McCain and Iseman

I really don’t know what to make of the NY TimesMcCain exposé. On the one hand, the non-adultery storyline seems to be pretty damning. If McCain did write to regulators to lobby in favor of corporations that had contributed to his campaign, if he did accept jet flights from executives who needed favors from him, if he did accept corporate contributions of a type he was on record opposing – and neither he nor his campaign is denying any of this – then that’s pretty serious corruption, plain and simple, and a real chink in his clean politics armor.
But, of course, that’s not what’s making headlines. The piece’s insinuation that he had an affair with Vicki Iseman is, and that’s where things get shakier. There are indications that this charge has legs, from the non-denial denials coming from McCain and his people and the willingness of news outlets other than the Times to jump on the story. But Gabriel Sherman’s piece in TNR on the reporting of the scandal does seem to suggest that the investigation was pretty haphazard, with a reporter quitting in midstream, leaks to Drudge and the whatnot.
Now, it may turn out that there’s more than circumstantial evidence suggesting an affair, and if and when that surfaces the Times will be vindicated, the controversy over their coverage will fade away, and the focus will be on the scandal itself. But I worry that, if it turns out that the shoddiness of the Times‘ evidence is a result of there not being any hard proof to be found, the corruption detailed in the piece will be forgotten, much as concerns about Bush’s Air National Guard delinquency faded from view in light of the 60 Minutes story dust-up. To bring up the favors McCain gave to telecom donors will become taboo, and seen as relying on disreputable reportage. And that’d be a shame, since I think there’s a real story there.

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