The McCain campaign, once known as the most media-pandering perpetual Republican campaign in modern history, is passionately protesting the Washington Post’s Sunday story suggesting John McCain’s "volcanic" outbursts of anger could be disqualifying. (I blogged it here.) McCain aide Mark Salter was quoted by Ramesh Ponnuru on The Corner, saying the story in 99 percent fictional: "The story about the Young Republican in 1982 is entirely fictional. The Bob Smith incident is entirely fictional. The Karen Johnson story is entirely fictional. Most of the others are exaggerated beyond recognition." This severe a charge will need to be answered by the Post.
At NRO’s Media Blog, Greg Pollowitz has more detail. The Karen Johnson featured in the McCain story is a less-than-respectable source, since she’s a 9/11 "truther," someone who suspects a grand American conspiracy to kill our own people. Greg quoted one newspaper account:
But legislators who voted against altering the memorial said they believe it needs to represent various viewpoints and feelings about the events leading up to and following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And that, according to Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, includes the still-open possibility that Americans have yet to learn the full story.
"There's many of us," she said, "that believe there's been a cover-up," ranging from who was really behind the attacks to questions about whether what flew into the World Trade Center towers were pilotless drones and the passengers had been taken off beforehand.
"And there's a lot of statements on that 9/11 memorial that reflect a lot of our views that we have about it," Johnson said. "And I think all of those need to be represented."
Greg noted she also thinks President Bush and Mexico are plotting to erode American sovereignty by 2010.
Salter's protest of Post reporter Michael Leahy's reporting methods also suggest there's grist for Howard Kurtz and other media reporters to wonder about, specifically the charge that the Post would go to great lengths to protect an anti-McCain source, refusing to divulge specifics of the anti-McCain case before publication:
When he asked me about Karen Johnson, who says McCain tried to block her from getting a job, I asked for details: what job; who did he call, when did it happen, etc. He said he couldn't give them to me because he had promised his source he wouldn't share those kind of details with McCain in advance of publication. Source didn't ask for her identity to be protected and didn't put the details off the record. They all appeared in the story. I explained to Leahy that this was a very unusual form of confidentiality, that an incident that was given to him on the record could not be shared with the subject of the story so that we could provide an informed response. There is only one reason that a source would act for that kind of selectively targeted and temporary confidentiality, to deny us the ability to disprove the story, which we could have done in ten minutes. It's like telling someone he's been accused of pedophilia, asking for a response, but declining to identify the incident in question. Mr. Leahy was unpersuaded.
In sum, this is one of the more shoddy examples of journalism I've ever encountered. But for the infamous NYT story, I'd say it was the worst smear job on McCain I'd ever seen.
Are you getting the impression that the McCain camp is going to retract in entirety their smug assurance from previous campaigns that the media are agreeable, nonpartisan professionals who can be won over with "straight talk" and barbecues at the ranch?