[T]he Times appears to have challenged itself to write 8,000 words on Limbaugh without saying anything that could be even remotely interpreted as critical. It's perfectly clear why: The article begins with one of Limbaugh's assistants snarling to the reporter, “Are you the guy who’s here to do the hit job on us?” The Times wanted to prove Limbaugh's staff wrong, so they wrote a puff piece. See? Liberals can be fair and balanced too!Why would writing something completely unbalanced be a demonstration of balance? But I agree with Ezra that the tone of the article reflects the Times self-interest. My guess would be that the NYT would love to get more readers, and Limbaugh has the power to send 20 million people its way.
But the article isn't doing well on the Times's "most emailed" lists. I'll bet most regular readers, like Ezra, were disgusted that the article didn't trash Rush. Then again, the articles that do well on the "most-emailed" list tend to be articles about what to eat and how to get along in a relationship. Sex and food — that's what NYT readers care about the most.
On the other hand, the Limbaugh article is second on the NYT "most blogged" list (covering the last 7 days). In fact, the "most blogged" list is completely different from the "most emailed" list. The blogging list is full of political articles. Does that mean bloggers care more about politics than about food and sex? Or maybe it's just that political bloggers get ideas from NYT articles and sex-and-food bloggers get their ideas somewhere else (including from their personal life). Another explanation is that the kind of readers who go for sex-and-food material are not into blogging. They just forward email to friends and family.