The New York Times is being swamped by a flood of telephone and email messages from readers, many of them irate over the story the paper ran about Senator John McCain, the leading Republican candidate for the US presidency, suggesting he once had a romantic liaison with Washington lobbyist half his age.
Even some executives and writers on the NYT, including its ombudsman Clark Hoyt, who writes a regular column appraising – and either endorsing or criticising – what appears in The Times, believes, in his words: ‘The paper got it wrong”.
At issue is the lack of supporting evidence of the ‘romantic involvement’and the fact that the sources were anonymous.
Writes Hoyt: “If a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than the Times was able to provide.”
Despite the claim by the executive editor of the Times, Bill Keller, that the ‘romantic liaison’was not the main point of the story – that the main import was the political record of Senator McCain and how some of his staff were concerned about his behavior – the protests have still flooded in.
On the first day after publication there were well over 2,000 – the most the paper admits – it has ever received in one day about a story.
Many accused the paper of ‘shabby reporting”. Even the White House weighed in and described the story as a ‘low blow: and an example of the paper’s ‘liberal bias”.
Keller admitted that he was somewhat overwhelmed – and dismayed by the reaction. But defended its publication as a fair summing up of Senator McCain’s long and varied career.