Several keen-eyed readers noticed last week that our story “L’Affaire McCain” was slightly altered between the online and print editions.
Most notably, the paragraph containing the accusation of an affair by an unnamed source who we confirmed had worked for 20 years with both Sen. John McCain, 1954 Episcopal High School graduate and Crystal City resident, and lobbyist Vicki Iseman, who lives in Cameron Station, was struck from the print edition.
This was followed by a second story, also published solely on our web site, which contained comments from a Hill staffer and Alexandria resident who we confirmed worked closely with both McCain and Iseman on legislative matters, stating that The New York Times story on a purported affair was completely false.
Let us state for the record that we have no dog in this fight.
We genuinely admire John McCain and his service to our country, and in fact endorsed him for the GOP nomination in this same spot one month ago during the Potomac Primaries.
But when the paper was approached by two Alexandria residents/Washington power players who we confirmed had had close dealings during the period in question with both McCain and Iseman, we felt strongly felt that there stories should be told, but under the cloak of anonymity.
Just why does the media sometimes allow the cloak-and-dagger process of unnamed sources? Quite simply because if we feel they’re credible, and in this case we discerned that they were, we felt that their voices should be heard without the public tarring and feathering them as either accuser or, in this case, defender.
No right-minded lobbyist is going to subject him or herself to the withering spotlight of the media, with possible destruction of their career, in the interest of a product which by next week could quite possibly be wrapping fish.
As an editorial practice or standard, our newspaper in its print-and-ink form does not allow unnamed sources to make accusations. But when it comes to the web, those standards are a bit looser. Some blogs, for instance, go up on our web site completely unedited, unless they contain profanities or libelous attacks against private individuals. John McCain is a public figure, so this accusation does not fall into that category.
At newspaper conferences, this is an oft-repeated discussion point: What should be the appropriate editorial standards for postings to the World Wide Web, otherwise known to some as the “Wild Wild West?” One of our readers made the very cogent point that our print edition usually sticks around for a week, but that our online edition, with its vast archival function, remains for an eternity for anyone to access, day or night. With 2.3 million hits to www.alextimes.com, and the busiest week on record last week, that’s an excellent point.
In our case, we felt we were only serving our readers, both print and online, with the most balanced and two-sided reporting of “L’affaire McCain” possible. The story mostly focused on the national media scrum which had descended on the normally quiet neighborhood, not on the verities of the accusation itself. The quote from a Cameron Station resident, that she has lunches and dinners with Senators and Congressmen all the time, “so does that mean I’m having an affair with them?” brings that point home.
Or as my mother is oft to say, “How do you know? Were you under the bed?”
We could not have said it better.
— John H. Arundel, Editor & Publisher