NYTimes Public Editor Rips McCain "Story"

By Big Tent Democrat

NYTimes Public Editor Clark Hoyt rips the McCain "story:"

The article was notable for what it did not say: It did not say what convinced the advisers that there was a romance. It did not make clear what McCain was admitting when he acknowledged behaving inappropriately — an affair or just an association with a lobbyist that could look bad. And it did not say whether Weaver, the only on-the-record source, believed there was a romance. The Times did not offer independent proof, like the text messages between Detroit’s mayor and a female aide that The Detroit Free Press disclosed recently, or the photograph of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart’s lap.


. . . [I]n the absence of a smoking gun, I asked Keller why he decided to run what he had. “If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” he replied. “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.


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    How'd you like (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 02:58:16 PM EST
    Jill Abramson's explanation at the end?

    Jeez, you wonder whether these people talk to anyone about what they do.

    This is an interesting: (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 03:12:13 PM EST
    portion of various NYT personnel responding to questions about the article.  Apparently there is no examination of emails, travel schedules, etc. because, despite repeated requests McCain's operation did not provide requested documents:

    What Was McCain's Response?

    Q. As the story was being prepared, but before it appeared, did The Times offer Senator McCain or his staff an opportunity to comment? If so, what was the response?

    -- Alan Bliss, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.

    A. The reporting team had various conversations and e-mail exchanges with Senator McCain's representatives throughout the process. The campaign denied several requests for interviews with the senator.

    As the story noted, Mr. McCain contacted the newspaper once, calling Mr. Keller to complain about the reporters' inquiries, in December. The first extensive interview between Mr. McCain's representatives and the reporting team took place at the lobbying offices of Charles Black, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain, on Dec. 14. In that session, the New York Times reporters requested various documentation, including phone records, office schedules and airplane manifests dating to the 1990s. The reporters followed up with several questions about Ms. Iseman's lobbying efforts before the senator and his committee. Mr. McCain's aides agreed to provide as much of the requested information as possible, but noted that this would take some time (they ultimately said they could not locate some of the documentation). Three of the reporters also met with Mr. McCain's attorney, Robert S. Bennett, at his offices later in December.

    The exchange of questions and answers continued off and on until Wednesday, when the newspaper submitted another request for an interview with Senator McCain. That request was denied. And, through Mr. Black, Mr. McCain declined to comment on former associates' accounts of meetings in which he was confronted with their concerns about his ties to Ms. Iseman.

    The Times also made repeated efforts to seek Ms. Iseman's comments and responses to questions. Beginning in December, she answered some questions by e-mail, though she declined to speak to reporters on the phone. She again declined a phone interview the day of publication.

    -- Jim Rutenberg, Washington correspondent

    BTD confirmed/redeemed. All hail... (none / 0) (#3)
    by oldpro on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 03:36:00 PM EST

    A Story Nontheless (none / 0) (#4)
    by AdrianLesher on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 03:38:47 PM EST
    Leading with hints of an affair was a bad idea. But Hoyt makes the point that this was nonetheless an important article.

    The pity of it is that, without the sex, The Times was on to a good story. McCain, who was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee in 1991 for exercising "poor judgment" by intervening with federal regulators on behalf of a corrupt savings and loan executive, recast himself as a crusader against special interests and the corrupting influence of money in politics. Yet he has continued to maintain complex relationships with lobbyists like Iseman, at whose request he wrote to the Federal Communications Commission to urge a speed-up on a decision affecting one of her clients.

    Much of that story has been reported over the years, but it was still worth pulling together to help voters in 2008 better understand the John McCain who might be their next president.

    The NYT blew it (none / 0) (#5)
    by Lora on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 03:52:11 PM EST
    They blew it so badly by all the sexual innuendo that the public will pay no attention to the rest.  Now McCain will be able to run his campaign free of criticism from the NYT.

    How could they have been so stupid?

    Stupid? or dumb like a fox? (none / 0) (#6)
    by jawbone on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 04:56:19 PM EST
    Exactly (none / 0) (#7)
    by Lora on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 05:16:19 PM EST
    Dumb like Fox.

    Lora, your grieving is a bit premature... (none / 0) (#10)
    by Camorrista on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 07:14:28 PM EST
    Now McCain will be able to run his campaign free of criticism from the NYT.

    I think you're overestimating both the skill of the McCain campaign and underestimating the tenacity of the Times to follow a story where it goes, especially after it's been humiliated.  

    Several commenters have compared this story, and its explosive aftermath, to the unfolding of the Dan Rather story about Bush's guard service--the messenger rather than the message became the news.  That's true enough, but there's a crucial difference.

    The Guard story, in its essentials, was old stuff by time Rather explored it.  All he was adding (or thought he was adding) was supporting evidence, and the possibility that his evidence was forged not only fatally compromised his story but killed any chance of follow-up by other news outfits.

    That's not the case here.  The Times McCain story--no matter how distasteful lots of people found it--contains no such booby trap: there are no "forged" documents, there are no scuzzy sources from the Democratic Party, or the Clinton camp, or the Obama camp.  And, though the particulars of the Times story are several years old, the essence is not.

    Because John McCain's history of letting lobbyists stroke him (and, yes, the pun is intentional) in exchange for doing their bidding is a continuing saga, and nothing he says, or the Republican Party says, or Rush Limbaugh says will prevent the print press (& not only the Times) from chasing it down every gopher hole in the land.  

    Lost in all the Puritan uproar over the Times' supposedly lascivious approach is the fact that nothing in the story has been shown to be false.  Other news organizations (and transcripts of McCain's own words, and quotes by telcom executives) have already backed up the Times.  The denials from McCain's campaign addressed what was not in the article--because his staff shrewdly guessed that (1) those who despise the Times would believe anything bad said about it; and (2) those who are uncomfortable with the journalistic linking of sex & politics would, for their own honest reasons, jump on the disapproving bandwagon.

    Lastly--and most importantly--I don't share your gloomy view of the public.  The Times, despite this episode, despite Judy Miller, despite any number of stories it got "wrong," is still the paper of record, still the source everybody turns to--even those who'd like to burn down the building with all the reporters & editors in it.  The Times has been around longer than John McCain (or any contemporary pol) and will be around after he's been eulogized.  

    Don't despair.  The Times is a flawed paper; John McCain is a flawed pol.  Which do you truly believe is worse?


    Oh?? (none / 0) (#14)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Feb 24, 2008 at 10:48:47 PM EST
    and will be around after he's been eulogized.  

    You might want to check its market value.


    So Why Did McCain Lie (none / 0) (#8)
    by john horse on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 06:01:43 PM EST
    NYT Editor Clark Hoyt is missing the story.  Its not about whether McCain had an affair with a lobbyist but whether he did any special favors for the lobbyist.  In respect to the later, McCain has lied about his meetings with Bud Paxson (Paxson Communications) and whether he did any special favors for Paxson.  McCain's own deposition given in 2002 contradict what he says today.  So much for straight talk.  

    Except the deposition came to light (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 06:04:04 PM EST
    after the NYT ran the story.  Also, today Paxson himself sd. McCain was incorrect in stating they never had a face to face mtg.

    who needs an affair? (none / 0) (#11)
    by debcoop on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 08:29:16 PM EST
    He's 30 years older than she is.  She's pretty...resembles his wife when she was younger.

    All a pretty lobbyist needs to do is smile, have insinuating body language, get a little closer than needed with teasing, insinuating language which promises more than she delivers.  It easily could be more than enough.

    Really no need to actually go to bed.  Aides think afairs are going on because McCain and Iseman behaved just as I described above and did that in front of them. We all know what we've such just the same kind of flirtatious behavior...

    So did that mean her clients got attention from McCain? Indeed the record seems to support the idea that McCain actually helped those clients.

    I don't think it the lack of hotel records undermines the idea that the totally upright mcCain may not be so lobbyist free as he leads everyone to believe.

    Nonsense (1.00 / 0) (#15)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Feb 24, 2008 at 10:52:01 PM EST
    He's 30 years older than she is.  She's pretty...resembles his wife when she was younger....

    Really no need to actually go to bed.

    Oh?? How bigoted against us old folks.

    Indeed the record seems to support

    "Seems?" You could be a smearer for the NYT.

    Proof please.


    NYT and Republicans (none / 0) (#12)
    by diogenes on Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 10:49:02 PM EST
    When it's the liberal press and a republican candidate, any excuse to print is a good one.
    So far I've heard said that McCain asked for an "expidited" consideration of the matter.  I'm sure that Hillary would do the same for me if my business were tied up in government red tape and if I asked.  So would most congressmen.  

    People will always (none / 0) (#13)
    by kenoshaMarge on Sun Feb 24, 2008 at 06:18:35 AM EST
    head for the most prurient portions of any story. Once it has been shown that there wasn't much there there much of the rest of the story will be discounted too.

    Ask Dan Rather what happens when someone can pick any little thing wrong with a story and end up making the whole story go away. Of course Dan Rather was perceived as a liberal so that explains that. While the NYT is... Oh-oh

    Media should work harder to not show their bias (none / 0) (#16)
    by Answerman on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 10:57:58 AM EST
    I think it is obvious that news agencies have their bias.  Unfortunately this comes out in their reporting.  The Times has proven to be biased in a way that would make them search for a story like this and that is why they took so much fire for this story.  Same reason Fox is hit so much for a good bit of their reporting.

    The news should be the news because it is news worthy, not to prove the beliefs of those reporting or writing the stories.  This is also why there are so many making fun of the media's handling of Senator Obama.  Too transparent that the media will not hit him with the tough issues like they will other candidates. They seem to be more like Obama supporters that reporters.  I mean come on... Even SNL made fun of the reporters swooning over him.