There is, of course, a third possibility — namely, that the tape shows Talbot and his friends did nothing particularly wrong, with the exception of drinking in public. If so, the irony is pungent: by keeping it under wraps, Conley is doing more to foster unwarranted speculation about the circumstances of Talbot’s death than anyone else.
It’s only been one week since the New York Times published its incendiary article on the purported ethical dilemma facing GOP presidential nominee-to-be John McCain. But it already seems clear that the piece — “For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses its Own Risks” — will be remembered as a remarkably reckless piece of journalism. Basically, the story read like the Times wanted to report that McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman had had an affair, but focused on the problems posed by McCain’s broader smugness/obliviousness/recklessness when it couldn’t get the goods — while still citing, in the second paragraph, two anonymous, disgruntled former staffers who once fretted that McCain and Iseman might be romantically involved.
The ensuing storm of criticism is obviously bad for the Times, which has had an assortment of credibility-eroding scandals in recent years (Rick Bragg, Jayson Blair, Judy Miller). The effect on McCain is harder to predict. On the one hand, the perception that McCain was victimized by the Times should endear the candidate to the same hard-right, Times-hating conservatives who’ve historically distrusted him. Then again, McCain botched his response to the story by claiming — inaccurately — that he hadn’t met with Lowell Paxson, Iseman’s employer, before contacting the FCC to request a ruling on Paxson’s attempted acquisition of a Pittsburgh television station.
There were, however, a few parties that emerged from the whole mess looking better than they did before. Here they are:
MITT ROMNEY Before the publication of the Times’ story, the defining aspect of Mitt’s failed presidential run was its sheer ineptitude. Put simply, he was a bumbling robotic wastrel devoid of any genuine convictions. Now, though, Romney gets to add a stabbed-in-the-back twist to his narrative of the ’08 campaign — since, if the Times had published its story before McCain wrapped up the nomination, the supernaturally wholesome Romney could have been the chief beneficiary. Add that to Romney’s already-assiduous cultivation of the GOP’s right wing, and the prospects for a future run are better than they should be.
CLARK HOYT The Times’ public editor gets immense credit for providing the pithiest, most damning assessment of the McCain story. His entire February 24 column on the subject, “What the McCain Story Didn’t Say,” deserves a close read. That said, the best part comes toward the end. First Hoyt quotes Times editor Bill Keller, who argues that the point of the story wasn’t to suggest that McCain and Iseman had an affair. Then he offers this scathing response:
“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.”