The piece raised the possibility that McCain had had a fling with a lobbyist 31 years his junior. It offered no legitimate basis, other than the whispers of unnamed sources - the most questionable form of reporting in a democratic society.
McCain said in a televised press conference Thursday morning from Ohio that the story was "not true" and added that he was "very disappointed" in the Times. McCain was no doubt worried that the speculation would hurt his chances of rallying evangelicals and other conservative Republican voters who have been cool or downright hostile to his campaign so far.
The Times' story is weakened by insufficient sourcing since it is based on anonymous sources. Because the paper didn't name them, it opens the possibility that a former McCain aide is using the Times to get revenge on the presumptive Republican candidate or help one of his political enemies.
The story smacks of tabloid fodder, which makes it all the more inexplicable. The New York Times prides itself on having an Olympian reputation among media outlets. Its high-minded slogan, "All the news that's fit to print," underscores its commitment to quality journalism "without fear or favor."
Those journalistic ideals don't look so impressive today.
Whether or not you support McCain or the Republican Party, this reporting looks unfair. The Times could've told the McCain story in a much more fair-minded way.
Look out, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I'm afraid your time will come, too. I can't imagine how the Times will cover you folks in an effort to level the political-journalism playing field.