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John McCain's Rapid-Fire Responders
Meacham volunteered to post the letter on Newsweek's Web site, and quickly did so. "We're big boys," he said. "We give advice all the time to people in politics and public life. We should let them have their say." As for the piece itself, Meacham said, "in retrospect, there are some points I wish we'd put differently." Meacham said he is talking to campaign officials, who have not banned Newsweek correspondents, about continued access.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that for McCain aides "to say the media has laid down for Barack Obama is absolutely absurd. Senator Obama has faced tough scrutiny on every aspect of his life, and that is completely fair because he's running for president."
The McCain camp has objected to two Post articles in recent weeks. Earlier this month, The Post reported that McCain was a "key figure" in pushing through Congress a massive land exchange that benefited an Arizona rancher, who in turn gave the job of building as many as 12,000 homes to a company run by longtime McCain supporter Steven Betts.
The article by Matthew Mosk quoted Betts and a McCain spokesman as saying there was no connection between the developer's contract and his raising more than $100,000 for McCain's White House bid. The Post gave the campaign 24 hours to respond, which Salter says was unfair because of the complex questions involved.
McCain called Graham the day after the piece was published. "Senator McCain told me he was unhappy with the story," Graham said. "I told him the editorial page would be happy to look at a response." The campaign arranged for two Arizona mayors to submit a letter, published by The Post Wednesday, in which they said the story "did a gross disservice to readers" by "falsely portraying" McCain's backing of the deal as an effort to benefit supporters.
Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie said "anybody we've written about has a right to call" and that he didn't view McCain's conversation with Graham as "undue pressure." He said the explanations that McCain offered Graham already had been included in the story, and that the paper's Web site posted the campaign's three-page response along with the story.
Last month, Post reporter Michael Leahy addressed questions about McCain's temper, quoting some politicians who said it was a problem and others who said it made him more effective. The article also noted that the senator himself had written that he has tried to control it "with varying degrees of success."
In a letter posted on National Review's Web site, Salter called the piece "99% fiction." In some instances, he wrote, Leahy "declined to print my rebuttal. He used my quotes in ways that made them seem as if I were confirming his thesis when I insisted that McCain's temper is no greater than the average person's, and that I personally know 20 or 25 Senators with much worse tempers."
Downie described Salter's letter as "a political statement," saying: "I've yet to see any factual challenge to any fact in the story."
Salter says Leahy asked him to respond to an allegation that McCain once tried to block the hiring of an Arizona woman with whom he had clashed but refused to say when the incident occurred or whom McCain was alleged to have called. Leahy says that was the condition on which he was given the information, although the details were published in his story. "We have multiple sources for that incident and it's absolutely solid," Leahy said.
The article quoted former New Hampshire senator Bob Smith as saying McCain's temper was dangerous and that the Arizonan once belittled Smith's Vietnam War service because he wasn't in direct combat, although he served on a Navy ship in the combat zone. Salter, in last week's interview, cited a Fox News report that Smith was quoted inaccurately. Fox correspondent Carl Cameron told viewers that "the McCain campaign is very vehemently opposing the article" as "not factual." He said he had had conversations with Smith and that the "violent outburst and the exchange of harsh words was exaggerated in the article . . . and what is reported in the article today is what Mr. Smith has already said never actually happened."
Smith said in an interview that he was "quoted accurately" by The Post and that Cameron's account is "totally false. . . . I swear to you I never talked to Carl Cameron. . . . I'm very concerned about it because my reputation is on the line."