beyond the individual's own political advancement) and author authenticity that they carry. Material that is printed on the prized territory of these highly visible pages have a profound impact on public opinion, and the integrity of the material's origins should be ensured for the sake of the readers.
So, how can the media outlets -- and, ultimately, the readers -- take precautions to validate the authenticity and accountability that inclusion on an Op-Ed page implies? What can publications do to verify that the material was, in fact, penned by the putative author? In cases where the official or candidate cannot provide sufficient verification, should the publication just respectfully decline to provide their forum as a dissemination channel for what amounts to a free political advertisement?
39 minutes ago