February 23, 2008

"If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist..."

Clark Hoyt, the NYT public editor, examines the journalistic ethics of the McCain story published last Thursday:
“If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” [NYT executive editor Bill Keller said.] “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.
"Ignores" is putting it way too mildly. It's a ludicrous argument. It would mean that editors could purvey all sorts of trash as long as it is embedded it in a larger story. And when we get outraged, they could look down their noses and insult us about our poor reading comprehension.

Here's Jeff Jarvis on the subject:
[Keller] tries to tell us that we’re concentrating on the wrong thing here, that we don’t see what the real story is....

Do they have no news judgment? The lede in this story was obvious to everyone but the Times...

That the editors of the Times don’t see that is incredible — that is to say, not credible.
More at the link, but I've boiled it down to make it clear that Jarvis thinks Keller is dissembling.

50 comments:

Danny said...

It was a trashy piece and I wish that Obama (who I support) would have expressed a bit of outrage to signal that he's capable of calling bullshit on the media even when they fawn over him. As much as I like the everything the NYTimes puts out on Sunday, when it comes to investigative journalism the Post has it beat ten times over.

rhhardin said...

Journalistic ethics is marketing, not a branch of ethics. That's what the adjective is doing there.

The problem is with the NYT brand, namely how it changes or whether some scapegoat can be found to preserve it.

It's not really different from TV news marketing themselves as news; a question not of ethics but of how long they can keep the brand alive.

At the moment they use fossil anchors for that.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room."

...more like the yellow elephant in the newsroom!

madawaskan said...

jeff-

Na I'm pretty sure he meant pink.

He saw pink elephants in the newsroom.

madawaskan said...

Wait the NYT is the yellow elephant.

He Hoyt says that they ignored the scarlet elephant.

Well maybe but they saw at least two pink ones-in party dresses with McCain in the lobby.

Or they talked to two guys who thought they saw them, who thought that McCain should stop seeing them.

Ya that's it and damn it.

Bob said...

The Republicans will come to view this sandbag job, very correctly, as the equivalent of the Dan Rather/Mary Mapes story about Bush's National Guard service: written and released to help the Democrat candidate, no more, no less.

It's still early, too. I'm sure that there are more sandbags to come, not only from the Times, but from CBS and the other members of the MSM.

EnigmatiCore said...

The Times had been working this story for months.

They believed that they had it close to nailed down, and then just recently decided they did have it nailed down.

Yet, just a short time ago, they endorsed John McCain's candidacy for the Republican nomination.

Which means either:

1) They felt this story was insufficiently important as to make McCain a poor choice, or

2) They wanted the GOP to nominate someone they thought they had the goods on and could bury after the nomination was in hand.

Choice one means that they ran with a thinly sourced story they didn't find important, which calls into question their judgment.

Choice two means that they are partisan hacks.

Tough call.

DADvocate said...

The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.

They print three paragraphs about McCain and Iseman plus a picture of her looking very attractive then they go on about other stuff. If the article was about the above quote, they didn't need the other stuff. If it was about the other stuff, they didn't need Iseman.

The Iseman angle was a hook to lure in readers. It lured in readers but ultimately backfired. Now they're playing politician themselves trying to explain it away.

ronbo said...

You know The Times is in trouble when the public editor - usually a reliable shill - has problems with the story. And when 4,000 people, many of whom are Dems and Indies, email in to express their objections. And when McCain has his best fundraising day ever.

Keller says this wasn't a "gotcha" story. Guess he's right.

rosignol said...

Tough call.

What precludes both from being true?

EnigmatiCore said...

If they felt is was insufficiently important, then they wouldn't have thought they could bury him with it. That's what precludes that.

Or option three is that the NYTimes editorial board are dumber than a box of rocks-- like Dumb and Dumberer dumb.

ron st.amant said...

It would mean that editors could purvey all sorts of trash as long as it is embedded it in a larger story.

Since when is this a new phenomenon?
The 'MSM' during the Clinton years would always report any and all accusation against Bill Clinton under the reasoning that they weren't commenting on the accusation but merely they were reporting on the reporting of others.
I agree the NYT used the rumor of an alledged affair to hook into a story about possible influence peddling, however what ties both things together to me, is the quote they use from McCain's book citing the damage that even the appearance of impropriety is something the politician has to avoid.
Whether or not McCain did something either immoral, unethical, or illegal I have no idea. But the fact that members of his own campaign seemingly felt the appearance of impropriety was possible enough to confront him is to me an important factor.

SMGalbraith said...

Hmm, did the Times blackmail (no other word) McCain into providing more documents?

E.g., "Senator, we have allegations from former staffers that you had an improper relationship with a lobbyist. We're going with it unless you can show us evidence disproving the story."

So, McCain gives them material and they dig into it trying to find other dirt.

Woodward is famous for playing sources off others. He'll get one source to talk and then use that damaging information against another source who has to respond. Otherwise, Woodward will go with his allegations unanswered.

Smart.

Robert Fovell said...

enigmaticore:

There is another choice to add to your list:

3) The NYT editorial and newsroom operations are independent.

Actually, the NYT has clearly stated that already, and I believe them. That, however, is all I believe in this story so far. My instinct is the NYT got rushed into publishing; otherwise they would have held it for later. Much later. Such as a few days before the general election.

McCain is bloody lucky. This same story could have come out at a far worse time, or from a paper that generates less immediate suspicion than the NYT.

SMGalbraith said...

McCain is bloody lucky

NY Times runs a front page story alleging an adulterous affair that includes violations of legislative ethics and corruption.

Yep, he won the lottery.

Robert Fovell said...

SMGalbraith:

I'll repeat that I think McCain is lucky when you consider the possible alternatives that could have happened with the same set of facts... and add in the fact that McCain's fundraising has gotten a boost and his antagonists on the right have been at least temporarily distracted. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

It's possible this story can mutate again - today, tomorrow or in late October. But, IMHO, McCain's gained some immunity on this story, and so far it's helped him more than hurt him.

But maybe I misunderstood you as much as you apparently misunderstood me, and the lottery you wrote about was fundraising. In that case I do agree - he has indeed won.

DaveW said...

The piece was all about the alleged affair. The lobbying part was only to give the reason for the relationship. That's why they ran the picture of her in a party dress with the story.

BTW, why did they do that? She's described as a lobbyist with business before McCain directly relevant to his committee. So why publish a picture of her in a gown like that? Didn't they have a photo for her in a business suit?

Of course, it doesn't have anything to do with that. They were trying to sex up the story with that picture. The story was about the affair.

But think for a minute about the effect of the story on Ms. Iseman. She's just had her professional reputation ruined and she's been trashed as a harlot. McCain will probably overcome this but her career may be ruined.

EnigmatiCore said...

"NYT editorial and newsroom operations are independent."

Wherein you show ignorance.

Editors control what happens in the newsroom. They are the reporters' bosses. They *edit* their copy. Hence the name.

MadisonMan said...

And sitemeter says that visitor #12,345,678 was from Carnegie Mellon, and they were looking via google when to wear black or nude pantyhose. Not with shorts, I tell ya. No, the search found this post. All of the Winter Olympics skating posts were great.

I hope for McCain's sake that this query has nothing to do with his campaign.

Robert Fovell said...

enigmaticore:

Wherein you show ignorance.

It's possible. I've never worked on a newspaper.

Editors control what happens in the newsroom. They are the reporters' bosses. They *edit* their copy. Hence the name.

Your assertion is the editorial board that writes the newspaper editorials and handles the op-ed pages must be the same as the newsroom editors responsible for what fills the news holes? I don't think larger newspapers work in this fashion, but again I have no newspaper experience.

campy said...

Pinch and his minions aren't as smart as they think they are, but they're not this dumb either. They never expected this story to scuttle McCain. This is just part of a plan.

George said...

How many holes does it take to fill the....oh, nevermind....

EnigmatiCore said...

Your assertion is the editorial board that writes the newspaper editorials and handles the op-ed pages must be the same as the newsroom editors responsible for what fills the news holes?

I said editorial board.

You said "editorial board that writes the newspaper editorials".

I was talking about Keller et al.

If MoDo and Collins were involved, I don't know. But I was talking about the editorial board that are the bosses of the writers and decide what gets published and what doesn't. You moved the goalposts, not me.

ronbo said...

Yes, better now than later. And yes, Keller et al. misread the public's appetite for a poorly-sourced hit piece.

Amazing, though, that even the NYT's base didn't go for the story. I know the Times-bots live in a cocoon but I didn't think they would so thoroughly overreach their readers.

Good thing Keller isn't working for a political campaign. He'd surely be fired and would have to back to working for ... a newspaper.

Middle Class Guy said...

Journalistic ethics? this is nothing more than a rehashing of the story of the rumored affair that no one wanted to read about. this is not an explanation.

He keeps mentioning the 32 yr. old lobbyist and the reckless conduct. It is a shameless rehash to keep the story alive.

Journalistic ethics indeed. Like rhhardin said, journalistic ethics is nothing more than a marketing tool. The NYT is now a branch of the National Enquirer.

Robert Fovell said...

enigmaticore:

In your original post in this thread, you pointed to the apparent incongruence between the NYT endorsing McCain (for the purposes of the NY primary, of course) while at the same time working on a hit piece on him. You postulated that either the NYT felt this story was minor or, more nefariously, was trying to promote McCain so they can cut him down later.

I have very little regard for the NYT, but I don't think either option is very likely. It is much more likely that the editorial board that writes the editorials and endorsements operates independently from the news side of the NYT that was doing what they passed off as an "investigation". Both involve "editors" of course but they need not be the same people, and very, very likely are not. Why should the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

As far as I know, Keller does not write editorials, and so had nothing to do with the endorsement of McCain for the NY primary. Hence the third option I offered.

former law student said...

Yes, people will assume that an old coot is having an affair with a blonde half his age if they see her with him all the time. That was kinda the point of the article -- that McCain's actions could be misconstrued to his detriment.

But, a man could be swayed by the attentions of a young babe even if he never got to slip it in. Therefore he could be technically faithful and still be improperly influenced by this lobbyist.

The Republicans will come to view this sandbag job, very correctly, as the equivalent of the Dan Rather/Mary Mapes story about Bush's National Guard service: written and released to help the Democrat candidate, no more, no less.

There are some points in common, but the release helps the Republican candidate, not the Democrat:

1. Released well before the election, not on election eve where it couldn't be rebutted.
2. Little or no basis in reality: The Bush Air Guard documents were transparently faked -- even a retard would have used a typewriter font like Courier New if he couldn't find a Selectric.
3. Benefits from the Boy That Cried Wolf effect -- once this story has been played and found unconvincing, not even the appearance of a real woman who really had been pollinated by Gramps will sway the voters' mind.

SMGalbraith said...

, a man could be swayed by the attentions of a young babe even if he never got to slip it in.

So, you're saying that the woman couldn't succeed based on her own intelligence and abilities?

It had to be her looks?

Just kidding; I know what you're saying.

EnigmatiCore said...

Fovell---

The editorial board that approves the pieces of news to run is not the same as the opinion editors, but it is the same as the editors who decide to run uncredited editorials in the name of the New York Times.

Same people.

EnigmatiCore said...

That is why they are called "editorials", by the way.

Robert Fovell said...

From

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/21/business/media/21askthenewsroom.html

"[T]he news department of The Times and the editorial page are totally separate operations that do not consult or coordinate when it comes to news coverage and endorsements or other expressions of editorial opinion. We in the newsroom did not speak to anyone at the editorial page about the story we were working on about Senator McCain. They did not consult us about their deliberations over endorsements of the presidential candidates."

Without wishing to be seen as someone who is defending the NYT or the particular hit piece in question, which I also found thinly sourced and of questionable motivation, I find this explanation believable. Others, if they wish, can claim the NYT is lying about this, and such claims -- like the NYT's own assertions against McCain -- should be supported with proof.

dpent said...

Wife and I had serious doubts about McCain, but when the NYT did the article, we went to his website and joined up. Haven't donated a penny to his campaign as of yet, but will

AJ Lynch said...

Ann:

Do you still pay good money for the NYT?

Their politics are so obvious and their behavior is so self-righteous I just refuse to support them by buying the paper.

AJ Lynch said...

E-core:

I prefer to call them "idiotorials". It is a bit more accurate.

Gary Rosen said...

From

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/21/business/media/21askthenewsroom.html

"[T]he news department of The Times and the editorial page are totally separate operations that do not consult or coordinate when it comes to news coverage and endorsements or other expressions of editorial opinion. "

Consider the source.

Joe said...

"If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members."
(italics added)

Ain't it lovely how even the denial is an insinuation? Sleazy.

rhhardin said...

The WSJ keeps the news and editorial departments separate by having a left-leaning news department and a right-leaning editorial department.

Avoiding an appearance of impropriety. The NYT could do a story on it.

Chip Ahoy said...

The point of the story was the NYT creating an opportunity to say "Keating five" over and over again. Plus, being open-minded, all-embracing, open-armed Liberals (large L), they misread the conservative (small c) mind and project umbrage at the impression of misbehavior, or imagine it, or hope for it.

Ha ha ha. That's NOT funny!

} } } BLAM { { {

↑ petard.

Dumb ass, called us all poor readers.

AllenS said...

Let's forget about McCain for a while, and think about what that article did to the reputation of Ms. Iseman. The picture of her in a sexy looking party dress, and an insinuation that she gets things done by putting out, is going to be far more damaging to her reputation that what McCain will face. What can she do to get her good name back?

downtownlad said...

John McCain actively supports having the government investigate the sex lives of gay people. So why should I give a crap if the New York Times is investigating his sex life.

He's now claimed he didn't have an affair. So it is entirely justified to find to keep investigating. Not to monitor his sex life, but to see if he's a liar.

downtownlad said...

And let's not forget that what the New York Times reported was the TRUTH.

John McCain did have an affair. He also dumped his first wife when she was disabled in a car accident.

Funny - all of the people complaining about the Times didn't give a rats ass when the Wall Street Journal claimed that Clinton had people murdered in Arkansas as part of a drug run.

TC said...

"There is another choice to add to your list:

3) The NYT editorial and newsroom operations are independent.

Actually, the NYT has clearly stated that already, and I believe them."

That is possibly the stupidest thing I can say I've seen actually written and claimed as a belief.

That 'firewall' the NY Times claims to have in place is a myth; Keller knows exactly what is going down on both sides of that divide, so saying the newsroom's doings are unknown to the editorial/Op-Ed end of the aisle is downright dumb.

rhhardin said...

Left wing humor :

WSJ lede online today, nurses out a joke

Clinton Adopts Harsher Tactics

Clinton ratcheted up her attacks on Obama, comparing his campaign tactics to those of President Bush.

Robert Fovell said...

TC wrote:

That is possibly the stupidest thing I can say I've seen actually written and claimed as a belief.

While excising any statement from its context can weaken or alter it -- something newspapers like the NYT understand possibly more than yourself -- it remains that if what I wrote was "possibly the stupidest thing" you've ever "seen actually written", I suggest you have lived a charmed and well protected life and I, for one, salute you :-)

Christy said...

I am most distressed by how easy it is to suspect, or perhaps expect, that a woman who has a friendly professional relationship with a man is also sexually involved with him. Every time I think women have gained parity, evidence shows me we haven't.

FWIW, Keller also said in the online chat
linked earlier by Mr. Fovell that the gowned pic of the lady was the only one they could find that they could buy from a proper source.

former law student said...

I am most distressed by how easy it is to suspect, or perhaps expect, that a woman who has a friendly professional relationship with a man is also sexually involved with him. Every time I think women have gained parity, evidence shows me we haven't.

I have a friendly professional relationship with my dentist, yet you don't see the two of us together all the time. Plus he already has all my dental business; hanging out with me could not have an ulterior motive. In contrast, Iseman is in the business of seeking favors from politicians, and McCain is a politician in a position to grant favors to hot blondes half his age.

Christy said...

FLS, are you saying that she spent more time with him than is typical for lobbyists? Or that the very nature of lobbying gives the appearance of impropriety?

former law student said...

christy:
1. Yes, she spent more time with McCain than was typical for lobbyists. According to the NYT article she had begun showing up so frequently in his offices and at his campaign events that staffers wondered why she was "always around."

2. Their relationship was likely improper either because of the influence she had over him, or because they were having a love affair. It is possible but unlikely that they were such great pals that she was always to be found in his company.

First, what was their relationship? Professional, personal, or romantic? Lobbyists, like everyone else, must choose how to spend their time.

Professionals prioritize their time and efforts to yield the biggest rewards. If their relationship was professional, one could conclude from the amount of time she spent with him that she was getting a real payoff from McCain, in terms of legislation and political influence. This is improper.

If their relationship was strictly personal, spending so much time with McCain must have been enjoyable and gratifying to her. How this could be is not clear to me.

On the other hand, if their relationship was romantic, spending a lot of time together is consistent with being infatuated.

From the NYT:

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet...Mr. Black said Mr. McCain and Ms. Iseman were friends and nothing more. But in 1999 she began showing up so frequently in his offices and at campaign events that staff members took notice. One recalled asking, “Why is she always around?”

Trooper York said...

See, I think if it just became who's sleeping with whom, then there's no reason to prefer one party over the other, 'cause the truth is we're all sinners.
Paul Begala

Middle Class Guy said...

We are faling, falling deeply
We are falling into sin


Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!