The New York Times sparked considerable controversy recently by rejecting an opinion column written by Republican presidential candidate John McCain less than a week after it published an essay by Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

The opinion pages are designed to let readers and presidential candidates share their thoughts with others, with no prerequisite that the opinion agree with the newspaper’s.

Frankly, we think the Times should be ashamed of itself. Sadly, it’s not.

Here’s what Times op-ed editor David Shipley wrote the McCain campaign via e-mail in his rejection:

“I’d be very eager to publish the senator on the op-ed page. However, I’m not going to be able to accept this piece as currently written. I’d be pleased, though, to look at another draft. Let me suggest an approach.

“It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama’s piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory — with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate…”

It probably comes as no surprise that Shipley served in the Clinton administration as a senior presidential speechwriter.

The New York Times failed its readers. The newspaper owes them — and McCain — an apology.