McCain and New York Times are both guilty

by Jim Longworth

John McCain and the New York Times are both guilty as sin, but each in their own way. Let’s begin with the Times.

By smearing McCain based on innuendo, the paper is guilty of sensational, slipshod journalism. The story cited observations of two, unnamed former McCain staffers, who believed that the senator had been romantically involved with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Think about that for a moment. Two disgruntled employees suspected an affair, and the most prestigious newspaper in the world published their suspicions as fact.

Certainly it is possible that John McCain was having sex with a lobbyist but, absent any proof, a real journalist would never go to press with mere anonymous suspicions. But wait a minute: Isn’t that what The Washington Post did by protecting the identity of “Deep Throat” while publishing his insider information about the Watergate scandal? Absolutely not. Deep Throat offered substantive proof of political money laundering and other crimes. Had he only communicated his “feelings” to Woodward and Bernstein, then Nixon would have surely completed his term rather than resigning in disgrace.

There are a few pundits who have speculated that The New York Times is holding back hard evidence with which to trap and slam McCain after he makes his denials. But even if that were true, that doesn’t excuse the publication of unsubstantiated allegations about an alleged sexual tryst.

McCain, standing hand in hand with his wife at a damage-control press conference last week, denied having had an affair or having used his relationship with Iseman to manipulate legislation for her clients. So what, then, is McCain guilty of? His high crimes took place over a decade ago when he and four other United States senators accepted millions of dollars and favors from Charles Keating, a corrupt banker. Keating, CEO of Lincoln Savings & Loan, had invested his depositors’ money in risky real-estate deals. Lincoln went bankrupt in 1989, and the bailout cost taxpayers more than $3 billion dollars. McCain, and fellow senators Alan Cranston, John Glenn, Dennis DeConcini and Donald Reigle then later colluded to try and have regulators ease up on Keating during investigation of the savings and loan’s collapse.

Congress launched its own investigation of McCain and his buddies (known as the Keating Five) and concluded that all five men acted improperly. The Senate even recommended censure for Cranston and determined that McCain and the other three men were guilty of questionable conduct.

In the aftermath of the S&L scandal, McCain began pushing for campaign finance reform and, in 2002, co-authored the McCain/Feingold Act. Soon, he became the darling of politicians and media who praised his bipartisanship. Add to that a whole new generation of voters who aren’t even old enough to remember the savings and loan disaster, and you have a version of ethics cleansing for the Arizona senator. Put another way, time had healed old wounds. That is until last week when, in addition to lobby sex, the New York Times article also dredged up the Keating Five saga.

True to form, the major news outlets have only been interested in the sex angle. After all, it’s good for ratings. Hardly any of the press, however, has hammered the conductor of the Straight Talk Express for his serious violations of the public trust that we all paid for.

Sadly, I doubt that McCain’s new-found surge (pardon the expression) in popularity will be affected significantly by the New York Times article, but it should. Not because of any screwing that he might have done with a lobbyist, but because of the screwing he gave taxpayers when one of his patrons went belly up. John McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, but he is no hero, and though the Times broke its own rules of ethics, the man they wrote about has none to break.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).