Did The New York Times do a disservice to investigative journalism by alleging that Sen. John McCain had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist? It certainly didn’t help the cause any. The article that caused all the fuss is actually well done, for the most part. The Times went to great lengths to document irregularities in the Senator’s relationship with lobbyists, and those inconsistencies are presented with appropriate sourcing and response. Had the paper let it go at that, this would have been good journalism.

What’s incomprehensible is that the editors chose to include allegations of an affair without any incriminating evidence whatsoever, other than comments by two disenfranchised former aides who never said they had any evidence, either. Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt upbraids Bill Keller, the Times’ executive editor, for running with such skimpy information and then trying to trivialize the topic as tangential to the piece. He calls the affair allegation, “the scarlet elephant in the room.” I’ll bet Hoyt and Keller aren’t going to be seen sitting together in the Times lunchroom any time soon.

Meanwhile, LA Times columnist Tim Rutten describes how the McCain campaign brilliantly turned the Times story into a PR coup. The McCain campaign said it had its best online fund-raising day ever the day after the piece ran. The outraged reaction by right-wing talk show hosts actually seems to have helped McCain mend some fences on the right.

In an interesting piece from down under, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan dissects the Times story sentence by sentence, showing how choice of words can influence the tone of a story without ever stating an opinion directly. It’s a clever and original analysis.

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 25th, 2008 at 8:23 am and is filed under Journalism, NewMedia, Newspapers, PR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments Off on NY Times McCain story fails to advance the cause of investigative journalism

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  1. February 25, 2008 @ 10:43 pm



    Excellent Web site. I have a similar theme.
    I received 6,000 hits in one day on the subject. The New York Times has turned into a yello journalism rag.

    The backlash his been historic. Keep up the good fight.

    Posted by Mick Gregory