Alex Blaze

Sex sells, corruption doesn't

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 25, 2008 12:22 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: campaign finance law, John McCain, New York Times, public money, Vicki Iseman

I've been meaning to write something up about the McCain scandalage that broke in the NY Times this past week (as well as a few others that have been happening for some time before that), but I haven't really had much to add to what others have said.

The dude's majorly corrupt despite his Straight Talk messaging. I get it. It's not like I was ever going to vote for him anyway.

But one thing that did kind of bother me about the NY Times article about McCain's close relationship with telecom lobbyist Vicki Iseman (and the subsequent official favor he did for one of her clients) was the fact that it started with a couple of pretty irrelevant paragraphs about how some people thought there was a sexy relationship between the two of them.

One of the Times' ombudspersons had something to say about that:

The pity of it is that, without the sex, The Times was on to a good story. McCain, who was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee in 1991 for exercising “poor judgment” by intervening with federal regulators on behalf of a corrupt savings and loan executive, recast himself as a crusader against special interests and the corrupting influence of money in politics. Yet he has continued to maintain complex relationships with lobbyists like Iseman, at whose request he wrote to the Federal Communications Commission to urge a speed-up on a decision affecting one of her clients.

The problem with starting out with the sex angle wasn't just that it implied that the story wouldn't have gotten covered in the Times if weren't for the fact that it could become a sex scandal, that the fact that someone running for president basically on his character (I doubt he could win on a "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" or a "10,000 more years" message), specifically on his maverick status solidified by his fight against Washington insidership, lobbying, and the affect money has on politics, wasn't a story if it's a Republican we're talking about. Another problem was that there wasn't a whole lot of evidence to suggest that they were having an affair anyway.

The exec editor of the Times even notes that:

“If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” he replied. “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

Yeah, well, what people want to know isn't what anonymous aides were worried about nine years ago. That's not interesting and it's dated. People are going to focus on whether or not there actually was an affair.

But that's not the point here. The point is that America's obsession with and anxiety around non-heterosexually-married-missionary-position-sex-for-reproduction was able to bring this story to light, a story that it doesn't seem would have been covered because of America's silence around money, class, and power and their effects on democracy.

We've known for years that McCain isn't Mr. Norman Rockwell-esque Sexuality (from Matthew Yglesias):

I suppose by "what the meaning of the word 'is' is" standards, he didn't even deny having had sex with Iseman. Certainly it'd be a bit rich of McCain to get outraged that anyone would even suggest that he might engage in sexual improprieties. After all, it's well known that he repeatedly cheated on his first wife Carol, of a number of years, with a variety of women, before eventually dumping her for a much-younger heiress whose family fortune was able to help finance his political career.

And it's already been public knowledge for a while that McCain's Straight Talk messaging in the 90's was an over-compensation for his role in the Keating 5 scandal, that he's running a soft money operation, that he has lobbyists all over his campaign, and that he used his position on the Senate Commerce Committee (which regulates media) to get close with (and money from) the likes of Paxson Communications and Sinclair Broadcasting.

And just this past week an FEC complaint was filed against him because he agreed to use public financing available under the McCain-Feingold Act, got out of having to pay to get on a lot of states' ballots, used his acceptance into public financing to get a loan, and then try to back out of the whole deal now that he's the presumptive nominee. In other words, he tried to use public financing to get himself an advance on lobbyists' dollars, instead of, you know, what it was supposed to do: reduce the influence of lobbyists' dollars in politics.

Nothing in the article was particularly new except for the fact that the media is often so beholden with the possible Maverick-in-chief that they' haven't been willing to put these all together and make a coherent argument out of them until the Times's story.

So maybe they had to push the salacious details in front of the more important parts just to get people to read the article. Who knows.

Sex sells. I just wish that unfairness against the possible consumers of the newspaper would sell as well, but I guess I'm just an idealist.


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I don't think the American people can even picture McCain having sex anymore. You're right - that story didn't sell since they went after the sex angle.

I am certain that, when the smoke settles and we have the democratic nominee running against him, once the republicans start their little smear campaigns, the facts will come out.