The New York Times today ran a story pointing out some of John McCain’s inconsistencies between his rhetoric and his actions. These comparisons are, of course, fair game and should be carefully scrutinized. The article goes into great detail (and after topping out at about 3,000 words, one might say too much detail) about past ethical liberties taken by McCain. Although the timing of this article should not raise many eyebrows, the initial attack on McCain in the story's lead certainly has. It puts me in the unenviable position of defending McCain and, to a much lesser extent, criticizing the New York Times. Indeed, the Times should be getting used to questions about its judgment.
The article is ostensibly about where McCain’s loyalties lie: With the lobbyists or his constituents. It is a question that should be asked of any public servant. However, the Times didn’t lead with the possible inconsistencies of McCain; they lead with innuendo. Sexual innuendo… unproven and categorically denied rumors of infidelity from the 2000 presidential campaign, to be precise. Of course the story cited “unnamed” or “anonymous” sources, a metaphorical fire that has burnt the Times before. But even if the sources were reporting the truth, the truth they are reporting is only allegations… even the sources don’t know if an inappropriate relationship existed. Yet the Times, in their infinite wisdom, lead with this old and largely discounted rumor.
In the Times defense, the alleged alleged affair was used to segue into a more pressing issue - McCain’s judgment regarding appearances and assumptions. It proceeded to look at some instances that would portray McCain as a “business as usual” politician - and at a time when he would like to be viewed as a reformer. His experience, like Hillary Clinton’s, shows that the lure of the lobbyist’s money has more pull than any desire - genuine or not - to truly change the rules. McCain-Feingold did change the campaign cash game… but only after McCain had availed himself of it for many years. But all of that has little to do with the deliberate and direct attempt by the Times to sully McCain’s reputation.
The strange thing is that the Times didn’t need to drag up dead issues from the past. Let’s get real here - all 3,000 or so words of the Times epic was old news. All of it. Why not take a closer look at McCain’s current position on - oh, I don’t know… maybe the war. Although it is true the war has faded in prominence behind the economy, it is still moving along as if on autopilot (a thinly veiled commentary on the intelligence behind the entire affair), it is also true that McCain is the only viable candidate that would not only “stay the course,” but also quite probably accelerate it. A presence in Iraq for 100 years? He said that - and recently, too.
As I sit here composing my thoughts, I can hear the lead story coming from Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News on the TV in the next room. Guess what it’s about? That’s right, but the story has morphed. Although McCain has not escaped the innuendo, the story is now joined at the hip with the one regarding the Times’ agenda. If the goal was to shed light on McCain’s questionable judgment, then they have succeeded in that endeavor. But at what cost? Can the Times really afford another hit to its already failing reputation? Perhaps the nation’s de facto agenda setter is losing its grip on the real world. Maybe its judgment has become just as clouded as those they are questioning.