Why the P-I Didn’t Run the McCain Story
Seattle Post-Intelligencer managing editor David McCumber “chose not to run the New York Times story on John McCain” in his paper even though it subscribes to the New York Times News Service. He explains:
To me, the story had serious flaws. It did not convincingly make the case that McCain either had an affair with a lobbyist, or was improperly influenced by her. It used a raft of unnamed sources to assert that members of McCain’s campaign staff — not this campaign but his campaign eight years ago — were concerned about the amount of time McCain was spending with the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman. They were worried about the appearance of a close bond between the two of them.
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.
And the “it must be so because it’s in The New York Times” argument will never hold much water after Judith Miller and Ahmed Chalabi got done perforating it.
Consider what’s happened next. Surprise — the wave of follow-up publicity and punditry has focused hot and heavy on the angle of the postulated — and denied — romantic relationship, frequently comparing McCain to admitted philanderers like former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey and former President Clinton.
For a story that dealt with the maybe, looked-like-to-some-people, nobody-knew-for-sure dalliance in an extraordinarily elliptical fashion, it sure had a lot of impact. People read between the lines just fine, thank you.
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.
Those, alas, were the good old days.