John McCain wasted no time getting in front of the media to deny the paper-thin allegations leveled by the New York Times. He appeared at a press conference with his wife Cindy at his side, from his latest campaign stop in Toledo. He denied that anyone ever "confronted" him about his relationship with Vicki Isemen at least twice:
Q. Senator, did you ever have any meeting with any of your staffers in which they would have intervened to ask you not to see Vicki Iseman or to be concerned about appearances of being too close to a lobbyist?
Q. No meeting ever occurred?
Q., No staffer was ever concerned about a possible romantic relationship?
A. If they were, they didn't communicate that to me.
Q. Did you ever have such a relationship?
One can't get any plainer than this. If the Times' central support for the story -- that aides had to intervene in order to save the Senator from himself -- prove false, then the entire story collapses. Now that McCain has gone on the record with such a categorical denial, the Times either needs to produce its sources or retract the story. If their sources don't want to come forward and identify themselves, date the meeting specifically and give some other corroboration than each other, then the Times should also apologize for this baseless attack.
McCain added something later in the presser. "Since it was in the New York Times, I don't take it at face value." We tried to tell him the same thing when the Times endorsed him last month. Now he understands what we meant.
Will this hurt McCain? Not at all. First, this is even older than the smear job the Times did on Rudy Giuliani last year. Second, they don't have a single named source for this story. Third, the Times left out numerous examples where McCain acted against the interests of Iseman and her clients. The effect is likely going to produce more support for McCain among the GOP base, especially given the egregious and salacious nature of the controversy.
Fausta has more.
UPDATE: Jazz Shaw has a good, concise post on this topic:
Unfortunately, having set out a very attractive plate on the table, the Times fails to put any meat on it. Nobody is so much as hinting that there is evidence that the two of them were invoved. Even further, McCain's voting record clearly shows that the woman's clients got no traction with McCain and he cast no votes out of the ordinary which differed from his stated positions.
This was a horrible decision on the part of the Times and has the odor of a smear attack. And it could well backfire on them. An attack like this will likely rally some of McCains more doubting party members to come charging to his rescue.
UPDATE II and BUMP: Greg Sargent does an experiment and claims that liberal bloggers are engaging in hypocrisy:
Let's try a little experiment. Let's take the meat of the big New York Times story and substitute the words "Dem Presidential Hopeful" for "John McCain" ... If these words had appeared on the front page of The New York Times, wouldn't we all be yelling and stamping our feet about "panty sniffing" and condemning the use of anonymous sources who suggest a possible affair that may or may not have happened and wasn't directly alleged by anyone?
That's a sincere question. Wouldn't we?
After all, the above grafs appear to constitute the meat of this story. The gist of it seems to be that according to anonymous sources, eight years ago McCain's aides intervened in a relationship between him and a female lobbyist that may or may not have been sexual, and may or may not have constituted improper influence peddling, because they were worried that something untoward might be happening and were concerned about what her appearances with him in public looked like.
In fact, they did, and rightly so -- when the target was John Edwards a few weeks ago. Anonymous sourcing, a complete lack of evidence, and denials all around didn't stop the National Enquirer from carrying the story. Did the New York Times pick it up? Nope. But bravo for Greg and his post at TPM.