- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The New York Times’ recent hit-and-run on John McCain is a moment of reckoning for the “newspaper of record.” Certainly the fact that the previously reasonable Executive Editor Bill Keller spent the weekend lashing out at the McCain camp for “trying to change the subject to us … [attempting] to use the New York Times as an opportunity to rally the base,” suggests that the Times still has not realized that the rest of the world now regards its pronouncements as just as fallible as the rest of the news media’s. Indeed, its own public editor finds it fallible in this case. As Clark Hoyt wrote over the weekend: “[I]f you cannot provide readers with some independent evidence, I think it is wrong to report the suppositions or concerns of anonymous aides about whether the boss is getting into the wrong bed.”

The story of how we got here involves countless skewed headlines, a tale of journalistic malfeasance bearing names such as Howell Raines and Jayson Blair and a greatly diversified media environment which, in a few short years, has given news consumers a plethora of new, high-quality options on the Internet. People simply do not genuflect before the New York Times as they once did. The “Gray Lady” must now prove its scoops like everyone else.

Of course, this latest edition of the Great Times Decline Story can stand on its own. Just listen to the facts: The Times suggested, but did not demonstrate, that Mr. McCain engaged in an illicit affair with a lobbyist on whose behalf he improperly peddled influence eight years ago. The closest thing to proof it marshalled for this explosive charge is a set of two unnamed former McCain aides. Meanwhile, the Times’ editor was found criticizing Mr. McCain’s campaign for not rolling over in the face of a smear. He was also found prattling that the alleged romance was “not the story” of true concern.

Normally, a spate of follow-up stories ensues in the wake of a story like this one. Sure enough, some did. But not nearly as many as would be expected if the bombshell were actually proven to be true. The fact is, even the usual piggyback media has not made heads or tails of the Times’ McCain story. Either the reporting was not completed before the newspaper pulled the trigger — unlikely, given the many months spent by on reporting — or, the allegations raised in the story are simply bogus.

The old rule used to be that, if no one has proven that it happened, the thing is called “gossip.” The New York Times seems to have forgotten it.

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