The Daily News has had a sudden change of heart about Sarah Palin. On Sunday, the paper's Thomas DeFrank and David Saltonstall quoted three Republicans critical of Palin's embarrassing answers for CBS anchor Katie Couric and others on the campaign trail. The story's headline said there were increasing calls for Palin to "step down from GOP ticket." Then, on Monday, came an article by "Daily News Political Editors" — no writers' names were attached. It was titled "Eight reasons why John McCain won't drop Sarah Palin from ticket." And it called Palin a "fundraising dynamo" and "crowd magnet" who had "unconditional love" from social conservatives. We hear the story was considered an embarrassment by News journalists, but was ordered from on high. UPDATE: See below.

News owner Mort Zuckerman is said to have blown his stack over the Sunday story. Editor-In-Chief Martin Dunn then ordered the Tuesday piece, our source said, but no writers would put their names to it.

It is Zuckerman's nominal rival Rupert Murdoch who is always under suspicion of subordinating the editorial voice of his media outlets to his own personal interests and beliefs. He has admitted to doing so with the Post, and Zuckerman was among those who worried he might do the same with the Wall Street Journal.

But Zuckerman, who made his money in real estate before snapping up the News and U.S. News & World Report, is not exactly beloved by his own journalists. A 2007 New Yorker profile noted the high turnover among his editors. And it described the mogul, who has presumptuously given himself the title Editor-In-Chief at U.S. News, as a "conservative-leaning Democrat, who supported George W. Bush in the last election." Those sound like the political beliefs of someone who would take umbrage at a particularly critical article on Sarah Palin.

Or perhaps Zuckerman objected, or at least claimed to object, to the Sunday article on strictly journalistic grounds. The story quoted one National Review columnist, an anonymous operative and longtime Republican campaign consultant Ed Rollins, who most recently worked for McCain rival Mike Huckabee. None of their direct quotes supported the claim made in the headline that Palin might be dropped from the ticket.

But, likewise, the Monday puff piece presented no evidence to support the assertion that Palin is a fundraising dynamo or unconditionally loved by social conservatives. Dunn and Zuckerman should have known it would have looked especially suspicious without any bylines — and word of the clumsy Palin reversal would likely soon leak from a manhandled newsroom.

Speaking of which — if you have any further details, we'd love to hear them.

UPDATE: An alternate explanation: One source said the Monday story was supposed to run Sunday but was held for space. Zuckerman, who has been out of town, didn't order the the Monday story, the source added.

Also, an email tipster said the second story ran only online. Although if it only was for the Web, why not run in Sunday, the same time as the other one?