Feature

Did the Times smear McCain?

The New York Times published an article hinting that John McCain had an affair with a 40-year-old lobbyist in 1999, but the paper

What happened

The New York Times published an article suggesting that Republican presidential frontrunner John McCain had an inappropriate, possibly romantic, relationship with a lobbyist in 1999. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both denied an affair, and McCain’s campaign said it would “go to war” against the Times. The Times article was leaked to the Drudge Report last December, and McCain’s aides said the Times ran the story now only because The New Republic is publishing an article on why the paper held the story. (Politico)

What the commentators said

“The Times doesn’t have the goods,” said Rich Lowry in National Review Online’s The Corner blog, and they “shouldn’t have run it.” The entire middle of the article, a “re-hash” of McCain’s role in the Keating Five scandal, is nothing but “window dressing.” The story is about “the alleged affair,” and the Times did “what any conservative media critic would have predicted—sat on the story until the day after John McCain declares himself the nominee.” How weak is that?

The story’s definitely “a bit of a jumble,” said Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo. But the “McCain Camp went to the mattresses” to get it killed back in December, so maybe that’s why “it reads like it’s had most of the meat lawyered out of it.” It seems implausible that “the Times would put their chin so far out” if they didn’t know more than they could print, and it’s “telling” that McCain’s camp didn’t deny, or even address, the affair allegations.

If the story did have “its guts ripped out,” says Noam Scheiber in The New Republic’s The Stump blog, the “obvious question” is if "those guts will ever trickle out now that this story has surfaced.” But it’s not all bad for McCain—yet. “Assuming those theoretical guts never trickle out,” there are certainly “worse things for a Republican nominee than having The New York Times take a shot at you,” especially after it endorsed you.

McCain should send the Times “a thank you card,” said Marc Cooper in The Huffington Post. The timing for him couldn’t be better if he’d “personally chosen when to have this story break.” Not only is the McCain-wary “Republican Right” now “howling” about “a liberal media smear,” but the Times’ decision to hold the story—which it could have run before the first Republican primary—saved McCain from being “a political asterisk.” Surely “Mitt Romney and even Mayor Rudy are up late tonight gnashing their teeth.”

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