NYT Shows CBS How It’s Done

2 comments February 23rd, 2008at 07:02pm Posted by Eli

I admit, I initially had some doubts about NYT’s McCain-literally-or-figuratively-in-bed-with-lobbyist story. Not so much about whether it was true – everything except the Iseman stuff is pretty well-sourced and beyond dispute, and there appears to be ample evidence that she exerted undue influence on him. Whether or not there was an actual affair, or even whether McCain’s staff thought there was, is kind of beside the point.

No, what I was worried about was that NYT was actually using this story to immunize McCain from charges of corruption, just like CBS used the Killian memos to immunize Dubya from charges that he used the ANG to dodge service in Vietnam (and then dodged his service in the ANG). When the right-wing attack machine attacked the credibility of the memos, CBS’s response was managed by CBS News President Andy Heyward, the same guy who tried to stop the ANG report from airing, and the same guy who personally took charge of vetting the memos.

Perhaps you remember CBS’s brilliant strategy for defending the report, which was to swear up and down that the memos were legit, effectively staking Dan Rather’s reputation on it. Not once did they point out that the rest of the reporting was rock-solid, and that the story held up perfectly well without the memos. No, they focused solely on defending the memos, so that when they finally folded on those, they folded on the whole story. Rather resigned in disgrace, and no-one could question Dubya’s ANG service again without looking like a crackpot.

So when the NYT story came out, followed immediately by conservatives howling that there was no proof of an affair (which the NYT never actually claimed), I worried that the NYT might follow the same pattern; i.e., digging their heels in on the inappropriate personal relationship between Iseman and McCain rather than defending the story as a whole. Not to worry:

At a news conference on Thursday, Mr. McCain denounced an article in The New York Times that described concerns by top advisers a decade ago about his ties to Ms. Iseman, a partner at the firm Alcalde & Fay. He said he never had any discussions with his advisers about Ms. Iseman and never did any favors for any lobbyist.

One of the McCain campaign’s statements about his dealings with Ms. Iseman was challenged by news accounts on Friday. In discussing letters he wrote regulators about a deal involving another of Ms. Iseman’s clients, Lowell W. Paxson, the campaign had said the senator had never spoken to her or anyone from the company. But Mr. McCain acknowledged in a 2002 deposition that he had sent the letters after meeting with Mr. Paxson.

On Glencairn, the campaign said Mr. McCain’s efforts to retain the loophole were not done at Ms. Iseman’s request. It said Mr. McCain was merely directing the commission to “not act in a manner contradictory to Congressional intent.” Mr. McCain wrote in the letters that a 1996 law, the telecommunications act, required the loophole; a legal opinion by the staff of the commission took the opposite view.

A review of the record, including agency records now at the National Archives and interviews with participants, shows that Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, played a significant role in killing the plan to eliminate the loophole. His actions followed requests by Ms. Iseman and lobbyists at other broadcasting companies, according to lobbying records and Congressional aides.


By November 1998, the F.C.C. was planning to strike down broadcasting marketing agreements, a potentially ruinous development for Glencairn. But after receiving Mr. McCain’s Dec. 1 letter, it put off consideration of the issue.

“To the extent the F.C.C. shows itself incapable of following Congressional intent,” the letter said, “these issues will become part of our overall review of the commission’s functions and structure during the next session of Congress.”

The letter, sent from Mr. McCain’s office by his staff at the commerce committee, was also signed by Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana and chairman of a communications subcommittee. It was uncharacteristic of Mr. McCain, according to a review of dozens of letters sent by him to the commission during the same period.

It was the only letter that contained a suggestion that a failure to act would result in the possible overhaul of the agency.

The letter said that “as a leading participant in the passage of the 1996 Act, I have a very clear understanding” of the law’s intent and why it required the ownership loophole to be preserved. Mr. McCain was one of five senators — and the only Republican — to vote against the act. He has also been an outspoken critic of it.

While other companies also complained to Congress about the plan to close the loophole, the issue was particularly important to Sinclair because it had more marketing agreements than any in the nation. For its part, Glencairn appeared to have been getting little support in Congress until it retained Ms. Iseman in 1998.

Edwin Edwards, who was the president of the company at the time, said in a recent interview that after retaining Ms. Iseman, he was able to get heard by Mr. McCain.


After the commission postponed consideration of the issue, Mr. McCain signed a second letter to the agency on Dec. 7, 1998, in support of local marketing agreements, and a third one on Feb. 11, 1999. The third letter was signed by four other lawmakers. Ultimately, the F.C.C. loosened the rules to permit a company to own two television stations in some markets.

The letters Mr. McCain wrote to the commission in the Paxson matter were sent in late 1999 and prompted the agency’s chairman to chastise him for interfering in a licensing matter. The incident embarrassed Mr. McCain, then making his first presidential run, because Mr. Paxson was a campaign contributor and fund-raiser.

While the campaign said Thursday that Mr. McCain never spoke to anyone from Paxson or Ms. Iseman’s lobbying firm before sending those letters to the commission, an article posted Friday on Newsweek’s Web site said Mr. McCain had previously acknowledged first speaking to Mr. Paxson. Recounting that conversation, Mr. McCain testified in the deposition, “I said I would be glad to write a letter asking them to act.”

The Washington Post reported Friday on its Web site that Mr. Paxson acknowledged in an interview that he had met with Mr. McCain to discuss the letters before they were sent and that Ms. Iseman was probably at the meeting.

That’ll do, NYT. That’ll do.

(Although if you happen to have any more, that would not be unwelcome…)

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism,McCain,Media,Politics


  • 1. spocko  |  February 24th, 2008 at 1:29 am

    Hi Eli. I’m posting from the frozen midwest. As you probably know I’m here for my Dad’s funeral. I’m behind in all the stories and then I went to FDL to see your post on this. I thought your first guess was spot on and then wondered what was different between CBS and NY Times. I think that we will find out more when Rather’s law suit comes out just how much actual pressure from real power players came down on Rather. Now some of the same stuff might happen with the NY Times, but they probably prepared for it.

    Often times I think, “How will they attempt to go after a message or a story” and then what do I have to do to plug the holes, dismiss their objections or provide backup for my points. I also often think about how the wingnut would respond and I try and undercut their case in one of my points. “They may say, but …”

    With media stuff some times I’m 5 minutes in advance of what might happen and other times I find out I’m 6 months to a year ahead of the cure when I guess wrong about what I think the press will do. I want to get credit for the “I guessed it right 5 minutes before it happened” but it’s not like you get a prize.

    I often wonder if their is any media strategist for the left thinking through all the prumutations, especially on proactive stuff.
    Reactive is harder, but it can be done. For example you KNOW that they will try certain types of tricks ALL the time. Just like every year there is story about a Turkey being pardoned.
    They will “smear” people they will use fear they will call us names, let’s not let them catch us unaware. And, let’s go on the offensive for a change. I think that in addition the NY Times looking at the content of the howling, WE should look at WHO does he howling. How good is THEIR track record?

    Attacking the attackers, show the world how wrong they are using their own bad predictions and words. Sounds like something *I* would do…

  • 2. Eli  |  February 24th, 2008 at 2:04 am

    As I said, my thinking on CBS is that it was an inside job, that Rather’s story was deliberately sabotaged by senior management. I was afraid the NYT might be doing the same thing, but they don’t appear to be duplicating CBS’s “mistake”.

    I’m so sorry about Sarek. I tried to leave you a comment, but Blogger kept giving me an error.

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