McCain, Ethics, The NYT, and Circling the Wagons

Political scandals are tricky, tricky things.  The Bush administration has proven that much to us.  Things that seem as though they should be deal breakers end up not being so, take a look at Scooter Libby, or warrantless wiretapping, or, well, anything that’s made headlines during the Bush administration really.  Has any of it been bad enough to provide the ground for removing him from office?  Sure, there’s plenty.  But while public opinion of the President is now scraping the bottom of the cellar, one should keep in mind that he won reelection, and will finish out his second term free of impeachment.

Compare that with the person he replaced in the White House; a man who had very high approval ratings but was nonetheless impeached.

The nature of a scandal can thusly be complex.  The differences between Bush’s scandals and Clinton’s scandal are simple by contrast.  To Bush’s credit, he and his administration have been able to turn every negative thing away from the realm of being outright scandal and into the realm of debate.  Even the closest scandal to reach him, the outting of Valerie Plame, was spun around into the details that resulted in Scooter Libby’s conviction which was not for the actual outting but instead for lying under oath.  Even here we are deprived of right and wrong and justice as the original argument was handicapped (largely due to a law regarding the outting of CIA agents that purposefully grants wide latitude and is tricky to bring convictions under).

With Bill, it was simple.  Sex was involved.

Sex, like sugar, helps the medicine go down.  Sex is exciting, and naughty and millions of Americans are not just content to have it amongst themselves but want to know who’s having sex with who.  Why do you think the celeb rags sell so well?  Because people want to know, for instance, Paris Hilton’s thoughts on Super String Theory?  Or maybe they’re just vastly intrigued by a new interpretation and analysis of A Tale Of Two Cities that Orlando Bloom has worked out?  Hell no, they want to know which of these drug induced pretty people is banging who, and if there are sex tapes, that’s even better.

Sex sells, and that includes political scandal.  Bush could wipe his butt with the Constitution all day long, but the only way you’re going to get people interested enough to actually do something about it is if he started banging a young telecom exec trying to solidify her company’s retroactive immunity.

That’s what makes THE story of the day interesting.  It’s not simply a look back on John McCain’s greatest unethical hits (AKA Keating five), but it goes that extra mile and wraps it in a veneer of sex.  The implication; McCain literally went to bed with a lobbyist.

But there are issues with this, issues that Josh Marshall aptly points out.  There’s a whole lot of smoke there, but not really enough fire.  There’s definitely not enough to go on to say that McCain was pulling an under the cover shover with a lady young enough to be his daughter, and the piece loses focus on this item and moves on to the Keating Five scandal.

Yet this is not where the problems end, as highlighted by the McCain camp’s reply to the NYT, which is itself vague and indirect.  The impression is that you have these two entities dancing around something, and no one can actually see what it is.  Josh is correct in tentatively thinking there might actually be a there there, we just don’t know what it is yet.

Do I think McCain actually got in bed with a lobbyist?  I don’t know, all of it hinges on the word “inappropriate” as well as the veracity of the anonymous sources.  And you have the legal threatening of the NYT to think about as well; it doesn’t point to guilt, but it puts the image of guilt up there.  If nothing happened why not just say, “Run it, my conscience is clear”?

That is the error of the New York Times in this instance; it ran a half completed story.  It could have just as easily did a Keating Five piece if it wanted, or it could have de-sexed McCain’s relationship with Vicki Iseman such that the focus on the story becomes what’s actually more important anyway; McCain’s relationship with lobbyists, and whether he’s really the insurgent outsider he portrays himself as.  But, as I’ve said, it’s the sex that sells the story, and while it’s an admittedly ugly story without enough back up, it’s also probably one of the best gifts that McCain could have possibly gotten at this time.

It’s all in the title of Mary Katharine Ham’s Townhall blog, “What’s the Quickest Way to Rally Conservatives ‘Round McCain?”  The answer: Run a hit piece on their pariah nominee and make sure it is weakly sourced and poorly fleshed out.  That’ll get them coming out of the woodwork to defend him, immigration be damnded.

Oh, and look, here we go:


A sex scandal that may not be a scandal tucked inside an ethics scandal that may not be an ethics scandal tucked inside an ethics scandal that was a genuine scandal 20 years ago, and for which McCain has begged forgiveness ever since. The Paper of Record.

Captain Ed:

The New York Times launches its long-awaited smear of John McCain today, and the most impressive aspect of the smear is just how baseless it is. They basically emulate Page Six at the Post, but add in a rehash of a well-known scandal from twenty years ago to pad it out and make it look more impressive. In the end, they present absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing — only innuendo denied by all of the principals:

Dan Collins:

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity. It had been just a decade since an official favor for a friend with regulatory problems had nearly ended Mr. McCain’s political career by ensnaring him in the Keating Five scandal. In the years that followed, he reinvented himself as the scourge of special interests, a crusader for stricter ethics and campaign finance rules, a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame.


Just a decade! Every ten years, McCain does something that the Times can unfairly paint as inappropriate. For what it’s worth, when the Keating Five scandal was unfolding, Barack Obama was in law school. I guess making oneself vulnerable to two negative stories in forty years is the price of a lifetime of public service.

On Fox News tonight, Bob Bennett, who is representing McCain with respect to the Times story–that doesn’t mean that he will sue the newspaper, as that is impossible under current law–said that the Times had lowered its standards by printing this rather absurd smear. That is incorrect, of course. The Times is a mouthpiece for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, nothing more. Its smear of McCain–not the last, to be sure–is entirely consistent with the editorial policies it has maintained for many years. Tomorrow’s story is just one more reminder of why no sophisticated person takes the Times seriously as a news source.

Rich Lowry:

What does “behaving inappropriately” mean? And what were the details? A lot hangs on this passage and it’s extremely vaporous. Then, there’s the question of timing. The Times appears to have done what any conservative media critic would have predicted—sat on the story until the day after John McCain declares himself the nominee. It’s hard to imagine the Times advanced the story much since December. If it did, just how weak was it back then?

The wagons are CIRCLED, and unlike we Democrats, they’re not pointing the guns at each other, they’re all aiming dead on at the NYT.  I’m waiting for Rush and She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, both vehement opponents of McCain’s nomination to come out in his defense.  Wait for it, it’s going to happen.

And the timing’s just about right too.  It’s late enough so that conservatives rally around McCain as opposed to ditching him for a better candidate (all of those have dropped out by now), and it’s early enough for it to blow over before the General Election begins in earnest.  I’m not saying things were planned that way, only that it works out pretty conveniently for McCain.

It’s a fact, McCain cannot beat Barack Obama in the General Election without the support of a unified conservative base.  With Democratic turnout in many states upending Republican turnout by ratios as much if not greater than 2:1, if McCain goes into this fall with his core base hating him, he’s done.  For that, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

Personally, I would secretly send someone at the NYT a gift basket or something.

(For more discussion, and there’s plenty, check out Memeorandum)

One Response to “McCain, Ethics, The NYT, and Circling the Wagons”

  1. lkm55 says:

    McCain has kissed up to the mainstream press since the 2000 election and has been thier darling republican. Now that he’s the republican nominee they’re going to eat him alive. If you lie with dogs you get fleas.


  1. Grizzly Groundswell » Editorial: The New York Times John McCain Story – Cheap Political Journalism - [...] Libertas, Hullabaloo, TIME: Swampland,, RealClearPolitics, Blog, Comments from Left Field, AMERICAblog, QandO, TIME, At-Largely, Conservative …,…
  2. BlogWonks » Blog Archive » Editorial: The New York Times John McCain Story – Cheap Political Journalism - [...] Libertas, Hullabaloo, TIME: Swampland,, RealClearPolitics, Blog, Comments from Left Field, AMERICAblog, QandO, TIME, At-Largely, Conservative …,…

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