What a blessed relief to take a break from the Obama/Clinton/Obama Obama Obama storyline that has dominated the US presidential campaign coverage and instead, wallow around for a while in a bit of scandal. Yesterday, The New York Times published a story months in the making that made a series of suggestions about Republican nominee John McCain’s inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist in the 90s. It’s an explosive story, but one that The New York Times has become the centre of, with media outlets such as Time magazine claiming they wouldn’t have run the story on such flimsy, unsourced evidence. Meanwhile, Slate says let’s just call a spade a spade – this is about s-x.

McCain denial: Senator John McCain said Thursday that an article in The New York Times about his close ties to a woman lobbyist was untrue, that he had no romantic relationship with the lobbyist and that he had no confrontations in 1999 with worried staff members who told him to stay away from her. — The New York Times

The story behind the NYT story: Last night, around dinnertime, The New York Times posted on its website a 3,000-word investigation detailing Senator John McCain’s connections to a telecommunications lobbyist named Vicki Iseman. The controversial piece, written by Washington bureau reporters Jim Rutenberg, Marilyn Thompson, Stephen Labaton, and David Kirkpatrick, and published in this morning’s paper, explores the possibility that the Republican presidential candidate may have had an affair with the 40-year-old blond-haired lobbyist for the telecommunications industry while he chaired the Senate Commerce Committee in the late-1990s. Beyond its revelations, however, what’s most remarkable about the article is that it appeared in the paper at all: The new information it reveals focuses on the private matters of the candidate, and relies entirely on the anecdotal evidence of McCain’s former staffers to justify the piece–both personal and anecdotal elements unusual in the Gray Lady. The story is filled with awkward journalistic moves–the piece contains a collection of decade-old stories about McCain and Iseman appearing at functions together and concerns voiced by McCain’s aides that the Senator shouldn’t be seen in public with Iseman–and departs from the Times‘ usual authoritative voice. — The New Republic

Isn’t this a bit sexist? Some McCain staffers became “concerned that the relationship had become romantic” and took steps to keep McCain and Iseman apart. But the pair deny romance, and the Times sources’ accounts of those interventions vary widely. And by the way, isn’t there an element of sexism here, as if a female lobbyist is presumptively not fully professional? So what does this all amount to? McCain is accused of failing to report a flight on a corporate plane and of writing an overzealous letter on behalf of a woman he fancied–both of which allegations are unproved.The Wall Street Journal

McCain’s moment to galvanise the right: It’s no secret to anyone watching this Republican race closely that McCain is still struggling to bring conservatives into the fold. Time after time he lost the conservative vote in early primary and caucus states; of the 24 states that have voted to date, McCain received the most support from self-identified conservatives in just five (Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Wisconsin). Could this be the galvanizing force that unites this key voting bloc behind McCain? Perhaps. — The Fix, The Washington Post

The height of hypocrisy: The suggestion that the relationship might have been s-xual, which is made at the top and towards the end of the story, basically amounts to an allegation that anonymous sources said there was concern that the relationship might have become romantic. Anonymous sources say McCain acknowledged behaving “inappropriately,” but the story doesn’t say how. Again: How would we react to this if it were written about Senator Dem Presidential Hopeful?Horses Mouth

They got it right: Where there’s smoke, there’s sometimes fire. That the imperfect Times article doesn’t expose a raging blaze isn’t sufficient cause for condemning it. The evidence the paper provides more than adequately establishes that McCain remains a better preacher about ethics, standards, appearances, and special interest conflicts than he is a practitioner, something voters should consider before punching the ballot for him.Slate 

It’s about s-x, silly: That New York Times story about McCain’s “self-confidence on ethics” is one of the weirdest news stories I’ve ever read. This is not a story about McCain’s coziness with lobbyists and whether his line about money corrupting politics is a lie. It’s not a story about his post-Keating career. It’s a story about his post-Cheating career. I guarantee you 99 percent of readers will skip over that fat historical midsection rehashing Keating to the end, where they get back to what John Weaver did or didn’t tell Vicki Iseman at Union Station.Why can’t the Times just admit this? I understand the New Republic was ready to out them, but so what? Either they write the cheating story or they don’t. – The XX Factor, Slate