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Is the alleged McCain scandal story fair and credible?

February 21, 2008 |  2:44 am

Back in December, just before Christmas, Matt Drudge published an item on his heavily-visited website about Sen. John McCain working feverishly behind the scenes to head off a New York Times story alleging potentially scandalous behavior on his part involving favors for companies and a possible romantic relationship with a female lobbyist.

McCain's efforts failed.

Now that McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, the New York newspaper, quoting numerous anonymous sources, has published its article, which has prompted other newspapers and websites to counter with their own versions for competitive reasons. Here's the LATimes.com version.

Both McCain and the lobbyist deny any improper behavior.

According to Fox News, the New York paper's publication today was connected ...

to an impending story by the New Republic, alleging the newspaper caved to political pressures from the McCain campaign. A magazine spokesman said that article would be published online today.

Numerous websites have opened readers' forums on the subject and many of them, like us, also have qualms about the issue of publicizing news of possible scandals during election season when they are unable to independently verify the facts themselves and when the accused -- in this case Sen. McCain -- has little means to prove the negative, other than deny it.

Yet it is impossible in an online world, where the story began widely circulating Wednesday afternoon, for the existence of this story to be ignored, by the media or the senator.

Wednesday evening, the McCain campaign headquarters issued the following statement from Communications Director Jill Hazelbaker:

"It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

"Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career."

The Arizona senator is expected to address the issue at a mid-morning news conference Thursday in Ohio, where he is campaigning.

So what do you think? Is this a legitimate avenue for investigation by journalists? For discussion by political blogs? At this time in an election season? Do you find the story credible? The denials? The senator's response?

Are you, as the senator's spokeswoman suggests, "sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics"? Or has it become merely an accepted part of our partisan political system? How will it affect your political opinions or vote, if at all?

Let us know what you think in the Comments section below. Let's have a vigorous, but please make it a reasoned, discussion.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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