By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Times’ unromantic “Note to Readers”

From the New York Times’ “A Note to Readers,” published today as part of its libel-suit settlement with lobbyist Vicki Iseman:

The article did not state, and The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain …

From the Feb. 21 story at issue:

Convinced the relationship [with Iseman] had become romantic, some of his [McCain’s] top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

Help me out here.

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  1. Neil

    It’s the old “some people say” defense. We never said you’re a two-timin’, fornicatin’, thievin’, lyin’, baby-killin’ pederast, we just said that some people said that. On (the convenient) condition of anonymity.

  2. Ani

    Having seen other situations where outsiders really can’t tell what is going on between two people in the workplace besides work, I can imagine that this was a situation in which different people could draw different inferences from what was visible. (If one wants to say that whether they actually had a physical sexual relationship is immaterial, I suppose one can.) But I can see that both statements could actually be consistent with a truly ambiguous situation.

  3. Amused

    Looks pretty simple to me. People who worked for McCain feared that a relationship became romantic and the Times passed along that fact in the context of reporting how his image had been burnished since being caught up in a major ethics scandal. The reporters never stated the existence of a relationship as fact, or offered a conclusion that there were untoward goings-on, but reported, in context, on what people close to McCain were doing and why.The Times report made it pretty clear why the actions of McCain aides was worth reporting in a story about how a former member of the Keating Five had remade himself into “the scourge of special interests, a crusader for stricter ethics and campaign finance rules, a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame.” Thus, the campaign so much needed to avoid the appearence of a chink in the moral armor that it guarded carefully the public image of the New McCain, lest “the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain (threaten) the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity”What we have is a typical example of an ancient practice that has grown dramatically in the post-blogger world. People claim to have seen, read or heard things that don’t exist based on lack of comprehension of what is actually reported, here the mantra became repeated and repeated the lie that the Times had “accused McCain of having an affair.” It did nothing of the sort.The Note to Readers really ought to be titled : A Note to Our Stupid Readers and to People Who Formed Conclusions Without Reading. It should be followed with a stern memo to staff about the pitfalls of anecdotal ledes.

  4. jvwalt

    The passage was written in a way that could easily be misinterpreted, and not just by lazy or stupid readers. There were better (albeit less punchy) ways to write that key sentence. For example: the word “convinced” carries an implication that the top advisers had good reason to conclude there was an affair. The story could have used “believed” or “suspected” instead. Better still, it could have said “Without citing specific evidence, McCain’s top advisers believed that the relationship had become romantic…” The Times’ story was technically right, but in terms of journalistic purity, that’s kinda like being a technical virgin.

  5. Mr Punch

    Amused is perfectly right. The Times has a right and even a duty to report on what is going on within a presidential campaign, including the beliefs motivating campaign officials and even their attempts to shape or control news coverage. The NYT has a recent record of being far too protective of various DC insiders (many of them conservative Republicans BTW), so this coverage was a step forward.

  6. bostonmediawatch

    What the hell does “the Times did not intend to conclude” mean?That they arrived at that conclusion, but didn’t set out to?Shouldn’t they have used the word “imply” instead of “conclude”?Or that they did not “necessarily intend for readers to conclude”?

  7. mike_b1

    I’m with Amused.(Not literally, of course.)

  8. Peter Porcupine

    DK – the phrase ‘day late and a dollar short’ comes to mind with this ‘apology’, which is noting but a coerced admission that they ran a story that was factually inaccurate and not properly vetted or sourced.Which is interesting, as that was their defense for NOT running the perfectly true allegations about Edwards.My friend Geo. Orwell put it best – ‘All animals are equal…but some are more equal than others’.

  9. Michael Pahre

    Here’s some help:Is Iseman’s lawyer really W. Coleman Allen, Jr., of Allen, Allen, Allen, and Allen?Since when do lawyers use all those commas in their firms’ names? It’s gotta be a hoax.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    PP: Although I think the accusation that the media were biased against McCain was generally BS, I do think the Times was pretty consistently unfair to him — both in the Iseman piece, which was mindblowingly awful, and a hit piece on Cindy McCain late in the campaign.

  11. mike_b1

    I re-read the piece just now. I thought the Times was pretty careful to point out that it was the aides and friends who were worried about the (suggested) affair with Traitor McCain. Nowhere that I saw did the Times say, “Hey America, Traitor John is banging a Cindy look-a-like.” And they gave Traitor McCain and Iseman (not to mention several aides) plenty of room to defend against all the accusations. So, in regards to the alleged (*wink*wink*) booty calls, where’s the libel?

  12. lkcape

    The vaunted New York Times’ biased coverage of the election allowed many of the lesser lights to fly beneath the radar.The media has long been a prime mover in the debate about our political landscape.I see nothing wrong with it.But I DO see something fairly disingenuous when a claim of fairness and measured perspective is made when none clearly exists.What is wrong with ‘fessing up to the obvious, and why does the media continually shy away from taking responsibility for their own positions?Could it be that they would lose subscribers because they have offended some?They’re losing subscribers at an alarming rate as is, so where’s the gamble?

  13. mike_b1

    lkcape, the NYT’s problems are with falling ad revenues, not a lack of subscribers.

  14. lkcape

    You are correct. I should have said that they are losing people willing to pay for their product, either through subscriptions or advertising, because they have offended someone.But that was not the point.Taking responsibility for their own bias was.

  15. mike_b1

    Any publication will sooner or later offend someone. That just goes with the territory. And it has little to do with bias, IMO. Consider the 290 million or so Americans who choose NOT to listen to Rush Limbaugh everyday. Why? They know going in what to expect, and opt out before even giving him a listen. The notion that the Times is losing subscribers because of “their own bias” is absurd. There is a portion of potential readers that the NYT simply will not capture because 1) they are illiterate, 2) they are Republican, 3)they are conservative, 4) they are cheap, 5) all of the above. That’s not really the NYT’s market, however. So eliminate the illiterate, cheap, conservative Republicans (redundancy alert!) and start your measurements from there, because that’s the NYT’s main pool.Come to think of it, if we could eliminate all the illiterate, cheap, conservative Republicans, we’d have the makings of a pretty good country.

  16. Francis

    It’d be the Massachusetts Miracle, only nationwide!

  17. Peter Porcupine

    Francis – that’s what Obama is trying tio accomplish – Deval on steriods, at an accelerated pace!

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