Spectator Editorial: Timing and truth

A firestorm has developed in the days following The New York Times’ publishing of an article alluding to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.-R) having a romantic or improper relationship with a female lobbyist. In the Feb. 21 article, former McCain campaign staffers described an alleged affair between the senator and Vicki Iseman of the Alcade & Fay telecommunications lobbying firm, which purportedly took place during McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. McCain has denied the allegations of the affair.

The controversy surrounding this article is potentially earthshaking. The issue of journalistic ethics is one in particular that’s under debate – was it ethical for The New York Times to release the story now, as McCain seems primed to claim the GOP nomination for president?

The paper has known about this story since December, so its timing could be seen as an attempt to ruin McCain. If the editors at The New York Times had this story ready and all of its sources confirmed before February, then it would clearly be unethical to have waited to release the story until now.

But the more pressing issue is not the timing of the story, but its validity. If the allegations of this affair are true, the article’s release date will not matter – McCain would need to step down not only as a presidential candidate but also as a senator. If he was doing Iseman and her lobbying company favors while he was romantically engaged with her, then he has compromised the public’s trust to work for them and not lobbying groups.

What politicians do in their private lives shouldn’t be a concern of the public, with the transgressions of Bill Clinton as a prime example. But in this case, McCain may have shaped public policy because of his inappropriate relationship with this woman. If this is true, McCain needs to be held accountable for his actions.