On that New York Times story about Cindy McCain. In the front-page story headlined, “Behind McCain, Outsider in Capital Wanting Back In,” we learn, among other things, that snooty congressional wives didn’t want to sit with Mrs. McCain at a luncheon in 1982, shortly after her arrival in Washington. We learn that she worried about not fitting in. We learn that her parents on occasion bought her presents on behalf of John McCain, who was allegedly too busy or too uncaring to do so.
In what sense are these revelations, if true, newsworthy? And when you are doing a story about the wife of a candidate, do those big scoops justify the intrusiveness required to discover them? Over the weekend, the McCain campaign put out an email that Times reporter Jodi Kantor sent to a schoolmate of the McCain’s adolescent daughter, Bridget. According to the campaign, Kantor found the schoolmate through Facebook and wrote, “I’m a reporter at the New York Times, writing a profile of Cindy McCain, and we are trying to get a sense of what she is like as a mother.”
Does anyone think the revelations in the front-page Times story are worth that level of intrusiveness?
On the other hand, we can perhaps understand a bit more about the Times’ attitude at this point in the campaign by going to an October 4 panel discussion, sponsored by the New Yorker, in which Times executive editor Bill Keller was asked his reaction to the McCain campaign’s criticism of the Times. “My first tendency when they do that,” Keller said, “is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page, just to show them that they can’t get away with it.” (If you want to watch the discussion, it’s here, with Keller’s statement at 42:20. You might also note the irony when, at another point when discussing stories of Sarah Palin’s family, Keller said, “You tread very carefully when you’re dealing with kids.”)
So now we have the Jodi Kantor I-found-you-through-Facebook-can-you-tell-me-what-your-friend’s-mom-is-like story on the front page of the New York Times. Who knows what’s next?