“On the substance, we think the story speaks for itself. In all the uproar, no one has challenged what we actually reported.” That is what New York Times executive editor Bill Keller claimed during media interviews on Thursday after publication of the Times’ attack on Sen. John McCain.
But that isn’t entirely true, say Times reporters with knowledge of the debate between reporters and editors at the Times over the past three months. “In fact, several longtime McCain aides and congressional staffers disputed the facts in what the New York Times was trying to push,” says one reporter with knowledge of the reporting. “That’s why it took them so long to run with the story. People critical to the reporting of the story were disputing the facts and knocking it down.”
According to Times sources, one current volunteer adviser to McCain, who worked for the Senator on Capitol Hill for a number of years, and had knowledge of McCain’s involvement in telecom issues, disputed just about every fact the New York Times presented to him in attempting to verify parts of the story.
“There were pieces of information that would have placed McCain in a worse light that never made it into the story because reporters couldn’t confirm the information and they tried like hell to do it,” says another Times source. “We had information about private meetings and dinners that we couldn’t confirm because we couldn’t find a second or third source to back it up.”
Not that the Times didn’t try. At one point, according to McCain sources, Times reporters were calling McCain sources on their private cell phone numbers and private office numbers. “That gave us a pretty good idea about who the original source of this story was, because only two or three people in McCain’s inner circle, or former inner circle, would have all those numbers,” says a current McCain campaign aide.
These reporters were claiming to have more than 14 “on the record” sources for the story as they attempted to sway longtime McCain advisers to cooperate in the story. As it turned out, the Times had fewer than three.
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