Thursday, February 21, 2008

McCain Will Fight New York Times on Integrity Attacks

The New York Times has moved beyond journalism to political attack in its story on John McCain's ethics. Now the McCain campaign has vowed to fight back:

John McCain’s campaign promised to “go to war” against the New York Times Wednesday night after the newspaper posted its long-awaited story on McCain's alleged relationship with a telecom lobbyist. Both McCain and the woman in question denied having a romantic relationship.

The story, word of which first leaked to the Drudge Report in December, relies on anonymous sources tied to McCain who said the lobbyist was warned to keep her distance to the senator in the run-up to his first presidential bid.

In the piece, McCain is quoted as telling Times Editor Bill Keller that he never did anything unethical. Top McCain advisers, including his former Senate chief of staff Mark Salter, also say on the record that there was nothing inappropriate done legislatively.

McCain told reporters Wednesday night when asked about the story: "I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment."

But campaign aides had read it and spared no time in blasting the newspaper.

"It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign," said communications director Jill Hazelbaker, in a prepared statement sent about an hour after the Times posted their story online. "John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

"Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career."

The McCain campaign is using a two-pronged attack to push back against the story. First, they’ll argue it was a thinly sourced piece of innuendo journalism. But McCain aides will also strike at the source, using the Times’ liberal reputation as a means of self-defense to draw sympathy from the GOP’s conservative base.

To this end, a top McCain adviser accused the paper of practicing tabloid journalism.

“It’s not every night I stay up to read the National Enquirer,” said Charlie Black, who was with other top McCain aides at the senator’s Arlington, Va., headquarters to mount the counterattack.

Black noted he had taken heat from some of his “conservative friends’ after McCain won the paper’s endorsement in January. “We’re going to go to war with them now,” Black said. “We’ll see if that hurts or helps.”
I think this last part about appeasing "conservatives friends" might be a primary motivation for the campaign's retaliation.

Some of this stuff dates back to the 1980s, and it's not in McCain's interest to dwell on old, unfounded allegations too much. If people are thinking the Clintons are "so 1990s," why raise 'em by a decade?