Thursday, February 21, 2008


Ari Melber (The Nation):
Top Republicans are absolutely apoplectic over new reports that John McCain had an ethically inappropriate (possibly romantic) relationship with a lobbyist, accepted favors from corporations while criticizing the practice, and ran an Orwellian-branded soft money operation, "The Reform Institute," to advance his career and political cronies while railing against soft money.
But the G.O.P. elites aren't mad that McCain did any of those things. They're upset that the media is covering it. In fact, the rage is so intense that many of McCain's harshest Republican critics are rallying around the ethically challenged Senator. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder cites reactions from arch-conservatives like The American Spectator, The National Review and Commentary, and explains:

The Times story may have succeeded in accomplishing what politics itself could not: unifying the conservative base around McCain by way of their visceral disgust with the New York Times and its lib-ber-ral politics.

Conservative elites do relish attacking The Times, and their default reaction to bad news is to attack the messenger, whether it's Joe Wilson or a newspaper. But The Times editorial staff endorsed McCain, and its news staff held the story for months while McCain trailed in the primaries -- when it would have done the maximum damage. And the paper has repeatedly delayed stories under pressure from the Right Wing machine, including bombshells about Bin Laden and spying, as Cenk Uyger writes today:

The McCain campaign threatened and intimidated them as the Bush team has done on countless occasions and they gave in until someone else was about to release the story. The only thing worse than being bullied by Republicans is getting scooped by your competitors. The story here isn't that the NYT is trying to hurt conservatives, it's the exact opposite -- they're afraid of them. On every occasion that they have had a major story like this, they have held it after being badgered by Republicans. They only print the stories when there are no other options left and the story is about to get printed elsewhere anyway.

So attacking The Times makes no sense, even by the low conspiracy standards of the conservative echo chamber. But more consequentially, this ploy will not cut much ice with the rank and file conservative base. Put aside the G.O.P. establishment in Washington, and you won't find Times-hatred animating much McCain enthusiasm. Active Republicans still back Mike Huckabee because they can't stomach John McCain. This week's news won't help -- no matter who you hear it from.


Full disclosure: I frequently appear as a guest on Cenk Uyger's Air America show.

Update: The New Republic has posted a long article by Gabriel Sherman about the story behind the story. First, a detailed view of the McCain-NYT battle:

From the outset, the Times reporters encountered stiff resistance from the McCain camp. [Reporters] learned that McCain had personally retained Bill Clinton's former attorney Bob Bennett to defend himself against the Times' questioning. At the same time, two McCain campaign advisers, Mark Salter and Charlie Black, vigorously pressed the Times reporters to drop the matter. And in early December, McCain himself called Keller to deny the allegations on the record. In early December, according to sources with knowledge of the events, [The Times] requested a meeting with Bennett to arrange access to the senator and to discuss why the Republican presidential candidate had sought out a criminal lawyer in the first place... of the Times' unpublished investigation burst into public view when Matt Drudge posted an anonymously sourced item on the Drudge Report. "MEDIA FIREWORKS: MCCAIN PLEADS WITH NY TIMES TO SPIKE STORY," the headline proclaimed; the story hinted around the core of the allegations and focused on Keller's decision to hold the piece. "Rutenberg had hoped to break the story before the Christmas holiday," the item said, quoting unnamed sources, "but editor Keller expressed serious reservations about journalism ethics and issuing a damaging story so close to an election." Immediately, the media pounced on the budding scandal. "If John McCain has hired Bob Bennett as his lawyer," one commentator said on Fox News, "that's a big--you don't hire Bob Bennett to knock down a press story. You hire Bob Bennett because you have serious legal issues somehow." On MSNBC, Pat Buchanan speculated that the Times newsroom was the source of the leak. "They've been rebuffed and rebuffed on this story, and they say we've had it, and they go around then and Drudge pops it just like he popped the Monica Lewinsky story first."

Then, despite some solid research, Sherman concludes by missing the entire point:

This morning, after the piece ran, and as TNR's article was about to be posted, Keller finally responded to repeated requests for interviews. In an e-mail, he defended the substance, and the timing, of the story. "Our policy is, we publish stories when they are ready. 'Ready' means the facts have been nailed down to our satisfaction, the subjects have all been given a full and fair chance to respond, and the reporting has been written up with all the proper context and caveats." Important as the story may indeed turn out to be, it may have provided the Times' critics with a few caveats too many.
These right wing "critics" don't need caveats, let alone facts; they attack the messenger viciously whether it's a newspaper or the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq. And if further reporting did reveal factual problems with The Times story, that would be intrinsically bad, not because it strengthens the critics' complaints.

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