For those who have long thought the New York Times has been covertly, and even overtly, waxing poetic about President Obama’s record, they just got a startling admission of those sorts from the Times’s public editor — its version of an ombudsman, or paid self-critic. In short: Yes, the Times hasn’t been as critical as it could have been.

“Like a lot of America, it basked a bit in the warm glow of Mr. Obama’s election in 2008,” Arthur Brisbane writes. And that’s after he says “The Times needs to offer an aggressive look at the president’s record, policy promises and campaign operation to answer the question: Who is the real Barack Obama?”

Brisbane then launches into a lengthy explanation. He defends the paper in part, but he also doesn’t shy away from including reader criticism:

According to a study by the media scholars Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, The Times’s coverage of the president’s first year in office was significantly more favorable than its first-year coverage of three predecessors who also brought a new party to power in the White House: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

Writing for the periodical Politics & Policy, the authors were so struck by the findings that they wondered, “Did The Times, perhaps in response to the aggressive efforts by Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to seize market share, decide to tilt more to the left than it had in the past?”

I strongly doubt that. Based on conversations with Times reporters and editors who cover the campaign and Washington, I think they see themselves as aggressive journalists who don’t play favorites. Still, a strong current of skepticism holds that the paper skews left. Unfortunately, this is exacerbated by collateral factors — for example, political views that creep into nonpolitical coverage.

To illustrate, Faye Farrington, a reader from Hollis, N.H., wrote me earlier this year in exasperation over a Sunday magazine article about “Downton Abbey,” the public television series, in which the writer slipped in a veiled complaint about Mitt Romney’s exploitation of the American tax code.

“The constant insertion of liberal politics into even the most politically irrelevant articles has already caused us to cancel our daily subscription,” Ms. Farrington wrote, “leaving only the Sunday delivery as I confess to an addiction to the Sunday crossword.”

The warm afterglow of Mr. Obama’s election, the collateral effects of liberal-minded feature writers — these can be overcome by hard-nosed, unbiased political reporting now. [Emphasis added]

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Now is the time to shift to a campaign coverage paradigm that compares promises with execution, sheds light on campaign operations and assesses the president’s promises for a second term.

Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey, however, isn’t buying it. He calls the article “humorous” and explains why:

Stop it — you’re killing me, Arthur!  Seriously, I can’t quite catch my breath from laughing out loud.  Brisbane gives us two of the most obvious cases of bias and says that this editorializing can be overcome by trusting the same people not to editorialize in news stories in the next six months.  One can imagine Lucy telling Charlie Brown much the same thing right before pulling the football away for the 50th year in a row.

[...]

So forgive us for laughing at you, Arthur.  You gave it the ol’ college try, but after watching the Times at work four years ago — and before and since then, too — we’re not about to trust the Gray Lady in 2012 to behave responsibly.

In other words, it could be too little too late.