The McCain campaign on Wednesday ramped up its displays of venomous disdain for the New York Times, responding to a critical story this morning by accusing the paper of being a "partisan" outlet hiding under the veneer of "objectivity." They even compared the Grey Lady to a less transparent version of the Huffington Post (something that we think, but aren't sure, is a compliment).
And yet, many of the McCain campaign's objections to the Times piece were riddled with small but significant overstatements - detracting from the strength of its efforts at playing the victim.
The issue stems from an article, published Tuesday evening, which revealed that the firm of McCain campaign manager Rick Davis had been paid $15,000 a month until last month by the mortgage giant Freddie Mac. The revelation was significant in that McCain himself has been ripping Barack Obama for his own ties to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in the wake of the housing crisis.
Aides to the Senator were not pleased with the Times' piece - the second in three days to detail Davis' role in representing the two mortgage companies. And on Wednesday morning, the campaign's blogger and spokesperson, Michael Goldfarb, responded with a lengthy post that was, from the get go, of questionable accuracy.
"The New York Times charges that McCain-Palin 2008 campaign manager Rick Davis was paid by Freddie Mac until last month," wrote Goldfarb, "contrary to previous reporting, as well as statements by this campaign and by Mr. Davis himself. In fact, the allegation is demonstrably false."
Except that's not what the Times alleged. The paper reported that the $15,000 per month was paid to "a firm owned" by Davis, not Davis himself. Moreover, the Times did report: "Mr. Davis took a leave from Davis Manafort for the presidential campaign." Goldfard seems to be rebutting non-existent allegations.
Later in its piece, the Times says that Davis "as an equity holder continues to benefit from its income." And on this front, Golfarb may have a more accurate complaint. "Mr. Davis [has not] received any equity in the firm based on profits derived since his financial separation from Davis Manafort in 2006," he writes.
Goldfarb, however, doesn't end his rant there. He accuses the paper of not reporting that Davis has never "been a lobbyist for either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac." He is right on this front. Davis was not a lobbyist. If he were, he would be facing serious questions over why he failed to file a disclosure form about his activities. Rather, he was a consultant on retainer. As the Times' deliberately reported: "Mr. Davis's firm was hired as a consultant, not a lobbyist."
Goldfarb's broader jabs at the Times are also subject to some deeper inspection. He writes that the paper "has never published a single investigative piece, factually correct or otherwise, examining the relationship between Obama campaign chief strategist David Axelrod, his consulting and lobbying clients, and Senator Obama."
And yet, it was the Times that published one of the toughest hits on Obama during the Democratic primary - an investigative look at how the Senator's handling of a nuclear power plant leak issue in Illinois was complicated by campaign contributions and aides with connections. As the paper wrote on the Exelon matter in February 3, 2008:
In addition, Mr. Obama's chief political strategist, David Axelrod, has worked as a consultant to Exelon. A spokeswoman for Exelon said Mr. Axelrod's company had helped an Exelon subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison, with communications strategy periodically since 2002, but had no involvement in the leak controversy or other nuclear issues.
The Obama campaign said in written responses to questions that Mr. Obama "never discussed this issue or this bill" with Mr. Axelrod. The campaign acknowledged that Exelon executives had met with Mr. Obama's staff about the bill, as had concerned residents, environmentalists and regulators. It said the revisions resulted not from any influence by Exelon, but as a necessary response to a legislative roadblock put up by Republicans, who controlled the Senate at the time.
In the end, it seems, the McCain campaign's quibbles with the Times are far more political than substantive. After all, Goldfarb never addressed, in his post, the fact that Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Roll Call both had stories up on Tuesday detailing the same $15,000 per month payments Davis' firm earned from Freddie Mac. Are they, too, "in the tank" for Obama? Goldfarb never challenges the basic claim that those payments were made. Rather, much of his post is spent painting the Times as an ideological adversary that is filling a political and journalistic niche - a somewhat less honest version of the Huffington Post.
"We all understand that partisan attacks are part of the political process in this country," he writes. "The debate that stems from these grand and sometimes unruly conversations is what makes this country so exceptional. Indeed, our nation has a long and proud tradition of news organizations that are ideological and partisan in nature, the Huffington Post and the New York Times being two such publications. We celebrate their contribution to the political fabric of America. But while the Huffington Post is utterly transparent, the New York Times obscures its true intentions -- to undermine the candidacy of John McCain and boost the candidacy of Barack Obama -- under the cloak of objective journalism."
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