The NY Times Public Editor Goes After the Paper for the McCain Article

Posted by Kendall Harmon

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. And it did not say whether Weaver, the only on-the-record source, believed there was a romance. 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.

It was not for want of trying. Four highly respected reporters in the Washington bureau worked for months on the story and were pressed repeatedly to get sources on the record and to find documentary evidence like e-mail. If McCain had been having an affair with a lobbyist seeking his help on public policy issues, and The Times had proved it, it would have been a story of unquestionable importance.

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. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Economics, PoliticsUS Presidential Election 2008

Posted February 24, 2008 at 2:27 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Bob Livingston wrote:

Clark Hoyt, the so-called “Public Editor” of the NYT pulled an old trick in tabloid journalism that my father used to call “Fainting with damn praise.” While his conclusion “I think it is wrong to report the suppositions or concerns of anonymous aides about whether the boss is getting into the wrong bed” was far from the strong statement one would expect from a fact-checker and error reporter. He also took the opportunity to make sure the public had the story again—all of it including the unsubstantiated rumors he criticized.
Bob Livingston

February 24, 4:52 pm | [comment link]
2. Harvey wrote:

Whether true or not , if I cannot determine which, since no other evidence has surface, I refuse to automatically believe in anything stated by persons who will not reveal that they are the source of for the accusations made in the articles.

February 24, 9:47 pm | [comment link]
3. Eutychus wrote:

Hey, doesn’t the NYT have more authority than scripture?  Who’s to say they could be wrong?

February 24, 11:01 pm | [comment link]
4. Albany* wrote:

It’s not a newspaper, it’s a form of thought control and reinforcement. Has been for years.

February 25, 12:37 am | [comment link]
5. Jim K wrote:

Given the NYT’s repeated history of journalistic howlers; whether it’s falsely reporting an epidemic of murders committed by returning Iraq War veterans when the reality is that the rate for that group is one-fifth of the rate for the same age group nation-wide; or this latest unfounded and unsupported sliming of Senator McCain and a lady lobbyist, why does anyone continue reading it?  Let this pathetic, discredited rag go the way of thousands of newspapers before it, into well-earned and thoroughly deserved oblivion.

February 25, 12:55 am | [comment link]
6. Juandeveras wrote:

Sadly, many of the the Times’ syndicated “stories” are reproduced verbatim in many small town papers. Also,  sadly,  McCain does have a somewhat checkered past coupled with a temper, a combination which may come back to bite him severely between now and a national election.

February 25, 3:07 am | [comment link]
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