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.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Media, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    But it was beating up on a republican so put it on page one for the NYT.

  2. Hal says:

    Yes, let’s get back to cartoons characterizing Michelle Obama as a nazi and a good, long discussion regarding how fast she’d better walk back her comments.

    Because that should be the real issue of the day.

  3. James Joyner says:

    good, long discussion regarding how fast she’d better walk back her comments.

    Again, you seem to confuse the news pages with the editorial pages.

    Are Mrs. Obama’s comments in a speech touting her husband relevant for news reporting? Absolutely. As would be hypocrisy on the part of McCain vis-a-vis lobbying, let alone marital infidelity. The difference is that the former demonstrably happened and the latter are conjecture.

  4. Hal says:

    Hmmm. So let me get this straight.

    News: Overreacting, distorting and acting shocked about a strained interpretation of what someone said.

    Not News: Wondering if there’s a fire to go with that smoke in a story that has a rather interesting history of its genesis.

    Again, top marks James. But really, it’s pretty clear there’s more to McCain’s story than we know. People are digging and it’s not going to be all that pretty. Having the PI opine about it not being news isn’t really going to change that.

    But hey, Chris Muir can sure draw some sexy nazis.

  5. Hal says:


    Just hours after the Times’s story was posted, the McCain campaign issued a point-by-point response that depicted the letters as routine correspondence handled by his staff—and insisted that McCain had never even spoken with anybody from Paxson or Alcalde & Fay about the matter. “No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC,” the campaign said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

    But that flat claim seems to be contradicted by an impeccable source: McCain himself. “I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue,” McCain said in the Sept. 25, 2002, deposition obtained by NEWSWEEK. “He wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint.”

    Guess the PI doesn’t really have a nose for news.

  6. Christopher says:


    What do you mean by “strained interpretation”?!?

    Mrs. Barack Hussein Obama has never ever been proud of her country till her husband campaigned for prez. (she actually clearly said it more than once) She also said that she believes Barack Hussein Obama supporters are uninformed and the only way to inform them is for Barack Hussein Obama to be elected. Oh yea, and that every one of her wealthy friends is struggling to “keep their head above water”.

    How is that “strained interpretation”? Sounds like the wife of the leading candidate for the democrat presidential nomination is a KOOK. You don’t think that is more of a story than the NYT’s saying McCain may have behaved unethically, but we’re not sure?

  7. Hal says:

    Is there a whining cur outside the door?

  8. JohnG says:

    News – Words coming out of someone’s mouth, captured on video

    Not News – Commentary on those words (hence why this is on the EDITORIAL page rather than the news sections)

    Also Not News – Printing a story implying that where there’s smoke there’s a fire, even though there’s no smoke.

  9. Christopher says:

    Yea, Hal, and it’s you.

  10. Hal says:

    Um, what reality are you in?

    First, the NY story in question was not an editorial. Yes, the PI story is an editorial, but clearly that’s not the story I was referring to.

    Second, there seems to be not just smoke, but actual fire and there’s more turning up. I mean, you can kind of get the whole “confidence thing” going that y’all on the right like to do – kind of patriarchal and “daddy knows best”, but you seems to love it – but that really isn’t going to stop the story at all.

    Third, just to be pedantic, because there’s video and words doesn’t make it news. I mean, there’s plenty of video and words regarding this entire matter with John McCain. In fact, as one can plainly see in the newsweek story I linked to above, John McCain’s own words are starting to trip him up in more than a “I was shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU” style of almost victorian era fainting spells y’all seem to love over Michelle’s statement.

    Good to see your priorities. On the one hand, a PC police action swarm enforcing right think and the proper respect (as you see it) proclaimed in the proper protocol with the proper words. On the other hand, actual lies, sex scandal and plenty more to come.

  11. fredw says:

    First off, whether or not McCain had a sexual relationship with the lobbiest is no body’s business but theirs. Whether or not the public trust was comprimised at all by any relationship ( friend or love) with the lobbiest is our business. Read the article at the included link ( hope it works – firat time I Have tried links in comments )
    for a pretty definitive answer to the second question.

  12. fredw says:

    Link didn’t work – I’ll try again
    lanny-davis Huff post story

  13. anjin-san says:

    Have not followed this story close enough to know if McCain is getting hosed or not, but for him to portray himself as a man who’s character is above question is kind of a joke.

    He was a member of the Keating five (not in it as deep as the others, but certainly not clean) and I believe the fact that he cheated on his first wife is not in question.

    McCain is worthy of admiration on a number of levels, but his character is certainly not above question..

  14. Hal says:

    whether or not McCain had a sexual relationship with the lobbiest is no body’s business but theirs.

    Wow. I give you top marks for chutzpah.

  15. Elmo says:

    McCain is toast. The NYT’s torpedo below the waterline, inititally seen as not fatal. Shows after two news cycles, to have been extraordinarily timed [unlike the L.A. Times rearguard assault of (then not yet) Governor Schwarzenegger]. The ship may not sink today, tomorrow, or even next week. But it has lost engines and all power. It isn’t going anywhere.

    In the first news cycle, Mac loooked xln’t. Standin with the Mrs., calm collected …. what me worry? In the second (strangely repeating same response, but mechanically), he looked haggard, pale and tired. Beat (with just a little hint of road kill odor even). And in that same (second) news cycle, seeing Bennett as trusted second, picking up the thrown gauntlet. Looking the part of no one’s White House Advisor.

    Whatever trash bin of the mind, or political playbook the NYT’s is now immersed in. It worked. One day Mac was fine, the next cut to the quick. History.

    On day two, Senator McCain should have been involved in nothing but photo ops. Letting the media wrestle with their own one eyed snakes, til they tired. McCain should not have helped keep the story front and center, by giving it any additional loft.

    That he could have been humbled so easily? And by such amateurs?


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