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THE TIMES, IT MAY BE A CHANGIN’! As their own love affair sadly dies, they picture their love with another: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2008

STILL TANGLED: Our machine is still tangled up a bit. So we’ll postpone Philosopher Friday. Next week, we plan to review the “Wilt Chamberlain parable.” Our larger question will remain: With philosophical giants striding the earth, why is our discourse inane?

Meanwhile, we’ll again suggest that you see 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. We struggled with a friend this week, trying to figure how you’d explain what occurs in this movie. For us, this thought has come into mind: Unlike any other, this film somehow enters a “world,” in the sense of the term in this poem.

To each his world is private,
and in that world one excellent minute.

And in that world one tragic minute.
These are private.
“Not people die but worlds die in them.” That link gives only part of the poem. But it’s the part we have in mind.

Special report: Sexing up McCain!

READ EACH SEXY INSTALLMENT: Has the New York Times cooled on a great love affair? Be sure to read each sexy installment:

PART 1: The New York Times sexed up McCain—in a way which was slippery and slick. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/25/08.

PART 2: The Times got tough in the Keating affair. We’d call it a major reversal. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/26/08.

PART 3: Rutenberg recast an old tale—in a way which took down a great hero. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/27/08

Why has the New York Times flipped on McCain? Today, we review one more recast tale—then engage in a brief speculation:

PART 4—THE TIMES, IT MAY BE A-CHANGIN’: For many years, Saint John McCain has long been the mainstream press corps’ main darling. So how will the press corps treat him now, as presumptive GOP nominee?

In last Thursday’s front-page report, the New York Times’ ardor seemed to be fading. Working with a cast of thousands, Jim Rutenberg gave major play to an alleged sexy-time romance—a romance for which he had little real evidence. And not only that: The Times’ treatment of McCain and the Keating Five seemed to have been reinvented—and substantially darkened in the process. Meanwhile, Rutenberg put a negative cast on a McCain fund-raiser from Campaign 2000—an event which had been cheerfully portrayed by the Times in real time, when the press corps’ love was still young.

And then, there’s the matter of the Paxson letters—the letters McCain sent the FCC on behalf of a campaign contributor. Vicki Iseman, McCain’s alleged sexy-time girl friend, was a lobbyist for Paxson Communications. In 1999, McCain sent two letters to the FCC about a matter involving this firm. Rutenberg ended his piece with this story—a matter his paper had widely reported in January 2000. We’d have to say he darkened his newspaper’s past reporting about this matter too:

RUTENBERG (2/21/08): In late 1999, Ms. Iseman asked Mr. McCain's staff to send a letter to the commission to help Paxson [Communications], now Ion Media Networks, on another matter. Mr. Paxson was impatient for F.C.C. approval of a television deal, and Ms. Iseman acknowledged in an e-mail message to The Times that she had sent to Mr. McCain's staff information for drafting a letter urging a swift decision.

Mr. McCain complied. He sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman. In an embarrassing turn for the campaign, news reports invoked the Keating scandal, once again raising questions about intervening for a patron.

Mr. McCain's aides released all of his letters to the F.C.C. to dispel accusations of favoritism, and aides said the campaign had properly accounted for four trips on the Paxson plane. But the campaign did not report the flight with Ms. Iseman. Mr. McCain's advisers say he was not required to disclose the flight, but ethics lawyers dispute that.

Recalling the Paxson episode in his memoir, Mr. McCain said he was merely trying to push along a slow-moving bureaucracy, but added that he was not surprised by the criticism given his history.

“Any hint that I might have acted to reward a supporter,'' he wrote, “would be taken as an egregious act of hypocrisy.”

Rutenberg ended his lengthy report this way—almost suggesting that McCain had copped to a plea of hypocrisy. In this way, reporters tend to signal their own brilliant outlook at the end of a news report.

Rutenberg’s account is accurate as far as it goes—but he omits two or three basic parts of the story. He makes it sound like Paxson (and therefore McCain) were “impatiently” pushing the FCC for “a swift decision.” In the process, he fails to note two basic facts—facts which appeared in paragraph 5 of the original Times report. Stephen Labaton was fairly tough in his real-time report; to our taste, he tipped the scales against McCain just a tad. But he did include two basic facts:

LABATON (1/6/00): The letters did not tell the commissioners how to vote on the license transfers, which had been in a regulatory abyss for more than two years as community groups and the stations fought over the matter and enlisted a variety of lawmakers to lobby on their behalf. Nonetheless, the letters prompted an unusual response from the chairman of the F.C.C., suggesting that they were inappropriate. And other officials said the tone of the letters made it clear to them that Mr. McCain wanted the deal approved, even if he did not say so explicitly.

Was Paxson “impatient for FCC approval,” as Rutenberg said last week? Did he want “a swift decision?” In fact, by the time McCain wrote his letters, a swift decision was no longer possible; the FCC had delayed its decision for more than two years, a basic fact which was widely explained when this matter was first reported. Meanwhile, Rutenberg makes it sound like McCain came up with this explanation years later, “recalling the episode in his memoir.” We’d have to call that grossly misleading. In fact, McCain discussed this two-year delay at great length in real time, as Labaton noted. In this passage, he recorded McCain’s remarks at a New Hampshire town meeting:

LABATON (1/6/00): "I know Mr. Paxson, but I know lots of people who come to me and say that they are not being treated fairly by the bureaucracy," he said. "But we are all tainted, because there is so much money washing around. That's an argument for campaign finance reform."

"All citizens deserve their government to work," he added. "I think it's entirely appropriate for me to say, 'Will you make a decision after two years?' It wasn't that complex."

He also criticized the communications commission, saying it had "the worst reputation of any of the bureaucracies and at the same time they're the most important."

Later, the McCain campaign distributed letters that Mr. McCain had sent to regulators over the years complaining of inaction.

This story changes if you tell readers that a decision had been pending for over two years—and if you tell readers, as Labaton did, that McCain’s letters “did not tell the commissioners how to vote on the license transfers,” only that they should get off their keisters and make a decision. Both points were stressed by reporters in real time—but were AWOL from Rutenberg’s report.

For our money, Labaton’s tipped the scales a bit when he reported this tale in real time. But Rutenberg, in last week’s report, left out two basic parts of the story—and he seemed to go out of his way to imply that McCain only came up with his explanation years later, in his memoir. Beyond that, he mentioned what the FCC chairman said about McCain—but not what McCain had been saying about the FCC chairman. McCain had been feuding with the agency, calling it the world’s worst bureaucracy. That’s a bit of context that Labaton included—and Rutenberg disappeared.
In our view, Labaton was slightly tough on McCain—but he was vastly more balanced than Rutenberg. And by the way: If Labaton played a bit rough with McCain, the New York Times quickly kissed and made up, back in the day when the straight-talking maverick was the press corps’ number-one dearest darling.

Example? One day after Labaton’s report, Alison Mitchell wrote a cheerful profile of McCain’s reaction to the Paxson flap. “Perhaps Not the Best of Days, but McCain Wears a Smile,” the cheerful headline said. And Mitchell kept on the sunny side as she reviewed a saint’s conduct. “John McCain smiled his way through his campaign's first crisis,” she began—and the good cheer continued in paragraph two. (“McCain was right back in his accustomed seat in his ‘Straight Talk Express’ campaign bus this morning,” she wrote, “bantering with reporters and showing off his thick-soled ‘lucky shoes.’”) Two days later, James Risen gushed about McCain’s “remarkable display of openness:”

RISEN (1/9/00): Senator John McCain of Arizona released hundreds of letters today that he has sent to federal agencies under the jurisdiction of his powerful Senate committee, including more than a dozen involving the businesses of contributors to his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Mr. McCain said he was acting to defuse criticism of his interventions before the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of companies regulated by that agency, one of many supervised by the Commerce Committee, which he has headed since 1997.

In sheer volume, the release of more than two years of committee correspondence was both a remarkable display of openness and an effort to show that there was nothing unusual in what Mr. McCain has done by writing to agencies that regulate the companies whose employees have supported his campaign.

"If people view them in their entirety, they will see that I have acted on one fundamental principle, to protect the consumer," the senator said today while on a campaign swing through South Carolina. "The overwhelming majority of these communications are: 'Please act, please act.’”

There’s no perfect way to report this story. But in last week’s front-pager, Rutenberg left out several key points—key points which cut in McCain’s favor. As in other parts of his “sexy time” tale, the Times seemed to have its thumb on the scale—in a way which tilted against an old lover. But then, the world is like that sometimes: While one romance was being pimped, another romance seemed to die.

Rutenberg’s story began with romance—a romance for which he had no real evidence. But in almost every part of this front-page report, Rutenberg’s reporting tilted away from prior Times models—tilts which cut against McCain. This is only one report, of course—albeit a very high-profile front-pager. But if the Times has cooled on a lengthy romance, inquiring minds will certainly wonder: Why has the newspaper turned on the man it once favored—the man it once chose to “exonerate?”

About that, we can only speculate. (Other elements at the Times may soon tilt in other directions.) But we wonder: If some personnel at the New York Times might have cooled on foreign wars—might have decided that their former love is not the right man for this season. Is that why this report tilted so much? That would be one speculation—although we have no way of knowing.

Some liberals have gloomily been predicting that the press corps will swing against Obama—as soon as he has been used to dispatch the one they truly loath, Vile Clinton. In some precincts, that may well occur; we’ve been troubled by murmurs this week on Tucker Carlson’s cable program, for example (see below).

But an Obama-McCain campaign may put some journalists under real stress. It’s clear that the press corps loathes Clinton so much that they will never allow her to prosper; if she wins the Dem nomination, they’ll hound her to the gates of hell, as they did with her husband’s vile consort, Al Gore. But some in the press corps probably do like Obama—and some may fear McCain’s dogs of war.

Yep! A certain solon looked good eight years ago, when the talkin’ was straight and the donuts were gooey. During that campaign, McCain in effect ran a Vietnam “fantasy camp;” boomer-aged male journos crowded aboard, openly saying how guilty they felt that they weren’t locked up in the seventies too. “You laugh and laugh,” Richard Cohen (and a cast of thousands) said, describing the fun—and the vastly unprofessional conduct—on the solon’s “big white bus.” (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/25/00. Prepare for some real embarrassment.)

War was just a game back then, when McCain was sharing his wonderful jokes about his tipsy stripper ex-girl friends. But Rutenberg makes us think a wild thought—the New York Times, it may be a-changin’! Who knows? Today, the prospect of war with Iran may be costing a sanctified solon some votes from his leading constituents! Like us, you’ve seen it a thousand times: As their own rapt love affair dies, they picture their love with another.

ON THE OTHER HAND, HERE’S AN OLD STORY: On the other hand, we’ve heard a troubling line of thought on Tucker this week. Jeanne Cummings voiced it on Wednesday night. Trust us—these people actually are this short on basic professionalism:

CUMMINGS (2/27/08): The bar for [Obama] is very high. And the media, all of us, have set that bar there for him because of our respect for what has been the Clinton machine. And so I don`t necessarily agree with your premise that everybody is in love with [Obama]. Frankly the relations on his plane are not so great.

CARLSON: Right. That’s true.

CUMMINGS: Because he never interacts with the media.

Carlson had said the same thing several times this week, at one point citing this Politico story. Uh-oh! The press corps is annoyed with Obama because he doesn’t spend time with them.
A rational person would make an assumption: Something like this couldn’t possibly affect Obama’s press coverage. But this is not a rational world—this is the world of the celebrity “press corps”—and the precedent set by Bill Bradley’s campaign is fairly plain in this regard.

In the fall of 1999, Candidate Bradley could do no wrong in the eyes of the mainstream press corps. (To see a thrill run up Chris Matthews leg, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/13/07. Cover the eyes of the kids.) But uh-oh! By mid-January 2000, Saint McCain had jumped up in Republican polls—and the press corps’ ardor for Bradley was plainly cooling. The Post and the Times both wrote front-page stories claiming, with little real evidence, that Iowa voters were being turned of by Bradley’s “gruff,” “aloof” manner. We were puzzled by these vague reports—until we heard Brit Hume and Morton Kondracke explain the actual problem (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/21/00). See if this doesn’t sound like Cummings’ complaint about Obama: http://www.dailyhowler.com/h012100_1.shtml

HUME (1/20/00): There was also a story in the Washington Post about the press around Bradley, and how it's turned. Something's happening with the press and Bradley.

KONDRACKE: He was supposed to be the John McCain of the Democratic Party but he's "aloof," therefore he's “elitist.” He's not mixing it up with the boys—and the girls. And so he doesn't have the same rapport.

Mara Liasson quickly agreed—Bradley hadn't been playing well with the other children:

LIASSON: I think something different is happening to McCain. People aren't saying, "Oh, I think that McCain is a phony." They're not changing their minds about his personality. They still like him...I think that Bradley—basically, people feel they haven't gotten to know him the way they have McCain and that maybe his claim that he's a different kind of politician is just, uh, that he is kind of aloof and a little bit holier than thou.

Let’s translate: Bradley wasn't telling great jokes to the scribes on his bus, so the scribes had been turning against him! Surely, you’re thinking that Mara was dreaming. But Jonathan Alter said the same thing the next morning, talking to Imus. Good grief! Imus had mentioned the change in Bradley’s coverage, saying that Margaret Carlson “thinks it's because Bradley has gotten snippy with the press:”

ALTER (1/21/00): I think there's a lot to that. There's just such vanity in the press that if he doesn't—

IMUS: Suck up—

ALTER: —kiss the butts of the press, he doesn't catch a break.

Later, Alter said it's "pathetically self-indulgent for the press to judge a candidate by the way he relates to us. I mean, I guess we do that with McCain."

Let’s review. McCain told them jokes, gave them free donuts and even claimed that he thought they were smart. (Jack Kennedy used to do the same thing.) Bradley didn’t, which made him “aloof.” It’s hard to believe that they function this way. But then, there’s the burden of recent press history—the history career liberals don’t discuss.

Did you hear what Matt Drudge said about Clinton? That’s what your toilet-trained leaders discuss—and it may cost you again.