Thursday, February 21, 2008

McCain and the NYT

The political machine is already churning out news this morning.

Presumptive GOP nominee John McCain appeared at a news conference this morning to flatly deny a story in the New York Times this morning that makes "assertions," to use CNN's word, that presumptive GOP nominee John McCain had a "close relationship" with a lobbyist that his advisers worried had become "romantic."

Apparently unable to confirm a romantic relationship, the NYT charged that McCain inappropriately used his position in the U.S. Senate to influence federal agencies on the lobbyist's behalf.

McCain spoke with reporters as his wife, Cindy, stood by his side. He was asked about circumstances in the story -- including whether he was approached by advisers concerned about his relationship with the lobbyist and even if he had had sex with her -- and he answered simply, "No," to several such questions.

McCain said he was "very disappointed in the New York Times" and scolded the newspaper for running the story based on anonymous sources. Cindy McCain spoke briefly and repeated her husband's comments about being "disappointed" in the NYT.

McCain noted that the newspaper brought up this story back in 2000, and its reporters have apparently been working on revisiting it for this cycle since at least October. Four months, and not a single on-the-record source who would substantiate the charges.

One Fox News Channel reporter (whose name escapes me for the moment) said that there will be another story forthcoming in the next day or two, this one exposing the infighting at the NYT about the story and the paper's struggle with The New Republic, which also was working on an article. It appears that the Times, the reporter said, was essentially bullied into running with the story today because it didn't want to get scooped by The New Republic.

So, once again, after running a story, the New York Times itself becomes the story.

No wonder the Times' credibility is at an all-time low.

[Sidebar: I have a real problem with the trend in mainstream journalism toward the use of anonymous sources. It used to be taboo; anonymous sources were used only for background information and to develop named sources. And I believe that there is a role, although limited, in stories with a strong national security interest.

But the NYT piece this morning is not such an issue. Its reporters Jim Rutenberg, Marilyn W. Thompson, David D. Kirkpatrick and Stephen Labaton could not even get through two paragraphs without pinning these serious allegations to "several people involved in the campaign" who spoke "on the condition of anonymity."

It's unfortunate, and I believe even reckless, for the New York Times to run an article like this with such weak underpinnings. I believe that such lazy reporting would stop if people in the public eye -- the high bar of libel notwithstanding -- would sue for defamation when editors trade in the highest standards of journalism for the types of reporting practices commonly practiced by supermarket tabloids. Lawsuits cost money, and big media companies don't like to spend money -- even if they win in the end. End sidebar]

For the reasons noted above, I hesitate to even share the link to the NYT story with you; I think that little of the story itself. But I think you will agree once you see it, so here it is:

Here are some other stories on the story: