Substance or Smear?

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Sen. McCain today at Charlie's Restaurant in Perrysburg, Ohio.

Sen. McCain today at Charlie's Restaurant in Perrysburg, Ohio. Source: J.D. Pooley/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Source: J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Last night, The New York Times posted a story on its website about the relationship between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, who, in 1999, "had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client's corporate jet." (The article, "For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk," was published in the newspaper's print edition today). The four reporters who wrote the piece spent many months on it, and according to The New Republic, The New York Times's Washington newsroom was divided over the story's newsworthiness and importance.

According to the article, staffers feared that Iseman and Sen. McCain spent too much time together;and that, even if they weren't having an affair, his relationship with a major lobbyist for several telecommunications companies could ruin his political career, especially in the wake of the Keating Five Scandal, in which Sen. McCain was implicated back in 1991.

The piece is carefully worded, murky at times. And it prompted this response from the McCain campaign:

It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career.

NPR's Washington editor, Ron Elving, will join us, to weigh in on the story's substance and significance. If you have questions for him, please leave them here.



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Hang on now, you missed an important piece of this story.

The NYT had been wavering over whether or not to publish for months (since August I believe?) and were still considering whether or not to publish it. They recently learned that the New Republic was planning on publishing the story themselves in a matter of days. Not wanting to be scooped by the New Republic, and since the story was going to come out anyway, they decided to go ahead & publish it.

I don't always agree with the NYT's decisions on what to publish, among other things, but I feel they are being unfairly criticized for this one. It was the New Republic who forced this story to come out, and if one feels the story is unjustified, it is the New Republic is who should be blamed. The NYT merely decided if their story was going to be reported by somebody, it should be reported by the NYT. The NYT did the hard work necessary to explore this story, and much as I hate it when business concerns dictate newsroom decisions, they deserve the credit for it (in the form of "buzz" and ad revenue.)

I agree that there are questionable aspects of the story itself, but I don't see as how the NYT added much harm to the situation by publishing it themselves. If we are going to lay blame for a story that some feel should not have been reported, lets lay the blame at the feet of the true culprit. Otherwise, what good does it do?

Sent by Nutmeg7 | 2:49 PM | 2-21-2008

"Straight Talking" Senator McCain may -- MAY -- be justified in his criticism of the NY Times over this (non?)-issue. But he has largely been given a pass by the national press over his distressing flip-flop on American torture. He spoke eloquently, with first-hand experience, against water-boarding as the Senate considered and passed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. But as the same rules for civilians were recently considered, Senator Straight-Talk remained silent, voted against the proposed limitation and encouraged the president to veto the bill. The change is a transparent attempt to appeal the the Republican right-wing and win their support in his campaign. This is the real story, and most of the national press has let him slide on this patently hypocritical stance. Forget the cute lobbyist.

Sent by Gary Sipperley | 12:47 PM | 2-22-2008

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