Jonah Goldberg

"Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe. With a record of working across the aisle to develop sound bipartisan legislation, he would offer a choice to a broader range of Americans than the rest of the Republican field."

That's the New York Times endorsing McCain for the Republican nomination. It was written on January 25th.

A month earlier, it was reported that the Times was working on a story about an allegedly inappropriate relationship between the senator and a young female lobbyist. The information in the story, which the Times ran this week, seems no different than what was rumored to be in the piece when the Drudge Report learned of it two months earlier and the Washington Post investigated the Times' decision not to run it.

The "female" adjective is the supposed heart of the matter - the suggestion being that McCain traded political favors for non-political ones. Wink, wink.

McCain denies any wrongdoing, though for a man famous for his intemperateness, he was quite tempered in his denials.

Still, I'm inclined to believe McCain. The anonymous staffers used as sources in the piece, portrayed as disgruntled (is anyone ever merely "gruntled"?), offer no proof beyond their suspicions. The woman herself has neither confirmed any inappropriate relationship nor alleged any other improper behavior. But, I think it should be said that if the story were true, it wouldn't be trivial. McCain is arguably the premier "good government" Republican of the last 20 years. If he's pulling strings for lobbyists in exchange for a little after-hours baron-and-the-milkmaid action, he should be held accountable. And, as unfashionable as it is to say these days, adultery is wrong.

But, again, I'm willing to give McCain the benefit of the doubt.

What I'm confused about is why the New York Times splashed this story on page one as if it were of blockbuster importance. First of all, the Times is not known for its Comstockish disapproval of marital infidelity. Second, the Times would never have credited allegations of favoritism like this if the lobbyist in question were, say, the son of an old Navy buddy.

Really. Imagine if some fired former campaign aides came to the Times and said that McCain's poker buddy cajoled the senator into writing a routine letter to a regulator about something or other. Would that have risen to the level of a front-page story worthy of capsizing the presumptive nominee's presidential bid and ruining his reputation? Would it have even been a story at all?

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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