The MSM was all over the map in its reaction to an anonymously sourced article in The New York Times claiming that eight years ago aides to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) were so concerned that the habitual presence of Washington lobbyist Vicki Iseman (pictured wearing an evening gown in the article) would give rise to rumors of an affair that they warned her to stay away from McCain so as not to imperil his first run for the presidency.

As for new media, the February 21st  front-page story, which also included quotes from a former McCain confidant with an ax to grind, was condemned by media critic Jon Friedman of MarketWatch: “Western civilization may have ended Thursday when the highfalutin New York Times lowered itself to the rank of shrill tabloid with its piece on John McCain,” while The Huffington Post speculated about “Why Did The NYT Hold McCain-Lobbyist Story” without passing judgment on its merits.

(By the way, McCain’s denial that he and Iseman were romantically involved, or that he ever went to bat for any of her clients, was relegated to the inside of the paper.) 

At The Times itself, there was sharp disagreement between executive editor Bill Keller and the other editors and writers who worked on the article and the paper’s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt about whether the story had been sufficiently nailed down:

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. … The Times did not offer independent proof, like the text messages between Detroit’s mayor and a female aide that The Detroit Free Press disclosed recently, or the photograph of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart’s lap. …
 
[I]n the absence of a smoking gun, I asked Keller why he decided to run what he had.
 
“If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” he replied. “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”
 
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.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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