Gray Lady fighting dirty against McCain campaign? Update: NYT Ethics Policy

Does the New York Times leverage access to campaign events through threats of negative news articles? According to one source at the McCain campaign, the answer is yes.

The New York Times has published a series of articles and editorials that have called its objectivity towards John McCain into question. The first shot across the bow came in February, when the paper ran an allegation that McCain had a “romantic” relationship with a lobbyist in a story that turned out to have no evidence except two unnamed, disgruntled campaign workers. A month later, one of their reporters wrote about how McCain’s temper had erupted, only to get embarrassed by a video that clearly showed their reporter to be either insanely sensitive or outright lying. The Gray Lady then ran an analysis of McCain’s foreign policy that declared him a “neocon” because he had meetings with Robert Kagan and Max Boot, among many other people.

But the Times has reserved its strangest shots against McCain regarding his medical records. They began this story in March, in a news article that analyzed McCain’s bout with melanoma. They had doctors speculating on McCain’s prognosis, excusing this because McCain had “yet to make his full medical records or his physicians available to reporters.” However, the rather obvious indicator of not having any more facial surgery never got mentioned as a significant indicator of continuing good health.

This attack mode moved, somewhat more appropriately, to the editorial page earlier this month. On May 4, the Times sharply criticized McCain for not releasing his medical records, even though the campaign told them that they would have the information compiled and ready for release by May 23rd. The editorial mentions this but for some reason doesn’t consider that sufficient, even though the Times endorsed McCain for the GOP primary in February and the general election is five months away.

All of that brings us to today. It’s no secret that the McCain campaign believes the Times to be dishonest in its reporting on the candidate, and they decided not to extend an invitation to the Times for the media pool at the release of the medical records on Friday. According to my source close to the part of the campaign that deals with these issues, they have invited a variety of media outlets, including national-reach newspapers, wire services, and cable-news networks into the pool, but told the Times that they would not receive any credentials for the event.

This prompted a conversation between one Times editor and the campaign staff. Again according to the source, the editor told the campaign that the Times would take a negative view about the release of the records if an invitation was not forthcoming. It was clear that an invitation to the pool would change the nature of the coverage.

That sounds a lot like extortion, doesn’t it? Is that acceptable practice for the American mainstream media? This kind of hostility calls into question their motivation for all of their past articles and stories. Did the McCain campaign do something to annoy the editors in February and March while all of these hit pieces got trotted out?

Newspapers often say that a “wall” exists between the news departments and the editorial board. In this case, it certainly appears that the animus that drives the Times’ editorial stances on McCain has infected the DC political desk.

I contacted the New York Times’ Washington bureau and spoke to their political desk to ask for a reaction or comment. I was asked to e-mail my question to get a response from the paper, which I did at 3:50 pm CT with the understanding that this story would get published this evening. At the time of publication, I had not yet received a response.

Update: As of 10 pm ET, still no response from the Times. Via Dan Spencer and Soren Dayton, though, we have the relevant portion of the NYT’s Ethics Policy:

A2. How We Gather the News

21. We treat news sources fairly and professionally. We do not inquire pointlessly into someone’s personal life. We do not threaten to damage uncooperative sources, nor do we promise favorable coverage in return for cooperation. We do not pay for interviews or unpublished documents: to do so would create an incentive for sources to falsify material and would cast into doubt the genuineness of much that we publish.

Sounds like someone got confused about this.

Update II: Still no response from the Times at 6:30 am ET, 5/22.  I’m bumping this to the Top Picks for a while to see if a little more exposure works.