NYT: McCain may have behaved unethically and cheated on his wife, but we're not sure; Update: Pressured by the New Republic? Update: McCain responds; Update: Carl Cameron video added; Update: TNR confirms? Update: WaPo piles on

A sex scandal that may not be a scandal tucked inside an ethics scandal that may not be an ethics scandal tucked inside an ethics scandal that was a genuine scandal 20 years ago, and for which McCain has begged forgiveness ever since. The Paper of Record.

The media halo’s gone, Maverick. Nothing personal. Just business.

Mr. Black said Mr. McCain and Ms. Iseman were friends and nothing more. But in 1999 she began showing up so frequently in his offices and at campaign events that staff members took notice. One recalled asking, “Why is she always around?”…

In interviews, the two former associates said they joined in a series of confrontations with Mr. McCain, warning him that he was risking his campaign and career. Both said Mr. McCain acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Ms. Iseman. The two associates, who said they had become disillusioned with the senator, spoke independently of each other and provided details that were corroborated by others…

[McCain advisor John] Weaver added that the brief conversation [he had with Iseman] was only about “her conduct and what she allegedly had told people, which made its way back to us.” He declined to elaborate…

Mr. McCain said that the relationship was not romantic and that he never showed favoritism to Ms. Iseman or her clients. “I have never betrayed the public trust by doing anything like that,” he said. He made the statements in a call to Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, to complain about the paper’s inquiries…

In late 1999, Ms. Iseman asked Mr. McCain’s staff to send a letter to the commission to help Paxson, now Ion Media Networks, on another matter. Mr. Paxson was impatient for F.C.C. approval of a television deal, and Ms. Iseman acknowledged in an e-mail message to The Times that she had sent to Mr. McCain’s staff information for drafting a letter urging a swift decision.

Mr. McCain complied. He sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman.

The juicy stuff’s at the end, including instances of McCain acting against the interest of Iseman’s clients. Exit question: Is this really the tack the left’s going to take against the guy who co-sponsored McCain-Feingold, and about whose “sense of honor” Russ Feingold testifies to in this very piece? That he’s unethical?

Update: Remember this? This story’s evidently been in the works for two months, and if you believe Drudge’s teaser from back then, it was initially going to accuse McCain of having let Iseman write parts of his telecom bills. How thin must that angle have been if it didn’t make the cut for an article this thin on other details?

Update: Among the various ways to get the base to rally behind Maverick, a New York Times hit piece surely must be one of the most efficient.

Update: Not only is Hannity & Colmes running with this, they’re showing photos of Iseman. Carl Cameron’s on and is saying he talked to McCain’s advisors when Drudge first scooped this in December, and that apparently TNR was threatening to run a story about the Times burying the article unless they published. I’ll cut the video; stand by.

Update: Team McCain answers:

“It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

“Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career.”

Update: As promised, here’s the video of Cameron claiming via McCain’s campaign that TNR pressured the Times into running with it.

Link: sevenload.com

Update: Here’s video of Bob Bennett ripping the Times to shreds.

Update: TNR says it’ll have something to say tomorrow.

Update: WaPo’s more careful about not suggesting any sexual shenanigans but they don’t have any more on the ethical angle than the Times has:

Three telecom lobbyists and a former McCain aide, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Iseman spoke up regularly at meetings of telecom lobbyists in Washington, extolling her connections to McCain and his office. She would regularly volunteer at those meetings to be the point person for the telecom industry in dealing with McCain’s office.

Concern about Iseman’s presence around McCain at one point led to her being banned from his Senate office, according to sources close to McCain.