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.