The Times endorsed Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York on its website Thursday evening, hours before unveiling the choice in Friday's print edition.
Running the endorsement in a weekday paper rather than a Sunday edition marks a break with tradition.
Typically, the Times endorsement runs in the hefty Sunday edition, roughly 10 days before the New York primary — which falls this year on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday.
Minutes after the endorsement was posted online, editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal told Politico the unusually early South Carolina Democratic primary influenced the timing of publication.
He said the newspaper's deadlines meant the piece had to be completed several days in advance.
But, Rosenthal said, the South Carolina results might have called for adjusting the piece to account for any news, which would not have been possible with the "Week in Review" section — where the endorsement would normally run — already closed.
“It just seemed like the right way to do it,” Rosenthal said, saying it was not timed to influence the minds of South Carolina Democrats.
Rosenthal said the endorsement was decided upon by the editorial board — along with publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. — at least a week ago and would not have changed regardless of Saturday’s vote in South Carolina.
He denied that the Times rushed the article into print because the newspaper had been scooped on its own endorsement.
Less than three hours before the endorsement was posted online, Radar magazine’s website reported that the paper would choose its home-state senator over the weekend.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Radar posted it,” Rosenthal said.
“Obviously, it’s not a decision we made tonight,” he added.
The editorial board made its decision after meeting with both Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Clinton met with the board within days after winning the New Hampshire primary, and Obama met twice — once last spring and, more recently, in late 2007.
However, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — whose campaign has recently complained about the media ignoring him — did not grant the Times’ request for an interview.
Both the Clinton and Obama campaigns were notified Thursday before the endorsement was posted online.
“It’s our policy that we talk to the people we write editorials about,” Rosenthal said.
In a separate piece, the Times — which leans toward the Democrats on the editorial page — endorsed Sen. John McCain of Arizona as the best of the Republican candidates.
Not surprisingly, McCain kept up his reputation for rarely denying access to journalists: He was the only Republican candidate to meet with the editorial board.