Collateral Damage

Vicki Iseman, the lobbyist who was smeared by the New York Times as part of that paper’s effort to damage John McCain in last fall’s Presidential race, has settled her defamation case against the Times. We wrote about the case here. The Times’ front-page story dredged up old (in some cases decades old) smears against McCain, one of which was the implication that he had had an affair with Iseman and had improperly used his influence on behalf of her clients.

Under the settlement as reported, Iseman won’t get any money but her lawyers are allowed to post this statement–a rather odd and ineffective one, in my opinion–on the Times’ web site. The fact that she won’t get money is no surprise; under current defamation law, I think it would have been close to impossible for her to win a judgment. In discovery, however, facts embarrassing to the Times likely would have come to light. That’s most likely what drove the “settlement.”

The paper, meanwhile, will offer statements of its own, including a “note to readers” in tomorrow’s paper claiming that the Times didn’t mean to suggest that Iseman and McCain had an affair. That theme was echoed in a joint statement issued by the parties this afternoon to the effect that Iseman has accepted the Times’ explanation “that the article didn’t state, and the Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust.”

That’s ridiculous, of course. The main conclusion any reader would take away from the Times’ article was that McCain and Iseman had an affair. That was pretty much the only “news” in the piece, which otherwise was mostly devoted to a rehash of the Keating Five story. Nevertheless, Bill Keller, the Times’ executive editor, says that “we are proud of” the Iseman story. He might even mean it. No doubt the paper is proud of its role in helping to elect Barack Obama.

Vicki Iseman said it best, really: she–her life and career–was collateral damage in the New York Times’ determined effort to libel John McCain.

UPDATE: Jules Crittenden comments, snarkily–but appropriately so.

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