The Times Raises Another McCain Non-Issue

The staff at the New York Times has burned the midnight oil trying to find ways to derail John McCain’s campaign. After endorsing him in the primary, the paper then ran an unsubstantiated smear against him as a philanderer. Now they ask whether he is eligible for the office, given his birth in the Panama Canal zone while his father served the country:

The question has nagged at the parents of Americans born outside the continental United States for generations: Dare their children aspire to grow up and become president? In the case of Senator John McCain of Arizona, the issue is becoming more than a matter of parental daydreaming.
Mr. McCain’s likely nomination as the Republican candidate for president and the happenstance of his birth in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 are reviving a musty debate that has surfaced periodically since the founders first set quill to parchment and declared that only a “natural-born citizen” can hold the nation’s highest office.
Almost since those words were written in 1787 with scant explanation, their precise meaning has been the stuff of confusion, law school review articles, whisper campaigns and civics class debates over whether only those delivered on American soil can be truly natural born. To date, no American to take the presidential oath has had an official birthplace outside the 50 states.
“There are powerful arguments that Senator McCain or anyone else in this position is constitutionally qualified, but there is certainly no precedent,” said Sarah H. Duggin, an associate professor of law at Catholic University who has studied the issue extensively. “It is not a slam-dunk situation.”

It’s a slam-dunk to the millions of military families whose service to this country should have left then with no doubts about their children being relegated to second-class citizenry. They sacrificed enough for their country without having to sacrifice the futures of their children. Any other conclusion would amount to a penalty for military service on those who did not volunteer.
The Founding Fathers recognized this. They passed a bill in 1790, three years after the adoption of the Constitution, which made clear that “natural born” applied to children born of American citizens “outside the limits of the United States”. That law remains in effect and has never been challenged. At the least, it speaks to the intent of the founders when they used the term “natural born” in the Constitution.
It’s beyond absurd to argue that John McCain doesn’t qualify to run as an American for the presidency. The candidate or party that files a lawsuit to challenge him on this point runs the risk of alienating a large swath of the public who have served this nation in uniform, in diplomacy, and in government.
Besides, if the Times thinks this to be an issue, then why did they endorse McCain in January? Didn’t they bother to do their research on him then?

Sixty-Six Percent Say ‘Smear!’

The New York Times marks another milestone on its journey to National Enquirer status. The Gray Lady’s smear piece on John McCain got 66% of Rasmussen respondents believing that the paper deliberately trying to kneecap the Republican frontrunner. Only 22% think that the paper had clean motives in publishing the unsubstantiated gossip:

The Times recently became enmeshed in controversy over an article published concerning John McCain. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the nation’s likely voters say they have followed that story at least somewhat closely.
Of those who followed the story, 66% believe it was an attempt by the paper to hurt the McCain campaign. Just 22% believe the Times was simply reporting the news. Republicans, by an 87% to 9% margin, believe the paper was trying to hurt McCain’s chances of winning the White House. Democrats are evenly divided.

Let’s take a look at the crosstabs. Among age groups, a majority in each demographic believe that the NYT deliberately set out to damage McCain’s reputation. The youngest give Bill Keller and company the most credit, with 34% believing that the Times was just reporting the news, as opposed to 53% who believed that the paper aimed to smear McCain. No other age demographic has more than 23% who believe that the Times operated with pure motives, and two-thirds across all other ages believe that they acted out of malice.
It doesn’t get better in the other demographics, either. Whites, blacks, and “others” all strongly believe that Keller and his reporters acted maliciously. Sixty-nine percent of independents joined 40% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans in that belief. Only self-professed liberals believe that the Times used sound news judgment in running the piece; conservatives and moderates overwhelmingly blame bias and malice. And only liberals and 18-29 year olds view the Times more favorably than unfavorably.
The Times, under the management of Bill Keller and especially Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger, has reduced what had been the nation’s premiere newspaper to the credibility of a supermarket tabloid. People used to think conservatives overreacted to the attack memes of the Gray Lady. Now only liberals defend the paper — and only then by the barest of majorities.

Gray Lady Issues Correction On McCain Smear

Well, it’s not what one might think. They have a correction on an irrelevant point in a completely discredited article — but at least it’s right at the top:

A front-page article on Feb. 21 about Senator John McCain’s record on lobbying and ethics, including his role in the Keating Five case, described incorrectly the reprimand delivered to three other members of the Senate in 1991 for intervening with government regulators on behalf of Charles H. Keating Jr. The Senate Ethics Committee rebuked the three senators for improper behavior, but under a parliamentary agreement the full Senate did not censure them or take any other vote on the matter.

Wow. That really builds the ol’ credibility, doesn’t it? Here we have a story that got held for months while the editors tried to build a case for their accusations. We’ve been told by no less an authority than Dan Rather that we should trust their smear because all involved are, and I quote, “very responsible journalists.”
And these responsible journalists — the ones who accused McCain of possibly thinking of having an affair with a lobbyist on the word of two disgruntled staffers who couldn’t even offer testimony that such an affair had taken place — couldn’t be bothered to fact-check the end result of the Keating Five investigation in the Senate? How hard would it have been to check their own archives for the right information?
Very responsible journalists. Hmmm. Sure. (via Lawhawk)

Is This Helpful?

The ascent of Barack Obama to front-runner status has also given rise to some highly irresponsible talk in the media, mostly sotto voce, about the potential for assassination. The New York Times breaks this into the open, giving Obama more uncomfortable associations with Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy than those his soaring rhetoric had already generated:

There is a hushed worry on the minds of many supporters of Senator Barack Obama, echoing in conversations from state to state, rally to rally: Will he be safe?
In Colorado, two sisters say they pray daily for his safety. In New Mexico, a daughter says she persuaded her mother to still vote for Mr. Obama, even though the mother feared that winning would put him in danger. And at a rally here, a woman expressed worries that a message of hope and change, in addition to his race, made him more vulnerable to violence.
“I’ve got the best protection in the world,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said in an interview, reprising a line he tells supporters who raise the issue with him. “So stop worrying.”
Yet worry they do, with the spring of 1968 seared into their memories, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in a span of two months.
Mr. Obama was 6 at the time, and like many of his admirers, he has only read about the violence that traumatized the nation. But those recollections and images are often invoked by older voters, who watch his candidacy with fascination, as well as an uneasy air of apprehension, as Democrats inch closer to selecting their nominee.

Why does the Times, and other media outlets, even make this an issue? Will talking about this make Obama or anyone else one whit safer? Of course not. The Times makes it worse by releasing Obama’s Secret Service code name, which has usually been considered confidential. Karl Rove recently refused to reveal his, and he no longer has Secret Service protection.
In one sense, the debate over the potential for assassination gives Obama even more of a messianic veneer. King and Kennedy were both cast as martyrs, the former for more reason than the latter, after their murders. This focus on Obama as a prime target is giving him a pre-martyr sense, something Obama and his family certainly don’t appreciate for very obvious reasons. He doesn’t want to martyr himself — he just wants to run for President. And while Obama probably likes people comparing him to Kennedy and King, he doesn’t want to join them.
2008 isn’t 1968. The Secret Service knows how to protect people to the extent they can be protected, and Obama has had their protection for almost a year. Nothing more can be done to keep him from harm. It serves no purpose to have public hand-wringing over his security or that of any other candidate, and it could encourage nutcases to test the Secret Service.

Clark Hoyt, Conscientious Objector

On Thursday, New York Times editor-in-chief Bill Keller hysterically accused the John McCain campaign of “wag[ing] a war” on the Gray Lady simply by issuing a clear and calm denial of Keller’s smear. If that’s true, then give Times public editor Clark Hoyt conscientious objector status. Hoyt wants no part of defending Keller or his journalists, which he makes clear in a stinging rebuke:

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. ….
“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. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide. …
I asked Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, if The Times could have done the story and left out the allegation about an affair. “That would not have reflected the essential truth of why the aides were alarmed,” she said.
But what the aides believed might not have been the real truth. And if you cannot provide readers with some independent evidence, I think it is wrong to report the suppositions or concerns of anonymous aides about whether the boss is getting into the wrong bed.

Keller has tried to retreat on the sexual-affair front of his war ever since he launched that attack. He claims that the article wasn’t about sex at all, but improper access. However, the lede of the article runs this explosive sentence before any other concerns: “Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself …
The Times can’t retreat from that lede. Concerns over supposed favors all sprang from this supposed romantic interlude. The very plain implication of the piece was that McCain was doing favors for Vicki Iseman because she was providing sexual favors to McCain. Without that, where’s his motivation to support her clients? A few plane rides, which were perfectly allowable under Senate rules at the time and which he properly disclosed?
Without the sex, there’s no scandal. In fact, as the McCain camp pointed out, a look at McCain’s record shows dozens of times when Iseman’s clients got disappointed in his votes on the Commerce Committee. Even the one supposed intervention — McCain’s letter to the FCC — doesn’t demand a result favorable to her client, but just any decision on a long-overdue case, considered for over two years. Their one point of supposed corroboration, John Weaver, publicly repudiated the Times’ version of his story, saying his intervention with Iseman had to do with her activities outside of McCain’s presence, not her interactions with the Senator.
Even Lanny Davis called the charges baseless. That’s Clinton administration official Lanny Davis.
Keller wants to beat a retreat from the salacious charges that have reduced his newspaper to the same status as a supermarket tabloid. Without that charge, however, no story exists. And with that reality, Clark Hoyt has no desire to march into battle at Keller’s side.
UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis is “gobsmacked” at Keller’s refusal to see the journalistic malpractice. Jarvis suspects that it’s just spin. Doesn’t that also tell us something about the credibility of the New York Times under the management of Keller and Pinch Sulzberger — that they find it necessary and appropriate to “spin” their readers, rather than report the truth?

Where Is The Love?

A day after insinuating that John McCain had an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, all of the romance appears to have disappeared from the New York Times. Faster than one can say Roberta Flack, the flak taken by the Gray Lady has apparently resulted in a Soviet-style purge of the sexual allegations from their story. Recall this in paragraph 2 of the original article:

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

Tom Maguire notes that now, Eastasia has never been at war with Oceania — er, the story was never about sex. In her Friday follow-up, Elisabeth Bumiller cast the story in this manner:

Senator John McCain on Thursday disputed an account in The New York Times that top advisers confronted him during his first presidential run with concerns about his ties to a female lobbyist

After leading with the allegations of sexual misconduct on Thursday, the Times waters it down within 24 hours to “concerns” about “ties” to a female lobbyist. A day after spreading unsubstantiated gossip, they’ve backpedaled to the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” method of journalism. Readers could fill in the blanks after two paragraphs, though, when Bumiller could report that McCain denied ever having an affair with Iseman.
Today, we see the completion of the Times’ efforts to rewrite history. Bumiller again follows up on the story, only this time, we don’t get any indication that the Times ever accused McCain of a sexual affair:

Senator John McCain declared the battle over on Friday morning, but by then his lieutenants believed he had already won the war.
Conservative radio talk show hosts who had long reviled Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential candidate from Arizona, had rallied to his defense. Bloggers on the right said that this could be the start of a new relationship. Most telling, Mr. McCain’s campaign announced Friday afternoon that it had just recorded its single-best 24 hours in online fund-raising, although it declined to provide numbers.
Both sides traced the senator’s sudden fortunes to an unusual source, The New York Times, which on Wednesday night published on its Web site an article about Mr. McCain’s close ties to a female lobbyist who did business before the senator’s committee. That evening, two of the senator’s top advisers, Mark Salter and Steve Schmidt, flew to an emergency strategy session in Toledo, Ohio, where Mr. McCain was campaigning.
By Thursday morning, when the article appeared in the print editions of The Times, the McCain campaign had begun an aggressive attack against the newspaper, calling the article a smear campaign worthy of The National Enquirer. It was a symphony to the ears of Mr. McCain’s conservative critics.

First, let’s take a moment to applaud Bumiller for some impressive sleight-of-hand here. She managed to make the New York Times the victim of “an aggressive attack” by McCain over a smear — without explaining what the smear actually was! The Times piece originally led with an accusation of a sexual affair for which they offered exactly zero evidence. Calling it a smear worthy of the National Enquirer isn’t an aggressive attack, it’s a factual description.
The Times knows it, too — otherwise they wouldn’t have taken such pains to remove that element from their later reporting.
Beyond that, though, the chronology is in error. People read the article and began showering the New York Times in a hailstorm of criticism before anyone heard from the McCain campaign. No one needed his staff to read this article and realize it was an unsubstantiated attack piece. Even the Times’ subsidiary, the Boston Globe, refused to run it, as did their client newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, neither of which are likely McCain allies.
The overarching theme of the Times is that they are a newspaper that lies about its subjects, then lies about its own coverage, and then blames their victim for getting caught.

Another Refusenik, Closer To Home

Earlier today, I linked to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and its editor’s essay about the journalistic defects in the New York Times hit piece on John McCain. David McCumber chose not to run the Times’ article in the Seattle P-I despite having the rights to it on syndication. Andrew Malcom at the Los Angeles Times reports that another paper also killed the story — despite being owned by the New York Times:

But one interesting aspect of this combined political and professional controversy went widely unnoticed. The Boston Globe, which is wholly owned by the New York Times, chose not to publish the article produced by its parent company’s reporters.
Instead, the Globe published a version of the same story written by the competing Washington Post staff. That version focused almost exclusively on the pervasive presence of lobbyists in McCain’s campaign and did not mention the sexual relationship that the Times article hinted at but did not describe or document and which the senator and lobbyist have denied.
On Thursday the Globe’s website,, did provide a link to the Times story on the Times’ website. But such a stark editorial decision by a major newspaper raises suspicions that even the Globe’s editors, New York Times Co. employees all, had their own concerns about the content of their parent company’s story.
Rainey asked the Globe’s editor, Martin Baron, about that decision. His eloquent reply: “No comment.”
When journalists hear such rhetorical avoidance from public figures and politicians, they usually take it as confirmation of their suspicions.

That’s a rather telling denunciation, isn’t it?

Times Doesn’t Pass The Smell Test: Seattle P-I (Update: Location, Location, Location)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer will never get mistaken as a conservative publication. It routinely editorializes in support of liberal causes and candidates, and it has come in for plenty of criticism for its decisions on publication decisions. They also routinely publish stories from their subscription to the New York Times syndication product. Today, however, David McCumber explains why he took a pass on the Times’ hit piece on John McCain:

Obviously, the reporters, Jim Rutenberg, Marilyn W. Thompson, David D. Kirkpatrick and Stephen Labaton, are not working for me. I have no way, other than their excellent reputations, of specifically evaluating their sourcing. That job fell to Bill Keller, the editor of The New York Times, who had held the story, citing concerns about whether the reporters had “nailed it,” long enough to fatally fracture the newspaper’s relationship with Thompson. She left today to go back to work for The Washington Post.
Admitting that Keller was in a better position to vet the sourcing and facts than I am as, basically, a reader, let’s assume that every source is solid and every fact attributed in the story to an anonymous source is true. You’re still dealing with a possible appearance of impropriety, eight years ago, that is certainly unproven and probably unprovable.
Where is the solid evidence of this lobbyist improperly influencing (or bedding) McCain? I didn’t see it in the half-dozen times I read the story. In paragraphs fifty-eight through sixty-one of the sixty-five-paragraph story, the Times points out two matters in which McCain took actions favorable to the lobbyist’s clients — that were also clearly consistent with his previously stated positions.
That’s pretty thin beer. ….
This story seems to me not to pass the smell test. It makes the innuendo of impropriety, even corruption, without backing it up. I was taught that before you run something in the newspaper that could ruin somebody’s reputation, you’d better have your facts very straight indeed.
“Nailed” would be one way to describe that.

Even the Times’ allies have run for cover on this story. The Times ran a story that actually didn’t allege anything except that two disgruntled former staffers claim that they thought McCain might be too close to Iseman. That’s it. There’s no there there, to quote Dorothy Parker. (via Michelle Malkin)
UPDATE: Hey, at least the Times carried McCain’s denial in today’s edition …. on page A20. Run the smear on the front page in a two-column box; run the response in the back of the news section. Sounds like the kind of journalism that makes Tom Shipley proud!

How The Times Helped McCain

UPDATE: Today’s AOL Hot Seat poll question comes from this post:

I have more links at the bottom from my posts yesterday on this topic. Original post follows …
The New York Times may have done the impossible for the John McCain campaign and for Republicans in general. As predicted yesterday when their strange and threadbare allegations hit print, the attack united conservatives behind McCain. It also may have been an act of seppuku for the Times, as its claim objectivity and credibility have been discredited. The Los Angeles Times surveys the damage:

Conservative commentators, including some who previously chastised McCain for not hewing closely to their principles, leaped to the candidate’s defense.
Radio personality Laura Ingraham, like other critics, noted that the newspaper had been researching the story for several months and accused the Times of delaying publication to do maximum damage.
“You wait until it’s pretty much beyond a doubt that he’s going to be the Republican nominee,” Ingraham said on her morning radio program, “and then you let it drop — drop some acid in the pool, contaminate the whole pool. That’s what the New York Times thinks.”
The most popular host in talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, described the story as standard fare for the paper he accuses of coddling the left.
“You’re surprised that Page Six-type gossip is on the front page of the New York Times?” said Limbaugh in reference to the gossip column of the tabloid New York Post. Limbaugh, who previously has ripped McCain as a fake conservative, said: “Where have you been? How in the world can anybody be surprised?”

Bear in mind that both radio hosts had pressed hard before Super Tuesday to keep McCain from winning the nomination. They have no particular love for the Arizona Senator, and had kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism over his record. If the New York Times had actually produced a substantiated scandal involving McCain, they may have been the first to proclaim I told you so! from the tops of their transmitting stations.
Instead, the Times ran a piece of gossipy nonsense that doesn’t even have the courage to allege what it only implies. Two self-described “disillusioned” former staffers who won’t go on the record alleged — what? — that McCain had an affair? No. That McCain did favors for a romantic paramour? No. The Times reported that these two staffers somehow got past Mark Salter and John Weaver to stage a confrontation with McCain over their concerns that McCain might have possibly started to get close to thinking about a romance with Vicki Iseman.
For this, the Times offers no corroboration. They report on a confrontation between John Weaver and Vicki Iseman, but neglect to report that Weaver explained to them that he had heard Iseman brag about her connections to McCain and the Commerce Committee, not about any alleged affair. That didn’t make it into the Times’ report. Neither did the fact that McCain often voted against the interests of Iseman’s clients, and that votes in favor of them matched McCain’s often stated policy positions held long before Iseman became a lobbyist.
Bill Keller’s crew threw in a rehash of two old scandals to pad out the piece, one legitimate but over 20 years old, and the other discredited when the Times first brought it up in 2000. McCain has acknowledged his role in the Keating 5 scandal repeatedly in the time since, so it’s not as if this broke any new ground. And in the second scandal, even Clinton administration figure Lanny Davis claims it baseless, as Hot Air noted yesterday.
So what do we have? We have salacious but completely unsubstantiated gossip, combined with a rehash of at least one old Times smear, placed on the front page of what used to be the premiere newspaper in America. And what exactly does that do for the Times’ credibility for the rest of this electoral cycle? They can’t run anything on McCain now without it being seen in the context of what the Times itself calls a “war” between the Times and McCain. Keller and company declared war on McCain yesterday, and it fired a bazooka of effluvium as its opening salvo. They’ve marginalized themselves for the next nine months.
Earlier posts on the subject:

  • Slimes at the Times
  • The Times Already Into Stonewall Mode? (Update: A Few Points Left Out)
  • McCain: No Romance, No Influence, No Meetings (Update: Gray Lady Ignored Edwards Rumors)
  • John Weaver Calls BS (Update: Lobbyists The Sources?)
  • First We Smear You, Then Any Response Is War
  • UPDATE II: Bump to top.

    First We Smear You, Then Any Response Is War

    The story of the New York Times hit piece on John McCain keeps getting stranger and stranger. First the paper puts out a story that uses two disgruntled former “associates” of McCain to allege that they wondered whether he had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist. Not that he actually had an inappropriate relationship, but merely that they wondered about it. They also allege that they staged an intervention with McCain about it, one that somehow bypassed the top staffers on his campaign, and for this the newspaper offers no proof and no corroboration whatsoever.
    John McCain then holds a very polite and rather subdued press conference to deny all of the Times’ unsubstantiated gossip. How does the New York Times report this? With unbelievable hysteria:

    Later in the day, one of Mr. McCain’s senior advisers leveled harsh criticism at The New York Times in what appeared to be a deliberate campaign strategy to wage a war with the newspaper. Mr. McCain is deeply distrusted by conservatives on a number of issues, not least because of his rapport with the news media, but he could find common ground with them in attacking a newspaper that many conservatives revile as a left-wing publication.
    “It was something that you would see in the National Enquirer, not in The New York Times,” said Steve Schmidt, a former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney who is now a top campaign adviser to Mr. McCain.

    Oh,please! First, the Times published a scurrilous and poorly-sourced story that even gossip rags would have rejected, and they have the nerve to accuse McCain of declaring war? Has Bill Keller lost his mind?
    This has to be one of the worst days in New York Times history, and that’s saying a hell of a lot. Not only do they lack any editorial wisdom, now they run shrieking at the first sign of pushback. This self-pitying emission from the Times’ tailpipe would be worthy of The Onion.
    Hey, Bill. John McCain knows how to wage war. When he decides to do that, you’ll know it. (via Power Line)
    UPDATE: Tom Maguire takes a trip in the Wayback Machine, and discovers that most of this story is recycled from discredited reports in 2000.