A Study in Scarlet
The New York Times’ Public Editor weighs in on the McCain story. Here’s part of his exchange with Bill Keller, the Executive Editor of The Times:
[I]n the absence of a smoking gun, I asked Keller why he decided to run what he had.
“If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” he replied. “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”
I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.
He also gives a sample of readers’ reactions:
Marilyn Monaco of Philadelphia, one of more than 2,400 readers to comment on The Times’s Web site, said the newspaper “has sunk below its standards and created a salacious distraction from an otherwise substantive campaign. And for the record, I am an Obama supporter.” Terry Bledsoe of Sun Lakes, Ariz., said, “I am most disappointed in The New York Times for engaging in this sort of trash-the-candidate journalism.” A minority of readers applauded the article. “Bravo to The Times for integrity and guts,” said Rick Gore of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Well — is it boo or bravo?