Times’ article attacking McCain betrayed journalism ethics

Linsen Li

The New York Times’ decision to run the controversial article on John McCain backfired in a disastrous manner.

The article, which ran Thursday, claims that McCain had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist and granted political favors to her interest groups. McCain, the likely Republican presidential candidate, has strongly denied these accusations.

The New York Times had hoped to shed light on McCain’s ethics with the article, but since its publication, the main focus of discussion has been on the ethics of the newspaper rather than those of McCain.

Many people are outraged by the article because they consider it more befitting for a tabloid à la the National Enquirer than for the nation’s leading newspaper. Journalists point to the article’s liberal use of unnamed sources, a practice that is often looked down upon in the profession.

While the article makes strong accusations, the only -proof- it offers is collaborating comments from several anonymous sources and a vague testament from one identified source, McCain’s former campaign strategist John Weaver. Nothing else – no public records, telephone conversation transcripts, video or voice recordings, or photos – supports the article’s rash conclusions.

The article’s evidence – as well as its entertainment value – is even feebler than what a tabloid typically would offer. At least the National Enquirer often includes suggestive photos that, while often irrelevant, seem to incriminate the subjects through the stretch of the reader’s imagination.

Jokes aside, let’s view the article as what it is – a blatant attempt by certain editors of The New York Times to smear McCain’s presidential campaign. To think that the paper had endorsed McCain in the Republican primary race in an editorial back on Jan. 25, oh how the times have changed in just a month.

The real question this controversy brings up is, since when did The New York Times take it upon itself to be the head of the Democratic Party mudslinging machine?

While the paper is widely viewed as being liberal and Democrat-friendly, attacking a Republican candidate by reporting a rumored affair in the middle of a presidential race is on a totally different level, a level that no respectable newspaper in the country should touch.

It’s already enough that journalism has to endure the black sheep that is FOX News. One can only hope the McCain article was only a lapse of judgment among The New York Times’ top editors and not the formal declaration of its partisanship.

Instead of damaging McCain’s public image with the mudslinging, The New York Times has covered its own reputation with a handful of grime. And while no one comes out clean in this controversy, McCain may actually gain from it.

Since conservatives already held an attitude of disdain toward The New York Times, now that their prior suspicions are further confirmed by the article, it may just encourage them to unite around McCain and finally accept him as their party’s candidate.

The New York Times went too far with its unethical story that was full of holes in reporting. The paper has become the subject of ridicule over the article, and rightfully so: When journalists abuse the power that the public bestows upon them, they deserve just punishment.

Linsen Li is a history and journalism junior. E-mail [email protected]