More McCain fallout

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on February 26, 2008

Michael Kinsley, no conservative he, has a hilarious "analysis" of The New York Times and its editors' defense of last week's McCain story.

I have come under some criticism for my criticism of the New York Times for its criticism of Sen. John McCain. Many readers of last week's New York Times article about McCain, including me, read that article as suggesting that McCain may have had an affair with a lobbyist eight years ago. The Times, however, has made clear that its story was not about an affair with a lobbyist. Its story was about the possibility that eight years ago, aides to McCain had held meetings with McCain to warn him about the appearance that he might be having an affair with the lobbyist. This is obviously a much more important question. To be absolutely clear: The Times itself was not suggesting that there had been an affair or even that there had been the appearance of an affair. The Times was reporting that there was a time eight years ago when some people felt there might be the appearance of an affair, although others, apparently including McCain himself, apparently felt that there was no such appearance.

Similarly, I am not accusing the New York Times of screwing up again by publishing an insufficiently sourced article, then defending itself with a preposterous assertion that it wasn't trying to imply what it obviously was trying to imply. I am merely reporting that some people worry that other people might be concerned that the New York Times has created the appearance of screwing up once again.

It just gets better. Read the whole thing. I seldom agree with Kinsley, but he is a talented writer.

On the flip side is this "analysis" by Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei.

Conservative leaders often portray their political mission in moralistic terms: right vs. wrong. But their reaction to a news report that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) might have had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist shows the activist right is often animated by a different impulse: us against them.

The right-wing response to the New York Times article was in some ways as stunning, and as revealing, as the salacious story itself.

Some of the loudest voices of the modern conservative movement — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Gary Bauer, — flogged the Times while hardly pausing to consider the underlying facts of the story. Immediately, almost reflexively, these commentators assumed the worst motives and behavior by The Times and accepted McCain’s bland yet broad denials.

Allen and VandeHei attempt to make the case that the outrage over the Times story was merely a right-wing reflex. The authors refer to the "underlying facts," of a story devoid of on-the-record sources and fall into the same defensive posture as the Times editors: Trust us.

Times made it easier for those who wanted to justify, rationalize or defend McCain’s actions. The paper did not definitively prove McCain was involved in an inappropriate relationship. It used an indirect and elliptical article to suggest more than it proved. Then, the paper tucked the allegation into a story that rehashes other examples of McCain contradicting his claim of being a trustworthy reformer.

The Times’ reporters and editors involved in this story are top-notch. Such stories usually only go into the paper when reporters and their editors feel certain they are true — because they know a vicious response will likely follow.

And that's the real reason Allen and VandeHei wrote this article. They're inside-the-beltway journalists and they know the Times reporters. It couldn't possibly be a case of bad reporting -- they're our colleagues, our drinking buddies, our watercooler confidants. The entire analysis is hokum based on nothing more than blind faith in the journalistic ethics of their friends. That doesn't cut it anymore.

I've generally been impressed by Politico's coverage, but this article serves as a warning that though they may be "new media," they're still a product of their left-wing environment.

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