When life gives you an NYT investigation, make lemonade

John McCain's campaign is wasting no time in trying to turn a potentially damaging story into a fundraising opportunity.

Published February 21, 2008 8:42PM (EST)

Over the past month, John McCain's biggest problem has been convincing conservatives that he's one of them -- or at least close enough to them to be an acceptable Republican presidential nominee. Well, it looks like the New York Times just handed a solution to McCain's problem on a silver platter.

The Times' story about McCain's possible relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, and suggestions that he may have given her improper special treatment, might seem at first glance to have no upside for the McCain campaign. But for many on the right, the Times is a 50-foot-tall boogeyman, and the fact that the paper published what looks to some like an unfair hit piece could be a good enough reason for many conservatives previously wary of McCain or outright opposed to him to coalesce around him now.

Don't think the McCain campaign won't take advantage of that: It has already rolled out a new fundraising e-mail based on the article. The e-mail, sent out under campaign Manager Rick Davis' signature, includes a photo of Thursday's Times' front page that has been turned into a hyperlink above a caption reading "Help us fight back."

The text of the e-mail, in full:

Well, here we go. We could expect attacks were coming; as soon as John McCain appeared to be locking up the Republican nomination, the liberal establishment and their allies at the New York Times have gone on the attack. Today's front-page New York Times story is particularly disgusting -- an un-sourced hit-and-run smear campaign designed to distract from the issues at stake in this election. With John McCain leading a number of general-election polls against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the New York Times knew the time to attack was now, and they did. We will not allow their scurrilous attack against a great American hero to stand.

The New York Times -- the newspaper that gave MoveOn.org a sweetheart deal to run advertisements attacking General Petraeus -- has shown once again that it cannot exercise good journalistic judgment when it comes to dealing with a conservative Republican. We better get ready for more of the Democrats' attacks over the coming months as the Democrats pick their nominee, MoveOn.org starts spending their unlimited soft money, and the liberal media tosses standards aside in an attempt to stop our momentum. We need your help to counteract the liberal establishment and fight back against the New York Times by making an immediate contribution today.

John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has led the charge to limit the money and influence of the special interests in politics and stomp out corruption. His life and his record prove just how preposterous the smear by the New York Times really is.

Objective observers are viewing this article exactly as they should -- as a sleazy smear attack from a liberal newspaper against the conservative Republican frontrunner. Sean Hannity said, after reading the article three times, "It was so full of innuendo and so lacking of fact, and so involved in smear, I came to the conclusion that the goal here was to bring up a 20-year-old scandal." Washington attorney Bob Bennett, who was the Democrat counsel during the Keating investigation, said, "This is a real hit job." Joe Scarborough called the allegations "outrageous." Even pundit Alan Colmes -- not known for his conservative leanings -- concludes "this is a non-story."

Yet, it is there, right on the front page of the New York Times. It is now dominating the cable news coverage. We can only expect these sorts of baseless attacks to continue as we move into the general election cycle. We are going to need your help today, and your continued help in the future to have the resources to respond. We'll never match the reach of a front-page New York Times article, but with your immediate help today, we'll be able to respond and defend our nominee from the liberal attack machine.

Davis makes a couple of strange claims in the e-mail. First, MoveOn was not given a "sweetheart deal" for its ad about Petraeus; it was given a standard rate.

Second, Davis' first two examples of "objective observers" are just plain silly. This may be the first time in his life Sean Hannity has been referred to as objective, and while, yes, Bob Bennett is a Democrat, he has also been representing McCain in discussions with the Times about this story.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz. The New York Times