Hey, Kid, Want Some Candy?

We wrote here and here about the New York Times’s disgraceful late-campaign hit piece on Cindy McCain. One controversial aspect of the story was the effort by Times reporter Jodi Kantor to use Facebook to find kids whose parents might be able to contribute dirt on Mrs. McCain. Today, the paper’s Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, takes up the controversy.

Hoyt frames it, though, in terms of the broader question of “[h]ow a newspaper like The Times should deal with minors — as news sources and as the subjects of articles.” He muddies the water by treating the Kantor/McCain story in tandem with another episode in which a 12-year-old boy apparently witnessed a crime.

Hoyt concludes that, in Kantor’s place, he wouldn’t have gone fishing among kids on Facebook. But, by treating the Times as a legitimate news organization, he misses the real point of the criticism that we and others leveled against Kantor. In fact, there was nothing fair or legitimate about the partisan smear-job that the Times printed, nor was there anything intended to be fair or legitimate about it.

Kantor told the children that she was trolling for information on “what [Cindy McCain] is like as a mother.” Knowing that the dirt she had on Mrs. McCain was thin at best, Kantor was hoping to be able to smear Mrs. McCain by writing that she is a bad mother. That effort didn’t pan out, but it was more akin to a “reporter” from the National Enquirer offering children candy on a playground in hopes of a “scoop” than to legitimate reporting by a real newspaper.

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