All's fair with drugs and Cindy McCain

A lawyer for the beer heiress complains to the New York Times about unfair "cruel hit pieces."

By Andrew Leonard
Published October 18, 2008 1:29PM (EDT)

Continuing its weekend tradition of dropping big investigative pieces on the presidential campaign (John McCain and Indian gambling, Barack Obama and Bill Ayers), the New York Times published a big, splashy Page 1 piece on Cindy McCain on Saturday, "Behind McCain, Outsider in Capital Wanting Back In."

The prospective first lady comes off as a good soldier, but isn't likely to be happy with the rehashing of her addiction to painkillers and questions about whether she ever really visited Rwanda. The allusion to multiple miscarriages while her husband was off in Washington are just one data point in a description of what appears to be not the most intimate of marriages.

More interesting than the story itself is a letter to the Times written by McCain's lawyer John Dowd, obtained by Politico's Ben Smith, and published under the headline "McCain lawyer urges coverage of Obama drug use."

The bulk of Dowd's letter is a preemptive push-back against any attempt by the Times to give credence to the tales of a man named Tom Gosinski, whom Dowd describes as having been "publicly exposed as a liar and blackmailer on the subject of Cindy McCain." But Gosinski does not make any overt appearances in the Times piece.

Then there's this:

While she may be in the public eye, she is not public property nor the property of the press to abuse and defame.

It is worth noting that you have not employed your investigative assets looking into Michelle Obama. You have not tried to find Barack Obama's drug dealer that he wrote about in his book, Dreams of [sic] My Father. Nor have you interviewed his poor relatives in Kenya and determined why Barack Obama has not rescued them. Thus, there is a terrific lack of balance here.

I suggest to you that none of these subjects on either side are worthy of the energy and resources of The New York Times. They are cruel hit pieces designed to injure people that only the worst rag would investigate and publish. I know you and your colleagues are always preaching about raising the level of civil discourse in our political campaigns. I think taking some your own medicine is in order here.

Ben Smith's headline suggests that Dowd urged more coverage of Obama's drug use, something the Times has already explored here, when in fact the lawyer states outright that "none of these subjects on either side are worthy of the energy and resources of The New York Times." Fair enough. Still, it takes some chutzpah to accuse the Times of lowering "the level of civil discourse in our political campaigns" at the very moment that the McCain campaign is blanketing large swaths of the country with robo-calls questioning Barack Obama's patriotism and accusing him of infanticide.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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