Tuesday, February 26, 2008

McCain's Ethical Disconnects Are Much Ado About Something

Poor Michael Kinsley may have been feeling the heat over his ridiculous "liberal's love affair" with John McCain. And no, this has nothing to do with Vicki Iseman or with anything even vaguely sexual.

It has to do with Kinsley's silly fawning over the Arizona senator who won the love and admiration of the press corps with his "Straight Talk Express" persona.

Kinsley wrote this silly article, basically to make fun of the New York Times story that did, in fact, imply, that McCain might have had an an inappropiate relationship with a lobbyist. Kinsley's point was to make fun of the whole thing by portraying it as much ado about nothing. He opens with this:
I have come under some criticism for my criticism of the New York Times for its criticism of Sen. John McCain. Many readers of last week's New York Times article about McCain, including me, read that article as suggesting that Sen. McCain may have had an affair with a lobbyist eight years ago. The Times, however, has made clear that its story was not about an affair with a lobbyist. Its story was about the possibility that eight years ago, aides to McCain had held meetings with McCain to warn him about the appearance that he might be having an affair with the lobbyist.
And then goes on to mock the whole thing this way:
What I wrote was that some people had expressed concern that the Times article might have created the appearance of charging that McCain had had an affair. My critics have charged that I was charging the Times with charging McCain with having had an affair. Such a charge would be unfair to the New York Times, since the Times article, if you read it carefully (very carefully), does not make any charge against McCain except that people in a meeting eight years ago had suggested that other people eight years ago might reach a conclusion -- about which the Times expressed no view whatsoever -- that McCain was having an affair....

...More troubling, however, is the issue of whether McCain's letter may have led some people to worry that other people might conclude that McCain's letter created the appearance of a conflict of interest, as well as the issue of whether the New York Times, in digging up this eight-year-old letter, was creating the possibility that some people might think there was a possibility of an appearance that the Times was suggesting the possibility of an appearance of a potential conflict of interest in McCain's behavior, along with the most distressing possibility of all: that in this very article I may be creating the possibility that some people might worry that other people might think that I have created the appearance of suggesting that the New York Times has created the possibility that some people might worry that other people might think that McCain has created the appearance that some people might worry that other people might think that there could be an appearance that McCain was having an affair with a lobbyist....

These are the real questions that we, as a nation, face. Nobody cares whether McCain was having an affair with a lobbyist.
He's absolutely right, nobody cares whether McCain was having an affair. And Kinsley is also right that this was a poorly sourced story with lots of inuendo that used sex to divert from the real issue.

But there is, in fact, a lot ado about this. And Kinsley's Washington Post colleague, E.J. Dionne nails it brilliantly here. As Dionne's piece is aptly titled, it's not about sex at all. It's about the appearance of hypocrisy and, unlike Kinsley, most people - liberal or not - recognize that that is a very important issue for somebody running for the highest office in the land. As Dionne writes:
But McCain's denials didn't stop at sex, and the story didn't, either. The same day the Times ran its account, The Post ran a story that stayed away from the "romantic" angle but reported (as the Times also had) that McCain had written two letters to the Federal Communications Commission, urging that it vote on the sale of a Pittsburgh television station to Paxson Communications, one of Iseman's clients.

The Post wrote: "At the time he sent the first letter, McCain had flown on Paxson's corporate jet four times to appear at campaign events and had received $20,000 in campaign donations from Paxson and its law firm. The second letter came on Dec. 10, a day after the company's jet ferried him to a Florida fundraiser that was held aboard a yacht in West Palm Beach."
And Dionne ends with
Why does this matter? Many of us have praised McCain over the years for his reform work and his criticism of special-interest politics. His reformer image is one reason he's so close to securing the Republican presidential nomination. It's thus perfectly reasonable for journalists to explore how McCain's strong words about lobbyists square with how he's actually dealt with them.

The Times has been rightly chastised for improperly opening the door on McCain's private life. But the window it opened on the candidate's relationship with Washington's special-interest world will not close anytime soon, especially if McCain's explanations keep raising new questions.

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