Essay: The New York Times - Political Assassins

February 21st, 2008 3:05 PM

Hit and run reporting on John McCain - Media Research Center
Cheap Shots Fit to Print
This would make even the Daily Kos and blush.

Well, maybe not. But still, ... .

The New York Times on Wednesday evening went to the web with "For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk", an innuendo-filled and fact-deprived 3,000 word ramble on the 1999 professional interactions between now virtually certain Republican Presidential nominee John McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman. They then extrapolated the unproven impropriety of this alleged "relationship" into a broader questioning of McCain's ethics.

Both McCain and Iseman flatly deny the affair. Their refutation, and the Times' protracted inability to gather any evidence to the contrary, should in no way have served to prevent them from levying the accusation in long form print, apparently.

Another manifest media attempt to down a Republican Presidential hopeful.

That it took four authors (and two additional contributing researchers) nine years to acquire this little substantiation is striking, both in its futility and its reflection of the depth of the New York Times' impassioned desire to deliver the tale. It is reminiscent of the deranged lengths and depths Dan Rather plumbed in pursuit of his Great White Whale - the George W. Bush Texas Air National Guard dodge that wasn't.

That the Times draws such far reaching conclusions predicated on this scarcity of fact is journalistic assault with intent -- another manifest media attempt to down a Republican Presidential hopeful.

In the classic sense of the phrase, there is literally no "there" there. The Times cites two shadowy, unnamed "former associates" who cite other shadowy, unnamed "advisers" whom these two say feared that there might have been a sexual relationship between McCain and Iseman.

Or they heard it in the bathroom while sneaking a smoke between classes. (How high school newspaper gossip column is this?)

They do not reference their sources with even this ludicrous level of specificity until 2,050 words into the screed. On Page One, on the website Front Page, you are fed the most amorphous of depictions -- "small circle of advisers", "some of his top advisors", "some aides". Vague, obscure tallies meant to imply far greater numbers than the Times in actuality had.

But what concerned these aides, one FINALLY gets to read 2,000+ words in, was not that she was possibly a paramour, but that she was indubitably a lobbyist. Here we actually get a named source, John Weaver, a former top McCain strategist and now an informal campaign adviser.

Weaver instantaneously dispels the myth the Times has worked so hard to build. "Our political messaging during that time period centered around taking on the special interests and placing the nation's interests before either personal or special interest. Ms. Iseman's involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort."

So Weaver distanced Iseman from McCain because his proximity to a lobbyist would undermine his anti-special interest campaign theme, not because he feared the two were engaged in what Bill Clinton might refer to as a good Tuesday.

Further still into this piece of journalistic piffle we get two additional named sources, Rick Davis and Mark Salter, McCain's top strategists in both of his presidential campaigns. They BOTH directly contradict the Times' story -- and that of the two "former associates" -- saying they never discussed Ms. Iseman with the senator or colleagues.

Said Mr. Salter, "I never had any good reason to think that the relationship was anything other than professional, a friendly professional relationship."

Perhaps the Times should have proffered these corrections and outright denials -- from people willing to speak without anonymity -- before rather than after the assertions of two unnamed "former associates" delivering third hand hearsay. Actually, upon speaking to Weaver, Davis and Salter, any semi-reputable publication would have simply killed the story.

As we have been repeatedly shown for oh so very long, the New York Times is far less than semi-reputable.

When confronted with a cacophony such as the one this story has produced, one enters fight or flight mode. The Times immediately chose the latter. Wednesday night on CNN, just hours after the story was published, Anderson Cooper offered, "I want to point out to our viewers we have asked reporters who worked on this story from the New York Times as well as anyone from the New York Times to come on the program tonight to talk about it or even talk to us by phone. They declined that opportunity."

Wow - that's resolve. Way to stand by your work.

Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, instead of putting forward his foot soldiers to defend the indefensible, released on Thursday a statement from behind his embattled ramparts. In which he begins, "On the substance, we think the story speaks for itself."

Indeed it does. And for the New York Times as well.