The New York Times failed to establish a sexual relationship had existed between John McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman and therefore should not have published the salacious claims it made last week suggesting otherwise, the newspaper’s public editor wrote in Sunday’s online edition.
The editors and reporters were on to a good story about the Arizona senator’s fight against special interests at the same time he had appeared to do a favor for one, wrote Times Ombudsman Clark Hoyt, but charges that the relationship went beyond politics and into romance was a distraction without evidence. He added that Executive Editor Bill Keller’s argument that the story wasn’t about an affair belies the article’s narrative.
“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,” Hoyt wrote.
On Thursday, McCain held a press conference to deny charges that he and Iseman, 40, had had an affair nine years ago while she was lobbying for his assistance to get the Federal Communications Commission to rule on her client’s application for a broadcast license. McCain, 71, who was the Senate Commerce Committee’s chairman at the time, wrote the FCC asking the commissioners to make a decision but did not ask them to rule one way or the other.
McCain, with his wife by his side, answered questions for 15 minutes, and flat out denied a sexual relationship. The focus then turned to the newspaper, which wrote that McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign staff had tried to keep him and Iseman apart for fear their relationship would hurt his campaign.
In Sunday’s post-mortem, Hoyt wrote, “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 (McCain aide John) Weaver, the only on-the-record source, believed there was a romance.”
Hoyt said as a result, the newspaper is in the “uncomfortable position of being the story” because “although it raised one of the most toxic subjects in politics — sex — it offered readers no proof that McCain and Iseman had a romance.”
The McCain camp knew for months that the Times had been working on the article, and staffers had been worried that the article could have been a real crusher. In the end, however, the campaign was able to put a positive spin on the story, even using the article as a fundraising tool last week, saying if the so-called liberal New York Times is trying to smear him, then it demonstrates he’s more of a conservative then Republican opponents had suggested.
In case you missed this there was a whiff if sexual innuendo in this article. With no backing at all and the gray lady digs itself deeper into a hole. So please do us all a favor finish laying off the rest of your folks and close the doors.