Friday, February 20, 2009

McCain's Love Life, Case Closed

Vicki Iseman and the right to privacy win. The New York Times and careless reporting lose. That's the score on the convoluted settlement today of a libel suit over an article suggesting that the Washington lobbyist was having affair with John McCain.

A year ago, a Times examination of the candidate's history with lobbyists, began:

"Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

"A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his 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..."

This assertion raised a howl at the time, even leading the Times' Public Editor to conclude that "if you cannot provide readers with some independent evidence, I think it is wrong to report the suppositions or concerns of anonymous aides about whether the boss is getting into the wrong bed."

In today's settlement of Iseman's suit, the Times publishes a curt editor's note that it "did not intend to conclude that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust."

Far from a retraction, this is supplemented with a piece by Ms. Iseman's lawyers arguing that their client "is not a government or public official, and in our view, not even a public figure. Had this case proceeded to trial, the judicial determination of whether she is entitled to the protections afforded a private citizen would have been the subject of a ferocious, pivotal battle...That judicial contest has now been concluded in this instance, but the issue deserves ongoing scrutiny, certainly in our schools of law and journalism, but also in the arena of public debate.

"Indeed, the essential quality of our public discourse, even the very character of our national culture, will be heavily influenced by why, where, and how we draw this line."

In this case, the Times gets off without a financial penalty or even an outright apology, but the settlement strikes a blow against defining journalistic deviancy down.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Times reported a factual occurence. Iseman lobbied for Paxson and offered her influence with McCain.John Weaver told her to "get lost".

If her lawyers thought she could have won a lawsuit, they would not have accepted an apology without monetary damages.

More than likely, J.Sidney McCain's biggest problem was explaining Iseman to Cindy. Cindy probably recognized all the signs having been there herself while Carol was still the first Mrs. McCain.