Two days ago, I wrote about allegations that the New York Times spiked a story that linked ACORN corruption to Barack Obama’s campaign.  Last night, Bill O’Reilly played what appears to be smoking-gun evidence — an answering machine message from NYT reporter Stephanie Strom explaining how the editors shut down the story:

The message comes from Strom to a source named “Anita”, which I’ve transcribed. There may be one small problem with this, though. Listen closely for it:

STROM: Hi, Anita, it’s Stephanie. I have just been asked by my bosses to stand down. … They want me to hold off on coming to Washington. Ah, sorry, I take my orders from higher up, ah, sometimes. Anyway, I’m sorry about this and we’ll still be in touch. Take care, and, ah, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you. Take care. Goodbye.

Anita is Anita Moncrief, the whistleblower who testified before Congress that the NYT spiked the story on orders from its editors. Moncrief told Congress that Strom called the information Moncrief provided a “game changer” — and that the Times apparently didn’t want the game changed. It would have, as Dick Morris explains in this segment, put the Obama campaign in violation of campaign finance rules that prohibit coordination between campaigns and third-party organizations.

However, take a close listen to that tape. There is a gap, represented by the ellipsis after “stand down” in The Factor’s displayed transcript, that indicates that a portion of this audio has been excised. Now that could be just an anomaly from YouTube, a glitch in the broadcast, or an audio problem in Fox’s studios — but the ellipsis appears to represent a deliberate redaction. The Factor does not explain or even acknowledge this gap, outside of the standard ellipsis, so we have no idea what else Strom said in this message. Maybe she explained that they had no corroboration for the allegations, or that they had discovered that Moncrief was just wrong in the first place, or maybe Strom just used a bad word. Without the redacted portion being made public, we have no way of knowing what came between “stand down” and “they want”.

O’Reilly and Morris note that the Times has a history of ethical issues in its conduct. The story Morris tells of a promise to drop a scandal story in exchange for an exclusive interview sounds a lot like a story I reported last May about the hardball play the Times tried with John McCain. The use of extortion and punitive reporting makes the Times’ editors political hacks, not honest journalists, and O’Reilly and Morris rightly rip the Gray Lady for such activities.

However, if we’re going to insist on above-board ethics from the Times, we should engage in them ourselves. The message O’Reilly played may well be a smoking gun, but they should release the entire, unedited message to show it.