The expected denials of an earlier story posted on the Drudge Reports website about presidential candidate, John McCain, and memebers of his campaign staff pressuring the New York Times to spike the story were issued a few hours ago.
Sen. John McCain said today that he has “never done any favors for anybody — lobbyist or special-interest group” as his presidential campaign rushed out a statement denouncing allegations that he did anything to benefit a specific Washington lobbyist as “gutter politics.”
McCain took the unusual step of hiring Washington insider and super-lawyer Bob Bennett to deal with a story he characterized as nothing more than “gutter politics”.
The AP reported on earlier reports that McCain favored a lobbyist–the Keating Five.
Sen. John McCain said Thursday he had “never done any favors for anybody—lobbyist or special interest group.” McCain made the remark to reporters in Detroit when questioned about a report that The New York Times was investigating allegations of legislative favoritism by the Arizona Republican.
He acknowledged that his presidential campaign aides have had discussions with the newspaper regarding its inquiries. “I have not had been in talks with The New York Times. They’ve been communicating with our staff and with us,” McCain said. “I’ve never done any favors for anybody—lobbyist or special interest group—that’s a clear, 24-year record.”
McCain and four other senators were accused two decades ago of trying to influence banking regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, a savings and loan financier later convicted of securities fraud. The Senate Ethics Committee said McCain had used “poor judgment” but also said his actions were not illegal.
The Arizona Republican has hired a prominent criminal attorney, Robert Bennett, to deal with the matter. “What is being done to John McCain is an outrage,” Bennett said in an interview this morning.
Bennett is preparing answers to written questions submitted by a team of New York Times reporters who have spent weeks investigating questions about the senator and the lobbyist; she has also retained a lawyer, according to a knowledgeable source who asked not to be identified because he was discussing legal matters.
The McCain story hit the Drudge Reports website earlier today and was eventually picked up by larger press outlets.
McCain called Times Executive Editor Bill Keller this month to deny the allegations and to complain that he was not being treated fairly by the Times reporters, who have not yet interviewed him, the source said.
The Times inquiry burst into public view when the Drudge Report Web site posted an item about the newspaper’s probe.
John McCain might have cut the media a little slack for looking into a story involving favored treatment to a lobbyist by the Senator from Arizona.
McCain was in his first Senate term when he was named as one of the “Keating Five”, a group of lawmakers who took favors from savings and loan wheeler-dealer Charles Keating–in essence, a lobbyist.
Speaking to reporters in Detroit, McCain confirmed the Times inquiry, adding: “I do find the timing of this whole issue very interesting. And we’re not going to stand for what happened to us in 2000. We’re getting close to the primary,” referring to the Jan. 8 contest in New Hampshire.
Bennett said McCain had personally retained him “to respond more forcefully” to the allegations than he did to unfounded rumors in the 2000 South Carolina primary campaign, which included the falsehood that McCain had fathered a black baby. Those rumors, Bennett said, “may have cost him the election.”
Bennett is comparing the efforts of unnamed individuals in the 2000 South Carolina contest with a sourced and documented report from the New York Times.
If one is not paying too close attention, it may prove to be a wise strategy for dealing with unfavorable press coverage so close to the contest in Iowa next month.
McCain’s top strategists initially declined to comment on the Drudge item, fearing that would open the door for news organizations to write about what the advisers regard as a non-story that could well never be published by the Times. McCain, however, took the matter into his own hands by fielding questions about the controversy in Detroit, prompting his campaign to issue its statement.
“It is unfortunate that rumor and gossip enter into political campaigns,” said the statement from Jill Hazelbaker, the campaign’s communications director. “John McCain has a 24-year record of serving this country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the important issues facing our country.”
If the story originated in the New York Times’ Editorial room, McCain might be on more solid ground in labeling the Times’ efforts a “smear”.
The sight of indignant candidates delivering their verdict of “smear” to a waiting press has become a familiar one over the years.
As it stands, the campaign has fallen back on the political shorthand of recent years of tagging any disagreeable coverage or information as a smear.
The story from Drudge also chronicled a battle within the Times itself pitting editor against reporter in the story of whether to publish the story or not.
Time will tell if this is a “smear”, “spin” or merely another journalistic effort.