On Monday, I asked the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, about the wording.
“We have a high threshold for whether someone lied,” he told me. The phrase that The Times used “means that he said something that wasn’t true.” Saying the president lied would have meant something different, Mr. Rosenthal said — that he knew it was false and intended to express the falsehood. “We don’t know that,” he said.
Contrary to what many readers and commenters are saying, The Times has frequently been tough on the president and his administration in recent months on subjects from press rights to surveillance to drones.
But “misspoke” does suggest a one-time slip of the tongue.
Wouldn’t it have been better, I asked Mr. Rosenthal, if the editorial had said that Mr. Obama’s statements “clearly weren’t true,” or that the president “was clearly wrong” when he repeatedly made those statements?
He responded that the editorial’s language was fine, but he also allowed, “We could have done that.”