Sunday, February 24, 2008

McCain and the Times

I think I've already pretty firmly established I'm not a McCain fan. Things are shaping up that I'll be pulling his lever in November, but it will be a vote against the winner of the National Journal's 27th annual "Most Liberal Senator" award, not a vote for McCain.

So, if it could be established that McCain is/was an adulterer who trades sex for political favors, you can bet I'd stay at home in November.

And that's what The New York Times alleged on Thursday. But the article left many asking, to quote the classic Wendy's commercial, "Where's the beef?".

Now NYT public editor, Clark Hoyt, has weighed in:

The article was notable for what it did not say: It did not say what convinced the advisers that there was a romance. It did not make clear what McCain was admitting when he acknowledged behaving inappropriately — an affair or just an association with a lobbyist that could look bad. ... The Times did not offer independent proof, like the text messages between Detroit’s mayor and a female aide that The Detroit Free Press disclosed recently, or the photograph of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart’s lap.


But in the absence of a smoking gun, I asked Keller why he decided to run what he had.

"If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members," he replied. "But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career."

I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. ... If a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair ... it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.

That's a pretty strong rebuke. But what was the central point of focus for the story, to me, wasn't the affair or what Keller claimed as it's point (that "McCain behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior"). What's central to me is whether McCain is doing special favors.

Hoyt hints at this with his inclusion of this sentence in his article: "Yet he has continued to maintain complex relationships with lobbyists like Iseman, at whose request he wrote to the Federal Communications Commission to urge a speed-up on a decision affecting one of her clients."

And after going on and on about having to provide substantive evidence to back up your claims, I can't believe he dropped that sentence in there. First of all, the "complex" modifier in "complex relationships" carries a pretty heavy overtone of shadiness/corruption. And, second, "relationships"? If you are going to make it plural, include some other names, please.

And what of urging "a speed up decision" at the FCC?

Well, to quote Ed Morrissey of Captains Quarters:

In fact, as the McCain camp pointed out, a look at McCain's record shows dozens of times when Iseman's clients got disappointed in his votes on the Commerce Committee. Even the one supposed intervention -- McCain's letter to the FCC -- doesn't demand a result favorable to her client, but just any decision on a long-overdue case, considered for over two years. Their one point of supposed corroboration, John Weaver, publicly repudiated the Times' version of his story, saying his intervention with Iseman had to do with her activities outside of McCain's presence, not her interactions with the Senator.

So, for as much as there isn't evidence McCain had an affair, there is evidence he's not corrupt. For today, my anti-Obama vote rests safely with McCain.

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