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Why Are Conservatives So Delusional About the McCain Story?

Like Politico editors John Harris and Jim VandeHei, I'm a little confused by all the conservative support for John McCain, post-Times story. Granted, it is the infernal New York Times, and the piece did lack a smoking gun. And, of course, the GOP is kind of stuck with McCain at this point. Still, as Harris and VandeHei write:

Imagine for a moment the story had been about McCain’s possible opponent in the general election, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Might the conservatives have paused to ask why he hired Robert S. Bennett, one of the capital’s most fearsome and expensive lawyers?

Might they have wondered why he had flown aboard a private jet with the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman — on a flight paid for by her client? Might they have probed more deeply why she was supposedly hanging around the senator’s planes, office and events often enough that his staff tried to impose an unofficial restraining order on her? ...

The Times’ reporters and editors involved in this story are top-notch. Such stories usually only go into the paper when reporters and their editors feel certain they are true — because they know a vicious response will likely follow.

Most importantly with this one, John Weaver, a former McCain aide, is on the record in the Times story saying he warned off the young lobbyist. ... The Weaver comments alone would seem enough to give some conservatives pause.

In light of all this, it seems overwhelmingly likely that incriminating details will find their way into the meda over the next eight months.

Already, on Saturday, we had this doozy of a piece in The Washington Post. Key details:

Broadcaster Lowell "Bud" Paxson yesterday contradicted statements from Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist before sending two controversial letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson's behalf.

Paxson said he talked with McCain in his Washington office several weeks before the Arizona Republican wrote the letters in 1999 to the FCC urging a rapid decision on Paxson's quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station.

Paxson also recalled that his lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, likely attended the meeting in McCain's office and that Iseman helped arrange the meeting. "Was Vicki there? Probably," Paxson said in an interview with The Washington Post yesterday. "The woman was a professional. She was good. She could get us meetings." ...

Statements from McCain's office said Iseman met only with staff and indicated that a staff member was involved in drafting and sending the letter. Thursday's statement went to lengths to say why McCain could not have met with Paxson.

"Senator McCain was actively engaged in a presidential campaign in 1999-2000, and according to his calendar, the last day he conducted business in the Senate was November 8, 1999, and was frequently absent from the Senate prior to that," the statement said. "Between November 22, 1999 and Christmas, the Senator did not return to the Senate for any substantive meetings as he was involved in a national book tour and a presidential campaign." ...

McCain attorney Robert S. Bennett played down the contradiction between the campaign's written answer and Paxson's recollection.

"We understood that he [McCain] did not speak directly with him [Paxson]. Now it appears he did speak to him. What is the difference?" Bennett said. "McCain has never denied that Paxson asked for assistance from his office. It doesn't seem relevant whether the request got to him through Paxson or the staff. His letters to the FCC concerning the matter urged the commission to make up its mind. He did not ask the FCC to approve or deny the application. It's not that big a deal."

Still feeling good about your McCain bet, Senor Rushbo? This seems like just the beginning...

--Noam Scheiber

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008 10:55 PM with 17 comment(s)


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mmathog said:

Two reasons:

1. People (on both sides of the aisle) just LOVE being victims. They love it, 'ohh, we're so oppressed!'


February 25, 2008 12:20 AM

boxofrox said:

So what is the crime, Noam?

Bennet=Keating 5 refusal.

How long is several weeks? Does it make a difference? Is it relevant that action and not disposition of petition was discussed?

What is the issue here? That sometimes lobbyists are able to make their case? Isn't that why they exist? To make a favorable case and impression on behalf of their client.

Personally if I'm going to get the lowdown on the particulars of a subject it may as well be coming from an attractive woman than other. Sue me. I'm a sucker for good artwork.

Where is your crime, Noam? Or did we just shake the bushes confident that we could scare out some songbirds?

Noam. You best hope something solid shows up beyond what is out there now or I and others will put you in the same basket as those other top guys      and Rather.

February 25, 2008 1:53 AM

mmathog said:

boxofrox, it would appear that McCain is in bed with lobbyists even though he claims he's not in bed with lobbyists...

Stories about McCain being a hypocritical political hack seem perfectly fair to me, stories about him actually literally getting naked with a lobbyist that can't be fully substantiated should probably have been left out.

February 25, 2008 3:16 AM

whalt said:

"Confused?" Really. I mean I can only assume that your question as to why Republicans, of all people, are insisting that their nominee be treated to a much different standard of conduct then they themselves would apply to the Democratic nominee I can only imagine that you are asking it rhetorically.

February 25, 2008 3:23 AM

boxofrox said:

If the issue is lobbyists then let it stand. If the issue is hypocrisy be clear about it. I think such it belongs on the editorial page rather than wearing the imprimatur of front page fact. As it is they wanted to describe the shadows and shape the facts according to a backdrop and implication of their choosing.

If the issue becomes lobbying then that is an easily applicable standard across the board and discussion of the subject takes a different shape. One in which all participants are subject to scrutiny. It makes McCain a damn sight less exclusive.

February 25, 2008 8:38 AM

purcellneil said:

I'm sure that there is only smoke here, and no fire.  Weaver was very close to McCain, and he thought there was a fire.  He even tried to put out the fire.  But clearly, he was wrong.  There was only smoke. And smoke and fire are just not the same thing.  Not at all.



February 25, 2008 8:41 AM

boxofrox said:

purcellneil: Despite warnings from the Surgeon General every congressperson smokes. DC is a very smokey bar in which first and second hand smoke is the order of the day.

Distinctions are preference and frequency. Some go for beer. Others for Glenlivit. Both are available for daily consumption. The only difference being which chases the other.

February 25, 2008 9:05 AM

boxofrox said:

That would be The Glenlivet with an 'e'. Morning shots are dangerous to the quality of your smoking.

February 25, 2008 9:07 AM

Ian Campbell said:

If the story is about McCain's susceptiblity to women (lobbyists) then yes more may emerge to damage him. If the story is that Mc Cain is willing to use the lobby system then big deal - it exists for good reasons not least of which is that government is made aware of the real issues concerning the governed. And Obama would do away with it? If it is abused/misused that is when we should want to know what goes on.

February 25, 2008 11:31 AM

CharlesFosterKane said:

I too expect more to be forthcoming from the NY Times. But if it isn't, then everyone should shut up about it. Ubsubstantiated sex & corruption talk is the very definition of a smear.

February 25, 2008 12:14 PM

dhauck said:

Really?  'Cause what I read yesterday was this (via AP):

<i>WASHINGTON - A former Paxson Communications president said Saturday he never met with John McCain about the Arizona senator writing letters to the Federal Communications Commission regarding the regulatory delay of a Pittsburgh TV station sale.

Dean Goodman, who was in charge of the company's lobbying efforts in 1999, told The Associated Press he also doubts that chief executive Lowell W. "Bud" Paxson met with McCain over the issue, and said he doesn't recall such a meeting.

McCain's presidential campaign said the Arizona senator and then-chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, before sending the letters, which have drawn controversy in recent days. But Paxson told The Washington Post in a story published Saturday that he and "probably" Iseman met with McCain on the matter several weeks before the senator sent the letters.

Goodman, who left the company a year and a half ago, took issue with that account in a telephone interview from West Palm Beach, Fla.

"I never met with or discussed this with Senator McCain," Goodman said. "I don't recall Bud meeting with McCain. It would be extremely rare that there would be a meeting that I didn't attend, and I can tell you that I didn't have a meeting with McCain on this issue."</i>

Doesn't sound exactly like a slam dunk, I think.

P.S. - I hope that italicizes; I can't remember if HTML codes have come back or not.  (Hey, at least we got our paragraphs back!)

February 25, 2008 12:26 PM

teplukhin2you said:

Here's a theory. The specific committee actions involved here, for ex., "the regulatory delay of a Pittsburgh TV station sale", hit very close to home for a publisher that not long ago executed the sale of a Boston TV station.  

I wonder if, post-publication, someone close to Pinch whispered into Junior's ear that a bit less scrutiny of the FCC might not be such a bad thing for a company that's under great pressure from its chief non-voting shareholders to reshuffle its portfolio of media assets?

February 25, 2008 1:12 PM

garlicbread said:

This was a perfect opportunity for Rush, Hannity and the like to make people forget that they were powerless in this nominating process. I wondered how they were going to turn around and support McCain without looking like they were flip flopping and along came the NYT story. The story is the perfect vehicle to rally the conservative troops around McCain and look like they have a common cause against the big bad liberal media. It is pathetically transparent, but not surprising.

February 25, 2008 5:33 PM

wildboy said:

Regardless of where the Pax TV/Vicki Iseman thing goes from here (if it goes anywhere), it has already resulted in a big ole bear hug from the Republican Right to John McCain.  And that is not an unalloyed blessing in 2008.  The fact is, given all of the wonderful, popular things that the current administration and conservatives generally have given to the public in the last four years (Social Security privatization, Iraq escalation, Katrina, Harriet Miers, wiretapping, waterboarding, US Attorneys, and I could go on and on), the Republican nominee would need to "rent out" the party base in the general election, the same way that Governor Compassionate Conservative rented them out in 2000 and his father rented them out in 1988 with the "Thousand Points of Light".  With his host of heresies on everything near and dear to conservatives, McCain was already going to have trouble distancing himself from the base to appeal to independent and moderate voters.  And now that the Limbaugh Right has rallied to his side after he was attacked by his erstwhile friends in the Liberal Media, they will demand a little something extra in return.  McCain's leash from the conservative base just got shorter, and will stay short as the MSM generates more stories about flaws in his moderate image now through Election Day.  

One other point about the story -- if anything more comes out of it that vaguely looks or smells like sexual hi-jinks on McCain's part, it will devastate his already fragile support among Evangelicals.  Remember, these are fairly mercurial voters and do not hesitate to stay home when Republican candidates give off a whiff of social impropriety.  Case in point is the Bush DUI story that depressed Evangelical turnout right before the 2000 elections.  In other words, we don't need incriminating evidence of McCain and Iseman for it to harm him with core Republican voters -- just something that smells slightly fishier than what the Times and the Post have found to date.

February 25, 2008 5:44 PM

teplukhin2you said:

OK, wildboy, so where's the fish? Keller and crew have been working this story for how many months, again? We're all just speculating here, but I'll stick with my hunch that what little, if anything, the Times has on McCain and media ownership would make the Times and its hired guns look as bad or worse than Paxton and its own hired gun. Given that vulture funds like Harbinger and regular funds are now upping their stakes in TimesCo and seeking to get voting rights, it doesn't seem like a good idea to keep pushing this story when you may soon need a favor or two from the FCC...

February 25, 2008 6:07 PM

joemacnr said:

The NYTimes missed the fundamental lesson of Obama The Hopeful - people of all political stripes are sick of attacks that don't matter. With conservatives, this unsubstantiated, irrelevant story fell as flat as Hillary's "hope you can xerox". Frankly, the Times is stuck in the same two-decades-ago politics as the Clintons.

Conservatives will rally the unfair and silly. It'll be fractious - stoppish & starterish as both parties drop the cutesy and get to the point.

February 25, 2008 6:14 PM

boxofrox said:

Tep. I think you've got a mouse that is worthy of keeping alive. Keep feeding it scraps and in pocket. Don't want it to get fat or anything. At least not on the high carb crap that is being passed as news. But still...

On the surface would say that they have decided to dispense with pretense and are on the way to fully owning that which they have been accused. A leftist political functionary with a bias to the sensational. In other words controversy equals bottom line. Juggle the hoo-hah as long as you can. Even if the subject of controversy is you. Fox for the print.

Once upon a time media outlets presented facts as best as might be rendered in good faith. While there is a degree of illusion to that statement I think the effort was sincere and was rewarded accordingly with some respect. At least for intention toward trying to approximate truth and shared values.  

Obama's candidacy is exploding many parameters of the psycho-social construct. I, for one, think it is a blast.

February 25, 2008 7:34 PM