Ron Rosenbaum

New D.C. Insider Rumor is About...

This is the January 14 revise of a January 2 post I decided not to run (either version). The dates can be verified from the time stamps on the original unpublished drafts in the internal records of the blog. I hesitated posting it when I first drafted it on January 2, because of the complexity of the rationale for the story, of writing about rumors, in general. My point has always been that DC based campaign reporters too often allow unpublished rumors to affect what they actually publish about a candidate. But to make that point you have to allude to the rumors and perhaps give them more weight than they deserve. I thought about it again on January 14 and did another draft, the one you see below. I still felt conflicted about it, consulted a friend who suggested the problems in writing about rumors outweighed the value. And so I left it unposted. Now that the Times has published at least part of the rumor–and I’m not yet ready to make a judgment about the wisdom of that decision–I post it because the questions it raises–particularly about insiderism and timing–are still valid.

And because–on balance–I’m still satisfied with my decision not to run it at the time. And because I happen to know there are more such rumors still out there and we need to find a way to think about how to handle them.

Here’s the January 14 version with the original title, only the date stamp changed (because if I didn’t it would be buried back amidst the January posts). I’ll enable comments but only post intelligent reflections on the journalistic questions raised, not partisan venom:

Think of this as another anthropological report on the culture of DC media insider rumorology.

Washington insiders are like a small Stone Age tribe who trade reputed inside knowledge they can’t print like shiny beads to advance their prestige and self esteem.

I think some people don’t quite get that when I report on D.C. insider rumors I do so as anthropologist. Which is why some misinterpreted my November 30 report here that the L.A. Times was sitting on a sex scandal involving a Presidential candidate. I wasn’t asserting the L.A. Times did, in fact have such a story, but rather that from a single visit to DC I learned of three separate “insiders” from bigtime publications who said that they had heard something to that effect.

It’s my belief that the trade in unsubstantiated rumors that may well affect coverage of candidates unbeknownst to readers of these publications deserves to be exposed. I believe that the public deserves to be informed what the people who control the flow of information about who will rule us are really thinking when they write about certain candidates.

And so I’m back from DC with another insider rumor, I heard two nights in row from different sources.

This one has to do with the alleged scandal involving John McCain, a female lobbyist and and a favor involving a special provision of an FCC bill.

You might recall the story surfaced briefly on Drudge in the form of a report that McCain had hired lawyers to try to stop the New York Times from running the story. And then…silence.

Did the lawyers cause the Times to back off? What I was told by a reporter for a prominent DC daily, rival to the Times, was that the story was bigger than a single female lobbyist and an FCC favor. That it was being held in part because it was too hot to handle. At the time I was told (back around New Year’s Eve) McCain’s campaign was still stuck in the doldrums after having cratered over the summer. Was the putative story held because it seemed about a candidacy going nowhere. Now that he’s suddenly back on top will it reappear. or was there never anything to it?

So what I want to know is: was there anything to the story? Did the Times hold it because they thought McCain was going nowhere? Will they revive it now? Was I being spun by a Times rival? It’s something I believe except the other source was not in the media business, but claimed to have worked with McCain.

Anybody have any theories? For anthropological purposes only.

Update/correction: the original controversial post on a DC rumor was posted here on Oct. 29, not Nov. 30 as written from memory in the draft above.