Thursday, February 21, 2008

The New York Times/ McCain Scandal

The John McCain extramarital affair scandal does not rage my outrage meter. That is a matter for Cindy McCain. The fact that McCain voted to impeach Bill Clinton and then have had a relationship with Vicki Iseman is standard hypocrisy in American politics. We live in a culture that cast shame on people for honestly discussing sexual issues. The public craves Jerry Springer and can't explain to their children the dangers of STDs. People are paying more attention to what John McCain's penis is doing than is horrible positions on Iraq and the economy.

What is newsworthy is McCain hiring criminal defense attorney Bob Bennett to intimidate The New York Times from publishing details of McCain's relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. The Times only went public because The New Republic was working on their own story. It is amazing how the once mighty Times is getting pushed around by the Right. TNR published Gabriel Sherman piece on how the McCain camp kept The Times from publishing the story.

What happened? The publication of the article capped three months of intense internal deliberations at the Times over whether to publish the negative piece and its most explosive charge about the affair. It pitted the reporters investigating the story, who believed they had nailed it, against executive editor Bill Keller, who believed they hadn't. It likely cost the paper one investigative reporter, who decided to leave in frustration. And the Times ended up publishing a piece in which the institutional tensions about just what the story should be are palpable.

The Times bad handling of holding onto the story made reporters leave.

It was at about that time, amidst flurries of rumors swirling about the looming Times investigation, that the Times' McCain beat reporter, Marc Santora, abruptly left the campaign trail after covering the senator for four and a half months, frustrated by the McCain rumors. A rising star at the paper, Santora had been working grueling hours, joining the 2008 election coverage straight from a reporting assignment in Baghdad. As the campaign headed to South Carolina, the site of McCain's defeat in 2000, Santora emailed the Times' deputy Washington editor, Richard Stevenson, to vent about how the rumors were dogging him on the campaign trail, and left the McCain beat on January 10. "The last thing I wanted was to be a pawn in this thing," Santora told me. "I was exhausted, there were a lot of rumors flying around. I thought the best thing for me to do was take a break."

Santora wasn't the last casualty of the process. Two weeks ago, in early February, Marilyn Thompson, one of the four reporters working on the McCain investigation quit the Times. Thompson had been a staffer at The Washington Post for 14 years, until 2004. She had spent just six months at the Times and recorded only four bylines before accepting an offer to return to her former employer as an editor overseeing the Post's accountability coverage of money and politics. According to sources, Thompson became increasingly dispirited with the delays, and worked around the clock through the Christmas vacation on the piece, only to see the investigation sputter. Declining to comment on the investigation itself, Thompson told me her decision to return to the Post "was an opportunity to go back to the place that has been a home to me." (Thompson celebrated her byline during her last week at the Times. Her final day at the paper is tomorrow.)

The investigative reporters felt they had the McCain story nailed. Executive editor Bill Keller wouldn't go to bat for his employees. He told them to keep working on the story. Keller published a watered-down version that McCain defenders are having a field day poking holes through. Keller's defense is hysterical.

"Our policy is, we publish stories when they are ready. 'Ready' means the facts have been nailed down to our satisfaction, the subjects have all been given a full and fair chance to respond, and the reporting has been written up with all the proper context and caveats."

Keller didn't want to be in the hot seat. He watered-down a story that was publicly floating around since December. The result was another major journalism scandal for The Times. Where does The Times find such horrible editors?

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At February 22, 2008 12:25 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Times is no better than tabloid trash now.

I'll never forgive them for lying us into Iraq, and continuing the lies after we are there.

I NEVER purchase off the news rack, and I was a decades-long reader.

No more.

At February 22, 2008 3:42 PM , Blogger Vox Populi said...

gad, I can't imagine anyone sleeping with mccain.

Standards are so passe' for some, I guess.


I loved the whole stand by your man reference.
I think this was a subtle snipe at hillary who stood by HER man.
I mean .. the timing.
Damn, I could do better than these folks.
They're boring. It's like they're working from index cards that they misfiled.

At February 22, 2008 7:04 PM , Blogger tas said...

Isn't this a sad state of affairs (no pun intended) for journalism...

I'll admit that I had a little bias when I started reading the story since everybody and their mother, and even Jon Stewart, said it was crap, but I read the first few paragraphs on the front page and saw a bunch of wild claims, but sources that weren't concrete at all -- if they even existed. I expect this kind of "journalism" from bloggers like Taylor Marsh, not a newspaper.

But the New York Times was pushed into running with what they had for the story because a couple other news agencies were working on it. I understand competition, but.. Can we call thiis the Drudgeizatiion of news? Now when a news-org thinks they have a scoop, they have to print it without facts, before somebody else blubbers it before them? Whatever happened to editors having integrity? Is it so dog eat dog now among competition that all it takes for a story to become an article a notion? In this kind of media climate,no wonder McCain hired a lawyer -- whether true or not, it was going to get printed.

The worst part about all of this is hey, it just might be true -- but we'll never know now. Haste killed the story. What's the quote from "All The President's Men"... Never shoot too high, everybody runs and you make people feel sorry for the victim?

Note to all the editors of America: Next time you fire, aim for the head. And make sure it's a clear target.

At June 19, 2008 8:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Iselin must want something so bad. Mccain, you might as well be sleeping with your leather sofa. Go McCain! I know you want to teach a lesson to your tough wife!

At June 19, 2008 8:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So will Cindy stand by her husband now, lol!


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