A Billion Little Pieces

cover 4 A Billion Little PiecesIn the early morning hours of Wednesday, Sept. 24, The New York Times was printing its morning editions, including a front-page story reporting that Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign manager, Rick Davis, is a principal in a lobbying firm that had been receiving $15,000 a month since 2005 from embattled mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

But before those papers hit doorsteps, the McCain campaign had responded, via its Web site. Much of the morning news cycle was spent recycling the dispute: Had McCain lied? Had his campaign manager lied to him? Was the Times story flawed? And if it wasn’t, was it an example of ‘gotcha’ journalism both Mr. McCain and his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, had spent so much time disparaging (and practicing!) over the previous few weeks?

That looked like the news of the day when Politico reporter Mike Allen boarded a flight for Salt Lake City, where he was speaking at a class at the University of Utah.

“Did you know USAir now charges $2 for a soda?” the reporter for Politico wrote in an e-mail to The Observer. “You get one free if you’re delayed TWO hours.”

But when he disembarked and checked his BlackBerry, he realized all hell had broken loose.

When Mr. Davis canceled an appearance at a lunch forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, some wondered if he needed time out of the limelight—the McCain campaign explained his absence by saying he was hitting the campaign trail.

That trail led to New York City, and Sept. 24, it would turn out, was not to be just another day of the same old stuff.

It had started at 8:15 in the morning, when Mr. McCain, whose campaign had expressed frustration that the media was not taking him seriously on the issue of the $720 billion bailout package being prepared to stanch the exsanguination of money from the finance sector, met with Wall Street executives and his own advisers to talk about the issue.

There was one big order of business: Senator Harry Reid, Mr. McCain told the group, had been hasty when he said the candidate favored the bailout plan. In fact, his support was conditional.

During the meeting, Mr. Obama called him to suggest that the two draft a joint statement emphasizing the need for the necessary measures to be taken by Congress to fix the immediate crisis. But Mr. McCain, his campaign later said, was busy explaining that he didn’t support the measure, and didn’t answer because he didn’t know what Mr. Obama was calling about.

After getting some business done, Mr. McCain got into his motorcade for the next stop: a trip to the Morgan Library, where he was to prepare for his debate, just two days later, with his Democratic opponent in Oxford, Miss.

The prep session didn’t last long: the senator ended up spending most of the time making calls about the bailout, and becoming convinced, according to aides, that it wouldn’t pass as it currently stood, though, he could have confessed at that point, he hadn’t read it.

Meanwhile, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric was spending time with Mr. McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. In a walking-and-talking spot outside the U.N. Millennium Hotel, Ms. Couric asked Ms. Palin about that Times story.

“My understanding is that Rick Davis recused himself from the dealings of the firm. I don’t know how long ago, a year or two ago, that he’s not benefiting from that. And you know, I was—I would hope that’s not the case.”

Then Ms. Couric rinsed, and Ms. Palin repeated.

But as the day progressed, the McCain campaign had clearly moved on to sound a new and different note: that meeting earlier that morning! All that gabbing about the financial crisis! What was Mr. McCain up to?

And so it was a different portion of the interview, about the Wall Street fiasco, that CBS Evening News doled out first to readers of its Web site, and then to the rest of the press in a press release, a little before 2 p.m.

By the time the clip aired, the McCain campaign was preparing its dramatic announcement. After informing his opponent of the step he was about to take, Mr. McCain met with reporters at his New York hotel to tell them he was planning to ‘suspend’ his campaign, and had asked his staff to consult with the Obama campaign and the debate organizers to reschedule.

“Often McCain will just call an audible,” said Marc Ambinder, the Atlantic Monthly writer who has made himself an indispensable part of the 24-hour news cycle with his eponymous blog. “The first question I had obviously was, is he returning to Washington today? Then we found out he’s actually going to finish his schedule, and that made everyone skeptical that he was suspending the campaign. So you ask, are you closing your field offices? Are you sending everyone home? And then of course the answer is no. It takes 24 hours to pull down advertising and most of it stayed on the air. It was very easy to interpret from the start that it was a rhetorical ploy.”

He, and others, realized that not only might the debate still be on—campaign spokesman Mark Salter had told reporters already that if a deal was reached quickly, the debate would take place as scheduled—but that Mr. McCain wasn’t even leaving New York that day.

There was, however, one change to his public schedule.

Staffers at The Late Show with David Letterman were getting ready for their big show, which would feature an interview with Mr. McCain, when the “suspension” story broke. Shortly thereafter, the dreaded phone call came in. Mr. McCain was bailing.

As the talent side hustled to find a replacement guest, head writers (and brothers) Eric and Justin Stangel scrambled to rewrite the show’s comedic elements.

They had already written a top-ten list—“Things Overheard at the United Nations”—based on the morning’s dominant news story (remember Sarah Palin hugging that Pakistani guy?). But now the narrative had shifted. They tore up the list and started from scratch, eventually banging out the “Top Ten Questions People Are Asking the John McCain Campaign,” (No. 6: “Do you still think the fundamentals of our economy are strong, Genius?”)

Shortly after 4:30 p.m. the taping began. Mr. Letterman walked onstage at the Ed Sullivan Theater and told the audience that Mr. McCain had canceled the interview because “the economy is exploding.” “You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen, this doesn’t smell right,” said Mr. Letterman. The host later interrupted an interview with Keith Olbermann for an update on the whereabouts of his missing guest. “John McCain was nice enough to call me on the phone and say he was racing back to Washington,” said Mr. Letterman. “Now, we’ve just been told, take a look—this is live.”

The show cut to one of the network’s internal feeds, which had caught the attention of the guys in the Late Show control room. The feed showed a live scene taking place a few blocks away inside one of the studios at the headquarters of CBS News. There, awaiting an interview and chitchatting with Katie Couric while a blond woman dabbed makeup on his cheeks was … John McCain!

“Doesn’t seem to be racing to the airport, does he?” Mr. Letterman sneered for his studio audience as the camera focused on the screen showing the makeup moment. “This just gets uglier and uglier.”

Head writer Eric Stangel, watching from backstage at the theater, was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe it. “If John McCain calls you and says, ‘I have to go to Washington and help fix the economy,’ there’s no way of saying, ‘Well, but, can’t you just stay and do the show first?’” Mr. Stangel later recalled to The Observer. “Then you see he’s just down the street doing another interview. It was a very important moment because you’re watching it unfold right in front of you. It wasn’t a he-said, she-said kind of thing. You’re looking at the guy getting makeup put on his face. “Everyone was stunned,” he added.

After the taping ended, the show began getting calls from reporters. Whenever a big politician does an interview with Dave, the show’s PR department sets up a private room at the theater where the campaign reporters can watch the interview as it’s being taped. Most of the reporters who had been planning to attend the taping that day had dropped out along with Mr. McCain. But now they were calling to check in. How did the show go? Did Mr. Letterman make any news?

Um, yes.

Bill Carter, The Times’ TV reporter, had been preparing to write about the appearance based on the early tapes when he caught wind that McCain had canceled on Letterman—he shot over a phone call to Letterman’s people to get to the bottom of it.

“After I heard, I called and asked if Dave said anything about it,” said Mr. Carter. “And they said yes he did—and then they gave me a general idea of what he said.”

They also tipped him off that a YouTube video might be on its way and that he should keep his eye out for it: The Late Show team had decided to rapidly put together a nine-minute edited version of the show, highlighting Mr. Letterman as he exposed the phoniness at the heart of the “campaign suspension.”

And Mr. Carter found that despite Mr. McCain’s cancellation, there was a 450-word dispatch—complete with quotes from Letterman, details about the cutaway to the CBS Evening News studio—for The Times’ Caucus blog. It posted at 7:27 p.m.—four hours before the show was set to air.

Comedian Harry Shearer, who pioneered the perfected the practice of repurposing candid network studio feeds (such as the one used by Mr. Letterman) was one of hundreds of thousands of people who watched the clip of the show on the Internet.

“This kind of material allows you to see human behavior that hasn’t been scripted, and handled, and spun, and prepared and rehearsed,” Mr. Shearer told the Observer. “At its height like in this case, it allows you to see basically proof that somebody is lying.” “The other thing that I loved about it was [McCain spokesperson] Nicole Wallace’s damage control a day later that they didn’t think, given the circumstances, that a comedy show was appropriate,” he added. “Which was of course not what he apparently said to Dave. 24 hours of thinking and they finally came up with that.”

Comedian Joy Behar, one of the hosts of ABC’s “The View,” recently made headlines by asking Mr. McCain some pointed questions point blank about his campaign’s deceptive ads (afterwards, Frank Rich compared her to Edward R. Murrow).

“When a comedian says it smells, what he’s really saying is there’s a lie here and I know it,” said Ms. Behar. “I smell a rat. That’s what Letterman was going after. He was a dog with a bone that whole hour. He never stopped.”

“American voters should watch who the comedians make fun of,” said Ms. Behar. “The ones that the comedians make fun of are the dumbest ones usually. Bush has been a bonanza for comedians. And Sarah Palin is the new bonanza. It just tells you something. It would be better for my pocket book and it would be better for my act [if McCain and Palin win]. But I’m a patriotic American. Country first, right?”

Around the time the clip had hit the Web, the CBS Evening News was airing that Couric-McCain interview.

“I don’t think we need to scare people,” he said, “but I certainly think we need to tell them the truth,” he said.

Meanwhile, his campaign and the Obama campaign were finally getting down to that joint statement. It was released about 8:30 p.m. and read, in part: “This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economic catastrophe. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.”

So, wait a minute: Wasn’t Rick Davis “hitting the trail” today? But isn’t the campaign suspended?

A later report on the political blog Hotline was able to pinpoint his whereabouts the evening of Sept. 24: He was dining with about a dozen Republican donors at the 21 Club.

“The dinner meeting, according to an attendee, included an update on McCain’s decision to return to Washington today, criticism of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. for failing to act more decisively earlier, and calls for more fund-raising for the party by leading New York money harvesters,” the report said.

Several of the attendees had been at that breakfast meeting with Mr. McCain at the beginning of the day. The next morning, Mr. McCain was still in New York, about to attend the Clinton Global Initiative meetings being convened by former President Bill Clinton.

“I am, personally, profoundly honored of the presence of Senator McCain here today,” said Mr. Clinton before Mr. McCain came onstage.

After Mr. Clinton’s introduction, Mr. McCain spent some time talking about the campaign suspension that was about to take place.

“I cannot carry on a campaign as though this dangerous situation had not occurred, or as though a solution were at hand, which it clearly is not,” he says. “As of this morning I suspended my political campaign. With so much on the line, for America and the world, the debate that matters most right now is taking place in the United States Capitol.”

Clinton told the audience that his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, and Mr. McCain had once traveled together on a global warming fact-finding mission to Alaska, “your state,” Mr. Clinton said, addressing himself to Ms Palin, who sat in one of the front rows of the audience.

Mr. McCain closed by returning to the day’s previously scheduled programming: the fight against malaria, tuberculosis and the promotion of an African green revolution. Then he once again praised the “leadership of the man from Hope.”

Mr. Clinton came back onstage, and as the candidate’s traveling press corps left their seats and crept out of the dark hall, he said, “Senator McCain, please, I want to say one other thing.”

“I want to thank Cindy McCain for the work she has done in Rwanda,” he said.

That morning, Tom Brokaw was milling around at the Clinton Global Initiative, too. The NBC anchor, who has been filling in as moderator of Sunday morning’s Meet the Press since the unexpected death of NBC managing editor for politics Tim Russert, was to host a plenary session panel on the topic of “Integrated Solutions: Water, Food and Energy.”

But he had some business with Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin.

For weeks, according to an account in The New York Times, Mr. Brokaw had been working behind the scenes to convince the McCain camp that despite some harsh on-air criticisms of their campaign by his colleague Keith Olbermann, NBC News would treat their candidate fairly. Now, Mr. Brokaw said hello to the candidates and invited them to appear on Meet the Press. In his pitch to Ms. Palin, Mr. Brokaw touted his own Alaskan bona fides.

“I told her, ‘I’m the only one in this business who ever had Susan Butcher as a house guest,’” Mr. Brokaw told The Times, referencing the late great Iditarod champ. “Susan Butcher is to Alaska what Cal Ripken is to Baltimore.”

Back at the Clinton Global Initiative, Bill Clinton spoke for some time about Mr. Brokaw’s panel; he also assured the audience that “Senator Obama is going to get equal time in an equal way at the end of this.”

When it was over, Mr. Clinton came back onstage to introduce Mr. Obama and to thank him, “because he went through quite a bit of trouble” to appear via satellite at the conference. Mr. Clinton restrained himself from making remarks that might appear too laudatory, because, he said, “I said what I had to say,” at the convention, and “I don’t want to be political here.”

“Congressional leaders have made progress in their negotiations, and appear close to a deal that would include these principles,” Mr. Obama, also addressing the financial crisis first, told the crowd. “President Bush addressed some of these issues last night, and I’m pleased that Senator McCain has decided to embrace them, too. Now is a time to come together—Democrats and Republicans—in a spirit of cooperation on behalf of the American people.”

“Later today,” he said, “I’ll be traveling to Washington to offer my help in getting this deal done. Then, I’ll travel to Oxford on Friday for the first of our presidential debates. Our election is in 40 days. Our economy is in crisis, and our nation is fighting two wars abroad. The American people deserve to hear directly from myself and Senator McCain about how we intend to lead our country. The times are too serious to put our campaign on hold, or to ignore the full range of issues that the next president will face.”

Soon, finally, Mr. McCain was in the air and on his way to Reagan National Airport, where reporters would accompany him to his Senate office. They were all campaign reporters; and Mr. McCain was there to do his “day job.” That, Mr. McCain’s handlers made clear.

Down there, about a dozen or so political journalists were headed to the Capitol Hill Club for an off-the-record lunch with Virginia Republican Congressman Eric Cantor. Attendees included Matt Cooper from Portfolio, Rick Klein from ABC, CBS News director Steve Chaggaris, Time’s Karen Tumulty and Paul Bedard from U.S. News and World Report.

About halfway through the lunch, which included tuna sandwiches and vegetable wraps, reporters were getting messages on their BlackBerries that a “fundamental agreement” on the bailout package had been reached—statements from Congressional leaders were being sent around and it was beginning to look like a deal would be struck.

As those reporters were reading their e-mail off their handhelds, and quietly relaying the message to one another, Mr. Cantor told them whatever they were reading wasn’t true: The votes weren’t there; the House Republicans would never go for it.

It was easy to dismiss what he was saying since it directly contradicted what they reading. So which one was right, and who could differentiate the two?

“It’s like you’re sitting there in an alternate reality,” said Ms. Tumulty. “Your BlackBerry says one thing, while the congressman is telling us not to believe it.

“It’s like journalism these days violates the time-space continuum,” she continued. “There’s information coming from all sources, and it’s hard to figure out what’s really happening and what somebody thinks is happening.”

“Each day seems like it’s a year long,” said Glenn Thrush, Congress and campaign reporter for Politico. “It’s like a crossing of these wires—we’re covering monumental presidential developments with key legislative developments and then there’s a monumental business story.” That afternoon, Ms. Palin popped up at the Fire Department Memorial on the side of Engine Company 10, near ground zero in Lower Manhattan. There, Ms. Palin posed for photos and did something novel—she fielded impromptu questions from a scrum of pushy reporters, who pressed the Alaska governor about whether she agreed with the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war on terror; whether she thought America’s continued military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was stoking Islamic extremists; and whether she supported Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens’ bid for reelection.

“Every American needs to come through this area,” said Ms. Palin. “So that especially this younger generation of Americans is, to be in a position of never forgetting what happened here and never repeating, never allowing a repeat of what happened here.”

By Friday morning, Mr. Allen of Politico told The Observer that it was “pretty obvious to the press that Senator McCain’s going to go to the debate, and I point out in ‘Politico Playbook,’ my morning e-mail intelligence digest, that comments by Lindsey Graham on TV make that clear.”

When the campaign confirmed it, he “popped a quick story” up on his Web site that became the banner on Drudgereport.com. “IT’S ON,” the banner read.

“No such agreement has been reached, but Republicans said the standoff was hurting McCain’s campaign and that he would look terrible if he didn’t attend the nationally televised, eagerly anticipated debate, while Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was ready to go on stage,” Mr. Allen wrote. Once that was figured out, everything proceeded in Oxford, Miss., as it might have if the country weren’t “exploding,” to use Mr. Letterman’s phrase. Except for some reporters.

“It’s the business stuff—nothing that has happened politically, including the bailout, is outside the normal. It’s the confluence of what’s happened with the economy. I’m hitting RCP and looking at The Times and once every 10 or 15 minutes I’m checking the home page of Bloomberg and that’s where I have to gird my loins.

“We have all become business reporters,” said Politico’s Mr. Thrush. “You have to understand—there’s a fundamental importance—to understand the difference between a huge Dow drop, which is ephemeral, and the overnight lending rate, which is the crux of the crisis. I’ve stood through every minute of Bernanke and Paulson on the Hill and you’re just awed by the magnitude of the crisis.

“It has become the norm to click on a Web site to have your mind blown and then you suddenly have to put your head back together and you have to start making phone calls again,” he continued.

The Senators and campaigners had left their meeting with the president using side doors, and presumably had plenty to do to gear up for their trip to Mississippi. It was the kind of breathing room reporters had wanted: to figure out what the stakes of the debate were, and to figure out what the hell had happened in the previous 48 hours, and whether any of it made any difference in the campaign. There was a consensus.

“Everyone on Capitol Hill, left and right, agreed that the injection of presidential politics was harmful to the process except one lonely man from Connecticut,” said Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter. “Joe Lieberman took on the ridiculous task of giving props to John McCain for advancing a deal that McCain hasn’t even taken a position on. Joe looked like a pious pretzel.

“Everyone, and I mean everyone, is convinced that the past two days have been politically disastrous for John McCain,” said The Atlantic’s Mark Ambinder. “Faced with such unanimity, I can’t help but try to come up with the other side of the argument. Even the McCain advisers I speak with can’t really get from A to B. They firmly believe that McCain’s instinct was correct, but I suspect that they suspect that they completely bungled the execution.”

The debate was to go on at 9 p.m. The competing lead-in shows had to contend with the fact that no deal had yet been finalized, and the markets were closed until Monday morning. Trying to cover everything, the news was a wash: Nobody seemed to cover much of anything.

Down in Mississippi, more than three dozen makeshift television studios, each separated from the other by black curtains, lined the side of the tent facing the actual hall where the candidates would debate. They looked like dressing rooms, and inside them, Republican and Democratic surrogates tried on talking points.

In the largest curtained pen, next to the entrance, John Kerry, senator of Massachusetts, could be seen through the black gauze saying, “I think tonight the expectations are frankly high for John McCain. This is his playing field.” That parroted, almost verbatim, a memo sent out by the Obama campaign earlier in the day, which was approved by David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager, who sat to Mr. Kerry’s left, waiting to go on air, listening with his hands folded on his lap, his face, as always, as still and expressionless as a lake. To Mr. Plouffe’s left, Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, looked over at Mr. Kerry, scratched his beard and played with his phone.

A little before 9 p.m., back in Manhattan, the writers for Saturday Night Live gathered on the 17th floor of Rockefeller Center to watch the debate. Before the start of the debate, Tina Fey, who had come to rehearse, joined them. Earlier in the week, the writers had been kicking around a Palin-in-New-York piece. But now it was hard to imagine doing anything other than Katie Couric and Sarah Palin. They pulled up the interviews on the Internet and watched the clips as a team. The material was amazing.

They went onto the set. Tina Fey sat across from Amy Poehler. They turned on the lights, did some ad-libbing, Ms. Fey as Ms. Palin fielding questions from Ms. Poehler as Ms. Couric. It worked.

Over the next several hours, SNL’s head writer, Seth Meyers, and company banged out a script, using as much of Ms. Palin’s own words from the real interviews as possible.

While that whole crazy week had been unfolding, a team of writers had been working on a piece about Ms. Palin’s press secretary (to be played by Anna Faris) explaining the rules governing Ms. Palin’s first press conference. There had been a great joke in the script about Ms. Palin using a lifeline.

Now, Mr. Meyers and his team took the line and incorporated it into the cold open. TK joke.

“It became obvious at a certain point that it would be best to take advantage of the Katie Couric thing,” Mr. Meyers told The Observer. “Political stuff, if it’s well written, will get laughs on the jokes. If you have really good impressions, you’ll get laughs the rest of the time. We’re sort of in a really nice perfect storm right now.”

No one clearly won. No one clearly lost. But it fell to an army of surrogates to convince reporters otherwise.

Within minutes of the debate’s conclusion, representatives of the campaigns marched into the front of the hangar under big placards. It looked like a parade. The Obama campaign held narrow blue signs that said Axelrod, Rice, Plouffe or Craig. The yellow McCain signs looked like “McCain-Palin” posters with the names Schmidt, Barbour and Bounds.

A large cluster of reporters formed around Steve Schmidt, McCain’s chief strategist and the architect of his brass-knuckles campaign strategy. Mr. Schmidt, who speaks in a deliberate monotone and wore a tie with flowers, echoed Mr. McCain many times from inside the scrum. Reporters bounced from one surrogate circle to the next. Eventually, the McCain surrogates started leaving and “Spin Alley” thinned out. On his way out, Mr. Schmidt said of Mr. Obama, “He wasn’t very sharp tonight. I don’t know if he can be sharper, but he wasn’t very tonight.” A foreign reporter yelled after him, “So you think you won the debate?”

“In other shocking news,” wrote Time blogger Ana Marie Cox in an e-mail to The Observer, “Obama people think Obama won, McCain folks think McCain won! So glad that’s settled!”

When Politico’s Mr. Thrush arrived at the Senate Periodicals Gallery Monday morning to watch the vote on the bailout, the day looked predictable: a run-of-the mill story of winners and losers from the debates, some poll numbers, some lukewarm campaign appearances in the fly-over states, a story about a bit of passed legislation on the bailout.

He was in the gallery when the votes started coming in, and suddenly everything changed. And then: “We had to basically shred our plan with what we were doing.”

“Yesterday we were assuming a narrow win, and all of us were starting to look toward what was happening in the Senate, and looking at winners and losers. And more or less everybody looking at how the vote had changed the landscape of the political winners. And then that got thrown out the window. I was in the Senate Periodical Gallery and 10 people were staring CSPAN in this cramped space and watching that ‘yea’ number, and we were thinking that Pelosi must have a dozen votes in her pocket and it’ll move. But you just saw these people walking around the corridors of the Capitol looking like zombies.”

Likewise, Time’s Michael Scherer’s Monday morning started on the Hill—he did a TV hit at 11:30 a.m. for MSNBC talking about a story that appeared in the magazine the previous Thursday on third-party campaign advertisements.

He was reporting on a magazine story and suddenly realized that the votes weren’t there—CNN and MSNBC were on in Time’s Washington bureau and it suddenly became clear that the day was going to be thrown upside down.

The bureau organized a frantic meeting—the magazine’s political stories were ripped up, and new assignments were being handed out. Karen Tumulty was working on a political magazine story, but suddenly that was dashed. Mr. Scherer was working on a political story as well before he had to quickly adjust on the fly.

He took an hour to do a Web item—on how the House’s rejection of the bailout represented a total lack of faith in the American people in their national government. A Web editor took so much interest in it that he asked Mr. Scherer to expand it into a Web piece.

Hours later, a blog post was expanded into a 635-word piece.

It was Doug Holtz-Eakin who provided them with the McCain campaign’s response to the failure of the bill.

“From the minute John McCain suspended his campaign and arrived in Washington to address this crisis, he was attacked by the Democratic leadership: Senators Obama and Reid, Speaker Pelosi and others. Their partisan attacks were an effort to gain political advantage during a national economic crisis. By doing so, they put at risk the homes, livelihoods and savings of millions of American families.

“Barack Obama failed to lead, phoned it in, attacked John McCain, and refused to even say if he supported the final bill.

“Just before the vote, when the outcome was still in doubt, Speaker Pelosi gave a strongly worded partisan speech and poisoned the outcome. “This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country.”

And the Obama campaign issued its response:

“This is a moment of national crisis, and today’s inaction in Congress as well as the angry and hyper-partisan statement released by the McCain campaign are exactly why the American people are disgusted with Washington. Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to join together and act in a way that prevents an economic catastrophe. Every American should be outraged that an era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and Washington has led us to this point, but now that we are here, the stability of our entire economy depends on us taking immediate action to ease this crisis.”

So, who was right?

On Tuesday morning, when The New York Times hit newsstands, the front page was all about 2008’s “Black Monday.” Campaign coverage? Yes, there was a half a column inch of teaser, with the headline “Pre-Debate Woes for Palin.”

It referred readers to page A16.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this piece was published to the Web in error. This version contains several corrections and some new material.