As George Stephanopoulos claimed on ABC, the importance of the story depends upon whether McCain is shown to have had a "relationship" with the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman.
No, the reason his aides, back in 1998-2000, started working behind the scenes to keep Iseman away from McCain, and confronted McCain over his dalliances was because McCain, who had a history of corruption, most notably his card-carrying membership in the Keating Five savings and loan scandal, couldn't afford to appear to be backsliding.
It isn't, that is to say, a matter of whether or not McCain was diddling Vicki. It's whether he was delivering for her and her clients, perhaps in return for her delivering for him.
As the New York Times reported in its investigative story on the McCain/Iseman liason, published February 21, the media were reporting back in 2000 on how McCain had been writing letters on behalf of some of Iseman's telecom clients.
The Times article reports that McCain wrote letters in 1998 and 1999 to the Federal Communications Commission urging it to uphold marketing agreements that would allow TV companies like Glencairn Ltd., an Iseman client, to control two stations in the same city. The paper says the senator also introduced a measure in the Senate that would create tax incentives for minority ownership of stations, a measure sought by Iseman on behalf of several media clients. McCain also on two occasions reportedly pushed legislation that would permit a company to control television stations in overlapping markets. That was a measure being sought by Paxson (now Ion Media Networks), yet another Iseman client.
The Times reports that in 1999, Iseman asked Mr. McCain's staff to send a letter to the FCC seeking approval of a television deal being sought by Paxon. McCain sent that letter, and a second one--a level of interference which led to a rebuke from the then FCC chairman.
So what's the story here? Is it whether Sen. McCain is an adulterer? Or is it whether he is a rank hypocrite posing as a Mr. Clean Government?
The problem may be that what McCain was doing shilling for the telecom industry is not illegal, and is not uncommon. In fact, it's what our legislators do. Virtually all of them. The only thing different about McCain is that he claims he doesn't do that, at least not since he saw the light when he nearly went to jail for it, or at least had a near political death experience after hitching his nascent congressional career to a corrupt banker's wagon.
Meanwhile, we see once again what a wussy newspaper the New York Times is--at least where investigating the Right is concerned. Once again, we learn, this time from the New Republic, that the Times and its executive editor, Bill Keller, held, this time for over two months, a political story that the public had a need and right to know about during a critical election campaign. How different might the presidential campaign look now if the Times had run its story in December, when it was ready to go, well ahead of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, instead of now when McCain has the Republican nomination all but sewn up?
This kind of dithering and backpedaling and censorship by Keller, which reportedly followed intense lobbying and threats by McCain and his campaign, recalls Keller's holding (for a year, and until after the 2006 Congressional election!) of a reporter's story about the National Security Agency's illegal warrantless spying program, and his holding and ultimately killing of an already typeset story (a week before the 2004 presidential election) about the remote cueing device on President George Bush's back and in his ear during the 2004 presidential debates.
(See my story on this in FAIR's Extra magazine and in Mother Jones magazine.)
We are left to wonder, what other great stories is Keller hiding from us, perhaps until after Election Day this November?
We are also left wondering how the Times can justify running a glowing editorial endorsement of McCain for the New York state primary at a time that the paper already had, ready to publish, it story exposing him as a sleeze and a crook on the hook to the telecom industry.
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This story was published on February 23, 2008.