The NYT’s McCain ‘scandal’ story (if that’s what it is)

Have you read the NYT‘s story that sorta, kinda, says that maybe it sort of looked like John McCain did stuff that wasn’t on the up-and-up? Maybe, that is?

The McCain campaign is lashing out at it, and even trying to use it:

    We need your help to counteract the liberal establishment and fight back against the New York Times by making an immediate contribution today.

But that — like most such characterizations — is an overly simplistic interpretation of what the story’s about, even if you assume it’s not true.

In fact, my own wording — "even if you assume it’s not true" — makes the story sound simpler and clearer than it is: Assume what’s not true? Even if you see it as a straightforward expose, what has been exposed? The "fact" that a woman was hanging around McCain a lot nine years ago? The "fact" that aides (unnamed aides) became nervous about it? The "fact" that they nagged McCain about it (which he denies, along with the rest of it)?

Look at the "action" part of the lead sentence of the piece: "waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers." That seems to be the "what" here. Alleged waves of anxiety. Anxiety that the woman, a lobbyist, was hanging around. Anxiety that there were media reports at the time (meaning this angle is not new) that he had written letters supporting a position the woman supported, even though he at other times opposed her positions.

The story has a sort of strained, hermaphroditic feel about it. What does it want to be? Part of it is this sorta, kinda expose, the rest is a recounting of McCain’s career — or at least the part of it centering around ethics, from the Keating Five to the anti-influence crusades to follow. The narrative is the usual — that, chastened by Keating, he made fighting such relationships a hallmark of his service in office.

All of that stuff seems to be there to say that, if there IS anything to all this stuff that made these unnamed aides nervous, then it would certainly make him look bad in a way that wouldn’t matter so much if he were some ordinary senator who didn’t care so much about ethics and all. And McCain, in a passage from his memoir quoted in the story, agreed: “Any hint that I might have acted to reward a supporter,” he wrote, “would be taken as an egregious act of hypocrisy.”

And check out the headline, with it’s news-feature-profile feel. Rather than say "McCain did X or Y," or "So-and-so accuses McCain," it says, "For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk." Yeah, OK. I guess.

Anyway, it’s an odd story, oddly executed. And that makes it easy for the McCain campaign to label it an attack by "the liberal establishment and their allies at the New York Times." But if I were to say the NYT rushed a poorly conceived and executed story into print (notice I said "if;" I can be just as vague as the Times), I’d suspect a different motive — the "bend over backward" phenomenon.

The press is constantly getting hit for "liking" McCain. News folks can get as uncomfortable over such accusations as a schoolboy of "latency" age accused of being sweet on a girl. Therefore, if there is a coin-toss situation over a story — is this worth running or not? — the tendency is to "bend over backward" and run it, to prove you’re a regular guy. If that’s what’s going on, Barack Obama should also watch his back, once he’s gotten past Hillary.

But is that what this is about? You tell me.

28 thoughts on “The NYT’s McCain ‘scandal’ story (if that’s what it is)

  1. Doug Ross

    I also thought the piece was very weak on specifics. And I hate the use of anonymous sources in a story like this one. What harm would come from the sources being identified?
    Surprisingly, the ultra conservatives are mad at McCain for not being mad ENOUGH about this story.

  2. Lee Muller

    Drudge reported back in December 2007 that the NY Times had this story in their hip pocket.
    The NY Times endorsed McCain and pushed him every day in their paper. Now that he looks close to getting the nomination, they turn this weak scandal story loose.
    A lot of anonymous sources are bogus sources. Woodward and Bernstein were not credible, and that was an unfolding story. This one is 8 years old.

  3. Karen McLeod

    This story is aimed at his ethical standing vis a vis lobbyists supposedly. 9 years ago? So? Unless they can point to undue support of this person (and you need more that one instance to hit the ‘undue’ mark) there’s nothing there. What gets me is that it’s also an underhanded way of implying that Senator McCain might have incipient zipper problems (like Clinton so clearly did). You will note that no one came out and made this accusation; they just showed him with a pretty woman, and made an association. I’d like to suggest some things to all the MSM regarding political reporting: 1) leave the coulda’ mighta’ stories alone–after all,Romney mighta been an alien–if it’s worth reporting, it’s worth tracking down the facts; 2) If it’s not in your bed, it’s not your business–don’t get into sexual innuendo until you have the facts written in DNA, and then think twice before you decide it needs reporting. All I can make of this report is that it’s silliness that’s very hard to effectively deny because all too many people are into any juicy gossip they can get and are perfectly willing to spread (and magnify) the slightest whiff of a misdeed by the politically powerful.

  4. Wally Altman

    This story is a waste of time. I’d much rather see them pursue the loan he got on a promise to stay in the race even if he was doomed so that he could get public funding to pay it back.

  5. weldon VII

    Anxiety, not concern. And it’s all ancient history.
    The Times should worry about its own ethics.
    And, oh, by the way, I watched the Democrats debate tonight.
    I discovered what I already knew, that Hillary Clinton’s health plan really does mandate that everybody buy health insurance and fines people who don’t.
    Obama’s plan fines parents who don’t (can’t) buy health insurance for their children.
    Hillary’s answer to most questions is yes, but no, as well as no, but yes. Should we build that fence on the Mexican border you voted for? In some places, yes, but others, no, she said. Sure, Hillary. And a bucket with a hole in it will hold water, too.
    Obama actually said he plans to talk posture-free to folks like Raoul Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad so as repair our image of talking down to them.
    God bless John McCain. If anyone in the race understands that power grow out of the barrel of a gun, meaning the man holding the gun enjoys a stronger negotiating position, it’s McCain.
    Meanwhile, Hillary thinks a five-year freeze on interest rates is an absolute necessity, and Obama has a plan to rob from the rich and give to the poor.
    McCain’s looking better every day.

  6. bud

    This election should be about policy, not unproven allegations from unnamed sources. It’s already well established that McCain’s character has many flaws. After all his own campaign director was once a lobbyist who appeared before McCain’s Commerce Committee. So the Time’s story, even if the worst of it are true, doesn’t really change the ethical dynamics of the campaign. Frankly McCain’s ethics are so shoddy we really don’t need any additional evidence to demonstrate how flawed his ethical behavior is.
    But where the rubber meets the road is on the issues. McCain continues to vacilate wildly on taxes, immigration and torture to the point where a voter has no idea what he might do as president. On the one issue where he’s been consistent, overseas imperialism, he’s been consistently wrong. So while I find the NYT article less than inspiring it really doesn’t mean much to me in regard to this very dangerous man.

  7. Lee Muller

    How about a story on all the loans the candidates received, and some current and previous devious practices?
    * Like McCain-Feingold supposedly “getting money out of politics”, but it creates the 527 groups which funnel more money with less disclosure.
    * Like McCain refusing $6,000,000 in matching funds (the ones supposedly pledged to cover his $4,000,000 loan), in order to have no limits on primary spending? The limit is $58,000,000. Some limit.
    * Like Hillary lending money to her campaign, in order to get the $6,000,000 in federal funds, at a rate of 10% interest. Sweet deal.
    * Like Bill and Hillary in 1992, lying about how much money they had raised, in order to get federal matching funds. Some of Hillary’s staffers took the hit in court for that, and they had to pay $6,200,000 in repayments and fines, but they were in the White House by then.

  8. Gordon Hirsch

    When did infidelity become grounds for disqualification from presidential office? I doubt we’ll hear Billary taking McCain to task on this one. … Out of fairness, maybe the Times should compare its allegations against McCain with the proof against Clinton.

  9. bud

    While we nitpik over the NY Times non-article there are big developments in Iraq. Turkey has launched a full scale invasion of the Kurdish part of the country and, as far as I can tell, the Bush Administration, nor any of the presidential candidates, seem to care. Since this would seem to have little effect on the oil fields I’m guessing the Bush Administration really doesn’t care what goes on there. More proof that what we’re doing in Iraq is nothing more than an imperialist occupation aimed at securing vital oil supplies. If Iraq runs out of oil in less than 100 years then McCain will be ok with leaving before then.

  10. bud

    Another “Family Values” Republican goes down hard:
    Ariz. congressman charged in land deal
    WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Rep. Rick Renzi has been indicted for extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other charges related to a land deal in Arizona.

  11. slugger

    What is wrong with a little poking going on in Washington (as defined in the book Lonesome Dove)? Happens everywhere. Some of those old politicians that have been in office since time began can always depend on Viagra. With medication at hand, there could be a “lot of poking going on”.
    As Rhett Butler would say “frankly my dear I do not give a damn”.

  12. Brad Warthen

    Oh, I certainly care about the Turkish incursion. In fact, I’ll be mentioning it in my Sunday column.

    Of course, I draw a very different conclusion from it from what you do. It makes me want to ask Obama and Hillary whether that effects their promises to pull our troops out and create more of a vacuum for the Turks and the Iranians to flow into. Would they say "yes" to please you and those like you in their base (as McCain says "no new taxes" to please the less-thoughtful folk in HIS base), or does it bring out their responsible, "we won’t be out in 2013" side? That would have been a good question for last night’s debate.

  13. Gordon Hirsch

    OK, bud, I guess you missed this report on Obama today:
    (CBS/AP) Barack Obama sought to distance himself Wednesday from a real estate developer and fast-food magnate facing federal corruption charges, saying he had no indication of any problems when he accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Antoin “Tony” Rezko.
    Obama also said it was a mistake for him to have purchased a strip of land from Rezko’s wife. The land adjoins the Obamas’ Chicago home. Rezko was widely reported to be under grand jury investigation at the time.
    … No doubt, another GOP smear attempt, right bud?

  14. bud

    Interesting spin on the Turkish invasion Brad. I’ve been clear enough in my posts on the Iraq situation. Frankly, I don’t really care who fills the power vacuum in Iraq. The Shiite portion of Iraq probably would be better off as a province of Iran. The cultural and religious similiarities between the two seems like a great fit to me. I just don’t see any problem for the U.S. if Iran annexes that part of Iraq. It might actually make the place more peaceful.
    As for the Turks, it’s hard to see how anything we have or will do is going to deter them from settling a few scores in northern Iraq. I guess we could send a few thousand troops that way to discourage them but nothing much would come of that except a few more dead, young Americans. Let’s just leave the place and let the chips fall where they may. All this constant paranoia over what will happen if we leave is simply not rational.

  15. bud

    Even though I have for some time had my doubts about Mr. Straight-Talk I did believe on the torture issue at least he would stick to principal. After he failed to call the president on his signing statement of the “no torture” bill (as it applied to the military) a couple of months ago I began to have doubts. Now that he’s voted against the latest torture bill (involving the CIA) my contempt for this man is complete. He is nothing but a pure political animal, period. It’s taken me 8 years to reach that conclusion but now there is no doubt.

  16. bud

    Here’s another well written article by Paul Krugman on the state of the nation’s economy:
    What we’re seeing is a general collapse of our economy brought about by a number of factors largely as a result of poor stewardship of our nation’s economic resources by Republicans in charge of the White House and Congress. Frankly, the housing bubble burst has been coming on for a very long time but congress has failed miserably to act. In addition, personal debt is at astronomical levels as Americans continue to spend beyond their means. Much of that overspending is, of course, due to skyrocketing health care, higher education and fuel costs coupled with stagnant wages. The result is a rather predictable debt crises with extreme consequences likely.
    But Krugman was not entirely gloomy in his assessment. He suggests a bit of government spending could end the precipitous slide into recession. Not on military junk but on real infrastructure needs and on aid to families who are in desparate need of help.
    Unfortunately one of the sad legacies of the Reagan years is this old worn-out no new spending mantra that simply ignores the realities of how a market economy works. If the problem is too little spending the solution is more spending. Not from modest tax rebates but in important areas of genuine need. Krugman’s proposal seems sensible enough to me. But will the leaders in congress have the backbone to enact it?

  17. Gordon Hirsch

    r2h … I don’t trust any of them, Obama, Hillary or McCain included. You don’t get where they are without compromising personal integrity. Period. If you think Obama’s above that sort of thing, dream on.

  18. Brad Warthen

    Gordon, what would you suggest we do? The way you describe it, the system makes it impossible for anyone worth voting for to emerge.
    So are you saying there’s a better system? I’ve never run across one that eliminates the fact that sooner or later, a leader or potential leader will a) exhibit his own human weakness or b) be forced to compromise with the human weakness of others (especially voters).
    So what’s your suggestion? And if you don’t have one, why continue to denigrate the available choices? One of them WILL be president, so don’t we have an obligation to try to determine which is the best — or in your terms, least bad — candidate.

  19. bud

    Gordan has a point. That’s why this race needs to focus on issues, not personalities. Some have argued that this election should be about character and not issues. Sure character is important, but to me what defines a person’s character as much as anything are the issues. That’s why it is so disturbing to see McCain fall all over himself to change his position on so many issues just to suit the GOP firebrands. For example, can’t he just say he’s oppossed to torture and then stick with it by voting against torture whenever it comes up? And also by condemning the president when he tries to skirt the torture law McCain could bolster his image on this issue? That is an example of an issue that underscores the character of the candidate and McCain has failed the test.

  20. Lee Muller

    Paul Krugman says nothing.
    What could Congress have done “to head off the housing mess”. He offers no ideas, because they could do nothing. FHA, and the Fed started creating this mess with low interest rates, and low down payment plans. The commercial lenders followed with subprime loans.
    Krugman thinks “a bit of government spending could prevent a recession”. That means bigger deficits – same old socialist game plan that goes back to Mussolini and FDR.
    We already have a lot of government spending, that consumed all the new revenue generated by the tiny tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, plus a trillion dollars of deficits.
    News flash, Krugman: a tax cut would put money into the economy by people who make better choices than government spenders of deficit money.

  21. Gordon Hirsch

    Brad … As I’ve also said, voting is a choice among the lesser of evils, not a character contest officiated by the media. That’s the pragmatic perspective. I don’t expect a president to be chaste, honest, consistent with popular expectations, or even true to his or her promises. That’s a recipe for disappointment. In fact, I find campaign promises ludicrous, given the limitations of presidential powers, the soul-selling required to raise campaign funds, and the pace at which our world changes. Even more absurd is that voters evaluate candidates on the basis of what they SAY they will do, versus what they have the authority to accomplish, or the vision to anticipate. Reality is that our “leaders” are opportunists pandering to the base emotions of a nation of sheep, who actually believe they are entitled to “free” health care, or tax rebates without payment of taxes, or a secure world without cost of a military, or a steady supply of gas in their SUVs without need of Imperialism. Imagine a president who would tell us that to our faces, who would shatter our illusions of entitlement with reality. But it can’t happen, because by necessity any successful candidate must be guided not by conviction, but by the compass of daily opinion polling, or the ambitions of pundits.
    So come November, I’ll vote for the candidate who poses the least threat to what I believe, regardless of what the polls say I should believe, or who I should believe in.

  22. Lee Muller

    Great post, Gordon.
    These demagogues couldn’t get away with telling these fairy tales, if the public schools did just a basic job of teaching civics to half the students, and the news media did just a basic job of explaining how ridiculous these promises are. But most of the editors and TV news teams seem to lap up this pandering swill with the same gusto as the illiterates.

  23. free bet

    bottom line, i think the media wants Obama to win in order for Mccain to beat him….I sure hope Hillary wins though so that Bill can hang out at the White House and go after some more skirt

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