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The Other Mac Attack

By Brian | February 24, 2008 | Share on Facebook

If you haven’t seen the New York Times’ recent article about John McCain yet, it’s here. Allow me to summarize by reading through the article and pulling out the relevant points sequentially (all emphasis is mine):

Eight years ago, McCain’s campaign staff thought he was having an affair with a lobbyist, Ms. Vicki Iseman. Without telling him, they met with her and told her to stay away from McCain. Even if they weren’t having an affair, his advisors were worried that too much contact with a lobbyist would damage his reputation as “the ethical candidate.”

Nineteen years ago, McCain got caught up in the Keating Five scandal, the Savings & Loan debacle that sent Charles Keating to jail for four and a half years. After the scandal, McCain dedicated himself to improving ethical standards in Washington. Over the last nineteen years, McCain has shied away from the appearance of impropriety, including accepting free flights on corporate jets, chairing non-profit groups involved in campaign finance reform, etc..

Twenty Eight years ago, Charles Keating was a big contributor to McCain’s first run for the House of Representatives. Twenty Two years ago, they vacationed together in the Bahamas, and Cindy McCain invested in an Arizona shopping mall with Mrs. Keating. Nineteen years ago, Keating was convicted. Seventeen years ago, three of the Keating Five senators were censured, although McCain was only sighted for “poor judgment” and was re-elected the next year.

Fourteen years ago, McCain attacked congressional earmarks, and then moved on to campaign finance reform, angering many conservatives. Eight years ago, McCain made the influence of special interests a central point in his failed presidential campaign.

Six years ago, he passed the McCain-Feingold Act, which banned soft money from campaigns. Seven years ago, he founded a nonprofit group that took soft money, and severed ties to it three years ago.

This year, McCain has several former lobbyists working on his campaign. Some of them are working for free, which could be considered a “gift.” His campaign points out that there’s nothing wrong with that, unless he “gives you special treatment or takes legislative action against his own views.”

Back to Ms. Iseman, eleven years ago she started visiting his office. In February of that year, they had dinner together with several clients, and then took a plane ride together with a campaign aide on one of her client’s corporate jets. Two former, un-named associates of John McCain, who describe themselves as being “disillusioned with John McCain” both told the New York Times, in independent conversations, that McCain “acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Ms. Iseman.” McCain, his wife, the lobbyist, and all current campaign staff members disagree with those statements. John Weaver, admits to setting up a meeting with Ms. Iseman, to discuss “her conduct and what she allegedly had told people, which made its way back to us.” The New York Times says, “he declined to elaborate,” but he told The Washington Post that he was concerned at the time about Ms. Iseman claiming to have strong relationships on McCain’s senate committees.

McCain called Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, to complain about the paper’s inquiries regarding Ms. Iseman. Mr. Weaver and others on McCain’s campaign staff also pointed out that McCain has often taken positions that don’t favor Ms. Iseman’s clients, including a vote two years ago to break up cable subscription packages.

Nine and ten years ago, McCain wrote letters to the FCC urging the body to vote on a matter that affected one of Ms. Iseman’s clients. The Times says the letters “[urged the FCC] to uphold marketing agreements allowing a television company to control two stations in the same city, a crucial issue for . . . one of Ms. Iseman’s clients.” The paper points out that the chairman of the FCC accused him of interference, and that McCain was embarrassed when news reports at the time mentioned the Keating Five scandal. McCain released all of the letters, claiming that he was “merely trying to push along a slow-moving bureaucracy.”

[Note: although he released the letters to them, the New York Times did not print them. McCain’s campaign put out a response to the Times article, in which it quoted them, including this: “I write today to express my concern about the Commission’s continuing failure to act on the pending applications for assignment of the licenses of WQEX(TV) and WPCB(TV), Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. . . . This letter is not written to secure a favorable resolution for any party on any substantive issue pending before the Commission. Please treat this letter in full compliance with all applicable, legal, ethical, and procedural rules.”]

Finally, McCain issued a statement this week accusing the New York times of lowering it’s standards to engage in a hit-and-run smear campaign against John McCain. The statement included this quote: “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.”

Now, to be fair, even the left has criticized this article as being light on sources and facts, and it looks like McCain has found a way to spin this article into something that will help his campaign (in a way, it should be noted, that George W. Bush has decidedly NOT been able to do for several years now). What strikes me about the whole thing, though, is how just about everything in the article describes events that happened a decade ago or more. Nothing has occurred in the recent past to warrant the discussion of this, even if there was some impropriety, which there appears not to have been. The New York Times doesn’t even seem to have trumped up a reason to run the article, and completely ignores the fact that in the intervening ten years, none of these supposed ethics issues have caused any ill effects, or have even drawn any criticism from McCain’s political opponents. It simply seems as though the Times decided it was time to write an article that contained the words “McCain,” “ethics,” and “romantic relationship.”

The only potential story in all of this is the fact that he has former lobbyists running his campaign. In addition to this being something that is happening right now, as opposed to 10+ years ago, it seems like a fair question to ask a man who has staked so much of his reputation on fair play. And if his argument is that these former lobbyists curry no favor with him on any special interests, he should be prepared to defend that claim to the press.

In the meantime, we could all do without the carpet-bombing on his reputation, his politics and his marriage.


Topics: Political Rantings | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “The Other Mac Attack”

  1. Jeff Porten says at February 24th, 2008 at 7:05 pm :
    Prefatory note: I don’t think a politician’s sex life is fair game for news unless he has taken a public position against his own private life. Larry Craig yes, John McCain (mostly) no.

    That said, the news here is “John McCain is the presumptive candidate for the Republican party.” There’s a secondary hook in that he’s the “straight talk” candidate, although that one’s a bit flimsier. So you have three options:

    1) run this article during the Republican primaries when it would make a difference in that election. I think it’s agreed that this is not kosher; however, if the candidates opposing him didn’t make this news, that’s their faliure.

    2) run this article after the election is sewn up.

    3) spike the article entirely.

    It seems to me that the sole reason for option three is for the NYT to decide to be nice to the old tortured guy. I don’t think being nice is a good reason to kill an article. (Likewise, I don’t think that Iseman’s day job is a substantial hook for alleging an affair; the hook here was the public statements of McCain’s former aides. I don’t think this should necessarily pass muster either.)

    However, the idea that “all of these things happened long ago” is ridiculous. McCain’s (deserved) luster dates back to Vietnam and North Vietnamese POW camps. That’s 30 years ago. No statute of limitations on those; likewise no statute of limitations on other accurate aspects of his record, when he’s running for president.

  2. Brian says at February 25th, 2008 at 12:56 pm :
    Well, I’m not sure I agree with your prefatory note. I’m not interested in getting in the middle of someone else’s marriage, even if he/she is the President of the United States. A pattern of behavior, though, speaks to the way a person treats his family and the women in his life. I think Bill Clinton is one of our most accomplished presidents, but his personal daliances tell me that he puts his own self-interest over his family’s (especially his young daughters) and also that he has an inherent lack of respect for women. The same could be said of John F. Kennedy. I know it’s cliche to say that it’s not about sex, but in my case, it truly isn’t. It’s about respect for others and personal values.

    As for McCain, I think the reason to spike the article isn’t just “to be nice to the old tortured guy.” I think it’s more about the complete lack of a justification to smear the old tortured guy. If you believe the hook was the public statements of his former aides, then you’ll be interested in what Tom Brokaw had to say about that. He said (paraphrasing here) that the story should have introduced its anonymous sources thusly: “two cranky guys who were fired for incompetence had this to say about their former boss.” Obviously exaggerating to make a point, Brokaw reminds us that we have no idea about the motivations of these two guys, since we don’t know their names. Add to that the fact that all of the people who would go on the record (without anonymity) flatly contradicted their stories.

    As for “it all happened long ago,” I’m not saying we can’t talk about the past. I’m saying the past is only NEWS if it affects something in the present, or if a similar event in the present recalls the past. Just as I wouldn’t expect to see a front-page headline announcing McCain’s war record at this point, I don’t see the point in a front-page headline decrying accusations of ethics violations from 10+ years ago, all of which have come to nothing in the intervening time.


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