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Why Did The NYT Hold McCain-Lobbyist Story?

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In the wake of revelations that Sen. John McCain had a close and perhaps romantic relationship with a telecommunications lobbyist, political observers are left wondering why The New York Times chose to run the article when it did. Meanwhile, conservatives are contemplating how different the election would be had the story been published sooner.

In the aftermath of the Times story, some subtle but important information has come unearthed showing how McCain's relationship with 40-year-old Vicki Iseman, a partner with the firm Alcalde & Fay, became public.

Bob Bennett, a powerful D.C. attorney and lawyer for McCain, acknowledged the extent of his fervent efforts to kill the story for the first time during an interview on Fox News.

"I did have several conversations and one meeting with the New York Times reporters and repeatedly provided them answers to their questions," he said Thursday evening. "And I was satisfied that there was nothing here. But no, I worked very hard at it."

As Bennett notes, news that the Times had an article on McCain's relationship with Iseman was known months ago, albeit with only slight hints of the romantic angle.

In December, the Drudge Report wrote that McCain was waging a "ferocious behind the scenes battle with the Times... against charges of giving special treatment to a lobbyist."

Soon after, the Washington Post's media reporter Howard Kurtz penned an item in which McCain was quoted as saying he had "never done any favors for anybody -- lobbyist or special interest group." Allegations otherwise, he added, were "gutter politics."

Other journalists believed to be on the story included, according to Radar Magazine's Charles Kaiser, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek and Michael Calderone of Politico.

So why would the Times hesitate to act? A number of theories, beyond threats of legal action, have been batted around by analysts. They range from the generous -- the paper could simply have thought it unfair to publish the story on the eve of a slew of presidential primaries -- to the nefarious -- the Times was waiting to unload on McCain only after he secured the nomination.

"Everyone accuses the New York Times of liberal bias," political analyst Keli Goff speculated on CNN. "If they wanted to play politics, they could have sat on the story and waited until you have perhaps an Obama-McCain match-up and drop this baby in October when it really matters. I think that this idea of...them playing politics with it to, you know, harm the Republican Party, I don't know if we can really agree with that."

Timely competitive pressures also may have been in play. As the McCain story was making the rounds on the cable news networks Wednesday evening, news surfaced that The New Republic had been slated to do a piece of its own. The magazine's blog noted that a story on the Times' foot-dragging will appear on the site on Thursday.

Regardless of the paper's motives, conservative pundits were left fuming, noting that the Times had, at once, spared McCain at the point of his greatest vulnerability (when his campaign was still a long shot) and denied his primary opponents perhaps the knock-out blow. Would the GOP have a different candidate on its hands had things been handled differently?

"Oh, there's no question it would have impacted [the race]," Bay Buchanan, a former adviser of ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, told CNN. "I think John McCain would not have won this primary if there's any evidence whatsoever that surfaces that these stories are true... McCain's lawyers went into the New York Times and said do not touch this story. Do not move on this story. And there's no question this was beneficial to McCain to hold the story. No question. His nomination was very much threatened by this story if it broke too early. So what they did was hurt the Republican Party by not allowing this to be aired properly at the time they received this information."