A story that mildly resembles today's McCain "scoop" came four years ago, the charge that young AP reporter Alexandra Polier may have had an affair with John Kerry. No proof emerged. How did the New York Times cover that charge?
On February 17, 2004, on page A-19, the Times ran a 434-word piece by reporter Jim Rutenberg, one of the four reporters on the McCain story today. The rumor had a "vibrant life on the Internet," but not in the New York Times. Here it is:
The woman at the center of unsubstantiated rumors that Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts had an extramarital affair released a statement on Monday in which she denied any romantic involvement with him. ''I have never had a relationship with Senator Kerry, and the rumors in the press are completely false,'' the woman, Alexandra Polier, 27, said in the statement. ''Whoever is spreading these rumors and allegations does not know me, but should know the pain they have caused me and my family.''
Ms. Polier, a freelance journalist, submitted the statement to The Associated Press from the suburbs of Nairobi, Kenya, where she has been staying since fall with the parents of her fiance. She once worked for The Associated Press as an editorial assistant.
Mr. Kerry's campaign aides were of mixed emotions on Monday. Clearly hopeful the statement would end days of what they considered unwarranted speculation, they said they were frustrated with having to address the subject again.
''The issues facing this country are far too serious for the press to be marketing in these types of rumors,'' Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Kerry's press secretary, said in a statement.
While there was no independent evidence to support it, the rumor has had a vibrant life on the Internet, on talk radio, and in the foreign news media, especially in Australia and England, since it was first reported Thursday by the Drudge Report Web site. It has received far less attention in the mainstream American news media.
Denials from Mr. Kerry on the radio program of Don Imus on Friday, and later during a session with reporters, were reported by some American television news organizations and newspapers, including The New York Times, in most cases without identifying Ms. Polier.
In her statement yesterday, Ms. Polier said she came forward after days of silence because she was frustrated by the attention the rumor was continuing to receive. ''Because these stories were false, I assumed the media would ignore them,'' she wrote. ''It seems that efforts to peddle these lies continue, so I feel compelled to address them.''
Apparently addressing a report in The Sun of London last week in which Ms. Polier's father, Terry, was quoted as criticizing Mr. Kerry, he and Ms. Polier's mother, Donna, also released a statement yesterday. It read: ''We have spoken to our daughter and the allegations that have been made regarding her are completely false and unsubstantiated.'' The Poliers, of Malvern, Pa., added that they intended to vote for Mr. Kerry for president.
That's it. The Times never touched the story again as you can see in the paper's archive.