I’m still trying to piece together the backstory on this morning’s near-allegations that maybe John McCain had an affair with a lobbyist eight years ago. What I’ve seen of the backstory is a lot more interesting than the story, which does seem a tad thin.
Everyone who knows anyone has been hearing about this story for some months. Back in December, Matt Drudge got wind of it from inside the Times and teased it at the top of his site. We all waited, but the shoe never dropped.
Under what is said to be intense pressure from McCain and prominent D.C. criminal attorney Robert Bennett, who was hired to help deal with the matter, the Times capitulated and held off on publishing the story – offering no explanation, then or now. And if you read through the piece just published, there doesn’t seem to be any new information that the Times couldn’t have had two months ago.
So what, you ask? Just one small detail: In the intervening weeks between the moment when the Times was first going to publish the story and finally did publish the story, the same New York Times endorsed John McCain! And while he’s described in the endorsement editorial as a “staunch advocate of campaign finance reform” he’s tagged in this Wednesday’s news piece as having accepted favors from those with matters that came before the very committee he used to push that reform. And many, many other favors.
More importantly, if the Times had published its expose when it first had it over Christmas, it would have preceded all of the Republican primaries and caucuses. To say it would have changed the dynamic of the GOP race is perhaps the understatement of the decade. You can bet Mitt Romney and even Mayor Rudy are up late tonight gnashing their teeth and pounding their heads against the wall over this one.
Conservatives are now charging that the New York Times held off on the story until after McCain had wrapped up the nomination, so they could ruin his chances in the general election. First, this is wrong because if they wanted to hurt his chances of getting elected, they would have revealed this fact much closer to the general election. They couldn’t have done McCain a bigger favor than by waiting to release the piece until after the primaries and way, way before the general.
Since they endorsed McCain in January despite knowing this story – and the clear implications of hypocrisy on campaign finance reform, let alone the other implications – the most likely conspiracy would be that they favor McCain in the election. But I don’t think there is a conspiracy.
I think the far simpler answer is the correct one. 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.
See also Gabriel Sherman at The New Republic.
You’ll like the letter sent out by the McCain campaign —
Dear McCain Supporter,
Well, here we go. We could expect attacks were coming; as soon as John McCain appeared to be locking up the Republican nomination, the liberal establishment and their allies at the New York Times have gone on the attack. Today’s front-page New York Times story is particularly disgusting – an un-sourced hit-and-run smear campaign designed to distract from the issues at stake in this election. With John McCain leading a number of general-election polls against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the New York Times knew the time to attack was now, and they did. We will not allow their scurrilous attack against a great American hero to stand.
The New York Times — the newspaper that gave MoveOn.org a sweetheart deal to run advertisements attacking General Petraeus — has shown once again that it cannot exercise good journalistic judgment when it comes to dealing with a conservative Republican. We better get ready for more of the Democrats’ attacks over the coming months as the Democrats pick their nominee, MoveOn.org starts spending their unlimited soft money, and the liberal media tosses standards aside in an attempt to stop our momentum. We need your help to counteract the liberal establishment and fight back against the New York Times by making an immediate contribution today.
John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has led the charge to limit the money and influence of the special interests in politics and stomp out corruption. His life and his record prove just how preposterous the smear by the New York Times really is.
Objective observers are viewing this article exactly as they should – as a sleazy smear attack from a liberal newspaper against the conservative Republican frontrunner. Sean Hannity said, after reading the article three times, “It was so full of innuendo and so lacking of fact, and so involved in smear, I came to the conclusion that the goal here was to bring up a 20-year-old scandal.” Washington attorney Bob Bennett, who was the Democrat counsel during the Keating investigation, said, “This is a real hit job.” Joe Scarborough called the allegations “outrageous.” Even pundit Alan Colmes — not known for his conservative leanings — concludes “this is a non-story.”
Yet, it is there, right on the front page of the New York Times. It is now dominating the cable news coverage. We can only expect these sorts of baseless attacks to continue as we move into the general election cycle. We are going to need your help today, and your continued help in the future to have the resources to respond. We’ll never match the reach of a front-page New York Times article, but with your immediate help today, we’ll be able to respond and defend our nominee from the liberal attack machine.
Rick Davis, Campaign Manager
In brief — whine, self-pity, resentment, paranoia, more self-pity, the Times always picks on us. Pathetic.