Bloggers on the NYT's McCain scoop.

Bloggers on the NYT's McCain scoop.

Bloggers on the NYT's McCain scoop.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
Feb. 21 2008 6:32 PM

Blonde Bombshell

Forget that the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade is in flames or the shooting down of any dead satellites. It's wall-to-wall John McCain in the blogosphere today. On Wednesday night, the New York Times published on its Web site a long-held story about McCain's rumored romantic involvement with a lobbyist named Vicki Iseman. Apart from rehashing McCain's history of questionable involvement with lobbyists, particularly those who have contributed to his political campaigns, the Times discloses nothing new, according to lefties and righties in cyberspace. On the matter of sex, it relies on hearsay and impressions by anonymous sources described as "former campaign associates." The real scoop may belong to the New Republic, which has just come out with this background piece on why the Times waited so long to go to press with a story it had been working on since last year. (Word of the report was first posted as an item on the Drudge Report on Dec. 20.) The McCain camp struck back furiously Thursday, accusing the Times of conducting a "hit-and-run smear campaign," and he denied the affair with Iseman.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary's contentions calls the piece "the journalistic equivalent of push-polling or the 'it was all a dream' narrative explanation. They float a juicy two-pronged premise (adultery and political compromise) before the electorate with no greater justification than that some anonymous observers had mistakenly assumed it to be true."

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TNR's own James Kirchick says at the Plank that it's a nonstory that proves the Times is "in the tank" for Obama: "John Weaver, whom McCain fired last summer (indentified in the Times piece as  'now an informal campaign adviser' to McCain, which sounds like a puffed-up euphemism for 'unemployed') says that 8 years ago, he and two other former employees who have since 'become disillusioned' (read: disgruntled), suspected that McCain was having an affair with a lobbyist."

Roger L. Simon writes: "Years ago, when one read something in The Times you thought, oh, this must be true. Now, you think - what's the latest garbage? ... A newspaper accusing some guy of having an improper relationship with a woman ... or maybe not... is on the edge of opera bouffe, considering the behind the scenes activities of the newspaper's own staff, from editor and publisher on down." Matt Cooper at Portfolio's Capital smells a rat only in the Times' newsroom: "It's a weird piece--strangely unsatisfying and it hardly puts McCain's ethics in much of a context. At bottom, there's no sign that McCain actually did anything for the woman and her clients that he would have done anyway given his positions on a variety of telecom issues. He didn't bend principle for her, so far as I can tell."

Allahpundit at Hot Air gives the précis: "They got a tip in November, threw four reporters at it, couldn't substantiate the affair with anything sturdier than hearsay, then dithered about whether to spike it or toss it out there. The compromise solution: Bury it at the end of a long rehash of McCain's involvement with the Keating Five, to give it some heft by association."

Liberals also castigate the Gray Lady for its decline in journalistic standards. Even Matt Yglesias manages to see past his "loathing of John McCain" to charge that the Times chose to "substitute innuendo for making a straightforward true or false assertion is seems like a pretty shameful attempt to set up a Kaus-like presumption of guilt. If they have reporting they're willing to stand behind of a McCain-Iseman affair, they should publish it. And if, as seems to be the case, they don't have the reporting, then they shouldn't write the story."

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The Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left says the Times is now indistinguishable from the National Enquirer: "This is irresponsible, even despicable 'journalism.' Anonymous sources say THEY feared there was a romantic relationship 8 years ago? Suppose for a second, this is relevant, how could you possibly run this with just that? A responsible news organization would not."

Greg Sargent at Talking Points Memo performs a cute intellectual experiment: "Let's take the meat of the big New York Times story and substitute the words 'Dem Presidential Hopeful' for 'John McCain.' " His conclusion? "Wouldn't we all be yelling and stamping our feet about 'panty sniffing' and condemning the use of anonymous sources who suggest a possible affair that may or may not have happened and wasn't directly alleged by anyone?"

There's also an Associated Press story that delves a bit deeper into McCain's handling of the FCC approval of a license matter for Paxson Communications, the company that had hired Iseman as a lobbyist. Lowell W. "Bud" Paxson, CEO of the company, had contributed heavily to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, and though McCain didn't ask the FCC to approve the license, he requested, in writing, that the agency speed up its evaluation of it.

Megan McArdle responds to this with: "[R]egulatory uncertainty is very costly for firms; just getting your case jumped to the head of the line could be a pretty valuable special favor. It doesn't cost the rest of us much, of course--unless we happen to work for the company whose case was delayed while everyone dropped everything to deal with the senator's request." At Reason's Hit & Run, Matt Welch, who has written a scathing book about McCain, surmises: "Those who really care about such things have known since at least 2000, and likely much earlier, that McCain does favors for campaign contributors, and has not always been the most faithful of husbands. I care not at all about the latter; while the former is one of many constant, low-level irritants people like me experience when reading yet another newspaper editorial about what a saint the guy is."

Read more reaction to the McCain "bombshell." In Slate, Jack Shafer defended the NYT, Timothy Noah scored it a victory for McCain, and the XX Factor blog debated the significance of it all.

Michael Weiss is the director of communications at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank that promotes democratic geopolitics. He is also the spokesman for Just Journalism, which examines how Israel and the Middle East are portrayed in the U.K. media.