Media McCain: The NYT Ambient Journalism
posted by February 21 at 9:38 AMon
I hate to go all Postman on you guys, but as much as I love the McCain story, this shit wouldn’t have passed Stranger newsroom standards.
Certainly, the NYT establishes that Sen. McCain’s friendship with telecom lobbyist Vicki Iseman alarmed his staff circa 2000 and that staffers told him to stop hanging out with her so much. And that’s a story. But the NYT should have run that story without the “concerned that the relationship had become romantic” line.
The NYT has no one saying the pair was having an affair. Nor do they have any proof or compelling evidence. They’ve only got anonymous people saying they suspected it. Yet, they then go and ask both McCain and Iseman if they were having an affair. Lame.
The NYT simply doesn’t have the goods on this. And let’s be honest: The energy of this story, the ambient takeaway, is the insinuation that McCain was doing political favors for a woman he was sleeping with.
If they wanted to do that story, they should have gone out and gotten it. Interview rival telecom company lobbyists, interview Iseman’s exes, Iseman’s colleagues; interview McCain’s colleagues; get McCain and Iseman’s lobbyist and financial disclosure reports. These are all places to start.
But here’s all they’ve got:
Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.
That February, Mr. McCain and Ms. Iseman attended a small fund-raising dinner with several clients at the Miami-area home of a cruise-line executive and then flew back to Washington along with a campaign aide on the corporate jet of one of her clients, Paxson Communications. By then, according to two former McCain associates, some of the senator’s advisers had grown so concerned that the relationship had become romantic that they took steps to intervene.
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?”.
Sorry, but that is not enough to put the microphone in McCain’s face and ask him if he was having an affair.
If McCain was actually having an affair with a telecom lobbyist who represented legislation that McCain supported, it would be a major story—particularly relevant given that McCain—whose whole persona is framed by his apparent righteous integrity—is about to become the GOP Presidential nominee.
But the NYT doesn’t have that.
Look, I love the idea of this story, but if a Stranger newsie had brought this story to me, I would have said: Is anyone saying the pair was actually having an affair? Can they give you any proof? Do you have any proof? If not, you’ve got an interesting story about staff warning McCain to stop hanging out with this lobbyist so much. Tell that story but leave out the anonymous quotes about their suspicions.
I understand that I’m now going to get blasted with examples of the Stranger’s own lacking standards. Okay. Either way, I’m still surprised the NYT ran this story this way.
There is one Stranger story I’m sure will get thrown in my face. But actually, re-reading it side by side with the NYT story highlights the shortcomings of the NYT’s decision to run their story the way they did.
We once ran a story about rumors that then-Republican-State-Senator Luke Esser was gay. But please read Eli’s thoughtful story.
The story doesn’t coyly suggest Esser is gay and then use that as a spring board to insinuate that Esser was a hypocrite (Esser was an outspoken leader in the GOP against gay rights and marriage). Eli’s story cites, by name, a Democratic State Senator who believed Esser was gay and had actually written a letter to the NYT Ethicist column asking about the ethics of outing colleagues. That was our news peg and starting point.
Eli’s article goes on to investigate and pooh-pooh the rumors and makes no effort to use the rumors as a foil to Esser’s political positions. It’s a totally different animal than the NYT’s hint hint McCain story.
Anyway, certainly there are examples of lapses in the Stranger newsroom, but that’s not the issue here. The issue is the NYT McCain story. And Red red flag, Bill Keller, your paper’s story doesn’t even have a picture of McCain and Iseman together. And that’s my takeaway from your story.