Thursday, February 21, 2008

New York Times Vs. John McCain - Libel, Yellow Journalism, or an Intended Campaign Boost?

The New York Times went on the attack against John McCain today, accusing him in a cheap, tawdry, gutless sort of way, of having an extramarital affair with a female lobbyist a decade ago, and influencing a government agency on her behalf.

Some reports say the Times has been sitting on the story for eight years, ever since McCain was running against George Bush for the Republican nomination.

But why?

I read the story. There is nothing in it that couldn't be obtained from an active imagination, distaste for Republicans, and one or two telephone calls. In fact most of it is rehashed political history, that has been published many times and many places before.

There appears to be only one aim this story - to give the Times a lame excuse for impugning McCain's reputation, by leaving the impression without coming right out and saying it, that he had an affair a decade ago.


This is worse than the garbage the Times wrote a couple of weeks ago about troops coming home from war and killing people.

I bet the publisher is still scratching his head and wondering why his circulation is down, his ad revenue is down, and he has to lay off 100 newsroom employees.

How about this? You publish an unending series of stupid stories like this on your front page and your readers migrate to Fox News?

To his credit, McCain, with his wife at his side, faced directly into the ambush in a not so cheap veiled way, and in a morning press conference told the Times to stick it where the sun don't shine.

The Times report, not unlike most of its reporting, was fraught with innuendo and insinuation, but lacking in direct evidence. This appears to be classic fodder for a Rush Limbaugh parody. He often makes the point that communist news outlets like the Times are short on evidence, but long on the seriousness of the charges, regardless of whether they hold water.

I can hear the Limbaugh version coming down the pike already - "Those are pretty serious charges, Mr. McCain. What do you have to say for yourself?"

Limbaugh weighed in on the issue first thing off the bat on his show today, making the valid point that McCain shouldn't be surprised by the story. McCain has been friends with many of the Times favorite liberals for a long time, but now that McCain is the GOP front runner the Times turned on him.

Or did it?

Nonetheless, it still is a dirty attack. Fox News and other outlets were calling it into question nearly immediately.

Fox News Washington Bureau Chief Brit Hume reported on the issue this morning and said the Times had responded to questions about the delay in printing a story that by reasonable accounts should have been spiked eight years ago, by stating, "We publish stories when they are ready," adding that it was "a long time in the works."

Wow, I guess so.

Hey, Times! I have a tip for you! Did you guys hear there was a giant flood? Yeah some guy named Noah built a boat and saved a bunch of animals! Maybe if you hustle you can get an interview with him.

Hume noted "this is pretty thin stuff for the front page of the New York Times." Thin, but not surprising.

There are supposed to be three independent sources to corroborate any "investigative" story that calls a person's character into question or alleges illegal behavior, and you don't convict someone on innuendo. Either you have the story or you don't.

Well, that's the way it is supposed to be. Apparently the Times thinks it is sooooo important it can just rewrite the rules of journalism to fit its own anti-Republican agenda.

News reports also said the Times ran the story because another outlet was going to do a similar hatchet job, and the Times didn't want to be beaten on a story it had been sitting on for nearly a decade. One of the primary rules of investigative journalism is to not be rushed into publication due to pressure from competing news organizations. The Times should know that.

The biggest question I have on the story is whether it is merely yellow journalism or has sunk to the level of libel.

For the young and uninformed, yellow journalism is a derogatory reference to news reporting that relies on sensationalism without proof, and is considered to be unethical and unprofessional.

Libel on the other hand, involves knowingly printing a falsehood, recklessly going ahead with the story knowing that it is untrue, and having malice against the subject of the story.

McCain will have to decide whether to sue the Times for libel, or just denounce it as a fount of yellow journalism, which most aware readers already know.

It shouldn't be too difficult to prove that the Times has a special hatred for all things Republican. You can pick any issue any day and Republican bashing is bound to be in there somewhere.

There are a number of questions facing us but the first and foremost is why? Why this story, and why now?

Limbaugh reported that if it was intended to create problems for McCain among Republican voters it is having the opposite affect. He is getting calls and emails from GOP voters who had been sitting on the fence who now are saying they will be donating to McCain's campaign.

Is it intended as just the beginning salvo in an effort to place McCain behind whatever Democrat gets the nomination? Maybe. They could have brought this up any time in the last 8 years. Why now if not to destroy his candidacy?

But why didn't they do it before Iowa? Why didn't they do it when his campaign had run out of money last summer?

What is the motivation behind the story and its release only now when McCain appears to be the Republican candidate?

Perhaps the secret lies in the word "appears" to be the GOP nominee. Is McCain concerned that Mike Huckabee could do well enough in the final weeks of the primary campaigns to deny him the outright nomination? Is it possible that Texas could go for Huckabee?

Are there enough potential GOP delegates still unspoken for to give Huckabee a big chunk of control at the convention? Hey, I don't know the answer either, but if McCain is such good friends with liberals and especially the management at the Times, it is reasonable to at least query whether there is some reverse psychology going on here.

Sure, bash McCain in the Times, get the GOP undecideds to swing his way, and clear the decks for a primary delegate victory.

Could be. Who knows? Either way the Times comes out as unprofessional, unethical, and untrustworthy.

But then, we already knew that.


David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 02/21/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

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