Sunday, February 24, 2008

NY Times on the Hot Seat

This was not great reporting, but the story’s not over!
by Charlie Leck

The New York Times article on John McCain’s possible encounters with ethics questions was itself quite a phenomenon. It bears looking at. There are some good questions. Why the article? What about its timing? What did the article really say and what was its central thesis? How was the article misunderstood? What was the reaction to it by other journalists?

Some worthwhile blogs about the current John McCain and New York Times hullabaloo:

John Dean at Find Law
Mr. Dean writes that the denials of inappropriate sexual behavior by Senator McCain and Ms. Iseman are very weak. Why haven’t the two directly challenged the times and demanded a retraction? Why hasn’t Ms. Iseman indicated she will bring legal action against the NY Times for damages? Has the NY Times got more information than they’ve already given us and both the Senator and the lobbyist are not wanting the other shoe to fall?

The Brian Williams Blog on MSNBC Nightly News Web SiteWhen News is the NewsWilliams makes a good point in this blog: New is not supposed to be the news! One of the responsibilities of journalism is to avoid being itself the headline.

Also check out the Brian Williams story on ABC News, refuting McCain’s claim that he is the only one in the campaign not receiving special interest money.

The New York Times is criticized by its own Public Editor
for messing up a really very good story about John McCain.“The pity of it is that, without the sex, The Times was on to a good story. McCain, who was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee in 1991 for exercising “poor judgment” by intervening with federal regulators on behalf of a corrupt savings and loan executive, recast himself as a crusader against special interests and the corrupting influence of money in politics. 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.”

Martin Andrade wonders if the NY Times has more – if anothershoe is going to drop!
This is a thought I’ve had also. I read the NY Times story through one time very quickly. Troubled by it, I read it twice again and very carefully both times. If this is it – if they don’t have more information and sources than this – we have to call it a shoddy piece of journalism. Here’s some wild, unsupported speculation. The NY Times has got the goods. And, don’t forget that this is not only a story about possible sex for legislative favors, but it is also about John McCain’s regular dalliance around the edges of congressional ethics questions. With Martin Andrade, we’ll have to wait to see! Here, however, as Andrade points out, is the Catch 22 trap in which the NY Times is caught:

“If the Times has more and are waiting for another day to catch McCain in a lie then they are practicing political strategy rather than journalism and deserve denunciation; If this is it, if this is everything the NYT has on this "scandal" then the Times deserves ridicule.”

Right-Wing religious/political zealot, Gary Bauer, calls this Yellow Journalismof the worst kind and I am going to agree with him (which I find rather hard to believe) unless the NY Times is going to come up with some good reason for making this a front page story (or even a story at all).

Many bloggers are demanding that the NY Times explain just what motivated them to publish this story. I’ll add that they need to provide the explanation quickly. Nothing less is at stake than the publication’s reputation as a great newspaper.

Jane Hamsher, of Firedoglake,points out that this is pretty much a question of John Weaver’s word against that of John McCain. We need to hear more from Weaver. I’m not concerned about the sex charges that might result from learning more about this matter; I’m worried about McCain’s vulnerability to lobbyist influence. If all this stuff turns out to be true, McCain is toast both in the Senate and in the presidential race.

Tom Elia, blogging at the News Editor, is correct in what he says below UNLESS the NY Times really does have another shoe to drop:“30 years from now, when enough time has passed for the necessary historical perspective, and people wonder how the New York Times wrecked its journalistic reputation, this article will be one of the major pieces of evidence.”

The Mahablog calls all this the McScandal. I like that!

Brave New Films has a different tilt. They want to point out who the major friends of John McCain really are.

Now, when all is said and done, the problem the NY Times had with this article is two-fold. One: The public is made up of loads of very poor readers. It reads what it wants to. Nearly everyone read this NY Times story to say that John McCain had an affair with a much younger woman. The story was really about John McCain’s regular tendency to play a little too loosely with questions of ethics in terms of his general relationship with lobbyists. Two: The NY Times was a little too enchanted with the possibility that there may have been a sexual relationship involved in this cozy relationship with a lobbying firm. They tried to prove it for months, but they couldn’t. The egos around the newsroom simply wouldn’t let go of the possibility, however, and they ran with it as innuendo. Not good journalism.

The best summary of the whole debacle comes from Phil Hoskins in a Capitol Hill Blue blog.

“This week “straight talking” John McCain was exposed as the liar he is and true to form, the result was a circling of the right-wing wagons to support him. It isn’t the issue of whether he snuggled up with his lobbyist gal pal that is important but rather his poor judgment when it comes to lobbyists.”
My final take on this is that the investigative reporters have been turned loose. They smell blood and they are going to try to prove something that the NY Times couldn’t or didn’t bother to do – that is, prove the NY Times story is correct.

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