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All the News that Fits Its Purpose
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. 2/26/08

The New York Times is, in some respects at least, a great newspaper. It is certainly great in bulk. Indeed, one could line the bottoms of hundreds of bird cages and wrap dozens of pounds of fish with just a single edition. And it  has great book reviews and cross-word puzzles. It is also has a great ego.

The venerable newspaper has become quite predictable in its political bias. It waited until John McCain became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, even endorsing his candidacy, before getting down to the serious business of trying to undermine it. A Feb. 21st front page story implied that the candidate may have had an improper relationship with an attractive female lobbyist during his unsuccessful 2000 campaign for the nomination.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

As newspaper articles go, this one, by a hit squad of four reporters and two contributing researchers, won’t go far. It was exceptionally long on verbiage but thin on substance, consisting mostly of hearsay and gossip. It produced an immediate outcry from both moderates and conservatives and even some Democrats who questioned the timing of the piece and its gossipy innuendo.

“The story,” sniffed Times executive editor Bill Keller, “speaks for itself.” Well, actually, it didn’t really speak at all. It sort of whispered. Mr. McCain denied the suggestion of impropriety and said that the lady was just a friend. Most reasonable people whose instincts are to believe the best about people or at least to give them the benefit of the doubt, which is to say people other than political reporters, would probably assume that public contact between an elderly U.S. Senator and a woman 31 years younger was not cause for suspicion. But not the slime searchers of the modern news media, who seek out anonymous sources able to somehow “be convinced,” without actual proof, of the existence of a “romantic relationship.”  It’s gotten to the point where some fathers are afraid to take their daughters to lunch and endure suspicious looks from strangers unable to mind the own business.

Mr. Keller dismissed criticism of the timing saying that the story was printed when it was ready. Some circumstances suggest otherwise. The story appears to have been long in the making and was probably incubating while editors worried over whether or not to release it. Since its existence was apparently known, there was undoubtedly pressure from the left to print it. The paper, of course, listens carefully to the left. In fact, it leans so far in that direction that it has long since lost its balance and toppled from its once lofty pedestal.

Most of the article was ancient history. The Lincoln Savings and Loan collapse was resurrected and Mr. McCain’s association with Charles Keating was resuscitated. That scandal cost three senators their careers but McCain escaped with a reprimand because of his  ”less aggressive” advocacy on behalf of Mr. Keating. Old stuff, really. Arizona voters have long since forgiven him and his senate career soared. It was hardly an issue in 2000.

The McCain campaign responded to the story by saying, “It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit-and-run campaign.” Lower its standards? The McCain campaign must not be regular readers of the Times. This is election season. When attacking Republican candidates, the only standards that apply are of a literary nature and those necessary to avoid libel lawsuits. The campaign response added that “Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics…” With that I agree wholeheartedly. So sick, in fact, that a backlash appears to have occurred. The Times hit piece may have finally rallied conservatives behind the McCain candidacy and campaign contributions increased significantly after the piece was published. Times editors expressed surprise at the outcry and regret that readers missed the intent of the story. That’s the oversized ego issue I referred to above. Perhaps the editors should just accompany such articles with instructions as to what the reader should derive from them.

The McCain campaign said that there was nothing in the story to suggest that john McCain ever violated his principles. “Nothing” may understate the matter a bit. Mr. McCain, perhaps, is not perfect but few of us are. He is, after all, running for president, not pope, and for this position he is the most experienced and capable candidate left by far. The Times described this article as “part of a series about the life (sic) and careers of contenders for the 2008 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations.” Did I miss similar hit pieces on Sens. Clinton and Obama or are they still to come? CRO

copyright 2008 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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