New York Times’ eget leserombud, Clarke Hoyt, feller en hard dom over avisens artikkel om at John McCain hadde et forhold til lobbyisten Vicki Iseman for åtte år siden. Sjefredaktør Bill Keller forsvarer seg med at utroskap ikke var hovedpoenget, men McCains uryddige oppførsel, men Hoyt svarer knusende at det ikke holder. Å gripe inn i valgkampen med et angrep på en av kandidatenes karakter, er en alvorlig sak.
Hoyt sier rett ut at New York Times-saken smurt over hele førstesiden torsdag, rett og slett ikke holder. Man har bare en kilde som står frem, John Weaver, som bekrefter et møte med Iseman hvor han ba henne holde seg unna. Men heller ikke han sier noe om han trodde det var hold i ryktene om et forhold. At flere medarbeidere av McCain den gang trodde det, anonymt, er for tynt, sier Hoyt.
Saken har, som spådd, kommet til å handle mer om avisen og dens policy, enn om påstandene i artikkelen. Vanlige folk er fly forbannet på den liberale New York-avisen som våger å gripe inn i valgkampen på denne måten.
The uproar was over an assertion in the second paragraph that during McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, some of his top advisers became «convinced» he was having a «romantic» relationship with a female lobbyist and intervened to protect the candidate from himself. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, denied they had an affair, and at a press conference after the article was published, McCain denied that anyone ever confronted him about their relationship. He described her as a friend.
The article was notable for what it did not say: It did not say what convinced the advisers that there was a romance. It did not make clear what McCain was admitting when he acknowledged behaving inappropriately — an affair or just an association with a lobbyist that could look bad. And it did not say whether Weaver, the only on-the-record source, believed there was a romance. The Times did not offer independent proof,
Sjefredaktør Keller prøver å forsvare seg med at sex ikke var hovedtema, men det blåser Hoyt av. Når man nevner utroskap er det det leserne vil huske og være opptatt av. Når avisen ikke har bevisene, kan det ikke servere en halvkvedet vise. For mye står på spill, skriver Hoyt.
Han minner om at fire dyktige reportere i Washington jobben med saken i flere måneder. Likevel greide de ikke finne bevis. Burde ikke det tilsagt større forsiktighet?
It was not for want of trying. Four highly respected reporters in the Washington bureau worked for months on the story and were pressed repeatedly to get sources on the record and to find documentary evidence like e-mail. If McCain had been having an affair with a lobbyist seeking his help on public policy issues, and The Times had proved it, it would have been a story of unquestionable importance.
But in the absence of a smoking gun, I asked Keller why he decided to run what he had.
«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,» he replied. «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.
The stakes are just too big.
Imens strømmer sympati og penger inn til McCain. Saken kan bli vendt til hans fordel, og New York Times har fått en stygg brist i tillilten til avisen.