Post Politics Hour

Michael Shear
Washington National Political Reporter
Thursday, February 21, 2008; 11:00 AM

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Washington Post national political reporter Michael Shear was online Thursday, Feb. 21 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Michael Shear: Good Morning, all. I suppose there might be a few questions about Sen. McCain and the stories published today, but I'm told there's also a Democratic primary still going on, so fire away.

I'll have to cut it a bit short today, probably after a half-hour. So let's get right at it.


Richmond, Va.: While I am quite willing to believe McCain had a romantic affair with a lobbyist, and that he did indeed intervene for this same woman on behalf of her clients (I mean, why not, it is done all the time), I would have liked the New York Times article to have given named attributions for what was alleged. Without it, these anonymous sources make the credibility of the article as nefarious as the allegations. Any thoughts? McCain's Ties To Lobbyist Worried Aides (Post, Feb. 21)

Michael Shear: Okay, Let's start here -- and let's also be clear. The Washington Post did not report this morning on a romantic affair with the lobbyist in question. The New York Times did report that members of McCain's staff believed that to be the case, but what we reported was that members of McCain's staff were concerned about his interactions with the lobbyist and encouraged her to distance herself.


Arlington, Va.: Hi, thanks for taking our questions. I read the New York Times story on McCain and watched his new conference this morning. What are you feelings about how this will play out with the conservatives? I'm already hearing that they are rallying around McCain, because of a new common enemy: the New York Times.

Michael Shear: This is an interesting question. Sen. McCain's campaign clearly has decided to be very aggressive in their response to the story the New York Times published. The senator was highly critical of the paper during his news conference this morning, and his top aides were on the TV morning news programs doing the same.

Attacking the New York Times probably can't hurt with conservatives, who often criticize the paper as being too liberal. Remember, Sen. McCain did the same thing last year when the Times published an ad from about Gen. Petraeus. McCain got great kudos from the right for taking on the Times in that instance.


Beallsville, Pa.: Acknowledging not only that these matters never should rise to be issues but also how our electorate thinks, if Clinton prevails in the primary, will the allegations of McCain's infidelity accrue benefit to her?

Michael Shear: Sen. McCain was asked this basic question -- whether the allegations would dog him as he continues his presidential run -- and he said he believed he would be able to put this behind him rather quickly. His aides have said they thought the story would die quickly.


Washington: Mr. Shear, regarding the New York Times story -- isn't the idea that McCain is figuratively in bed with a lobbyist more damaging than whether he was literally in bed with someone other than his wife? After all, hasn't he more or less admitted in the past that he was not a perfect husband to his first wife (given the timing of his second marriage)? Secondly, do you think the New York Times had more but felt it didn't have enough sourcing to print more damaging stuff? Thanks.

Michael Shear: The question of whether Sen. McCain had an affair aside, there are always legitimate questions about politicians and their interactions with lobbyists who have business before them on Capitol Hill.

Sen. McCain has made a career out of his reputation for rejecting the kinds of influences that lobbyists sometimes have over lawmakers. In recent months he has said he "never, ever" has done favors for lobbyists. That's a pretty high bar, and invites some scrutiny.

On the Times, I have no idea what other information they might or might not have.


Columbia, Md.: In the first response, you made a point that The Washington Post did not refer to the accusations of a romantic affair. Does this mean you believe The New York Times stepped over the line?

Michael Shear: That's not for me to judge. I just want to be clear, especially in this day and age where a story like this becomes chatter on TV and everywhere, what The Post reported and what we didn't.


Bow, N.H.: I have a question about the news/editorial divide on the McCain story. How much did the New York Times people who made the call to endorse McCain know about this story when they made that call?

Michael Shear: That's a question for the New York Times, obviously, but it does point out pretty clearly a fact that we in newspapers try to highlight all the time: There is a huge barrier between the editorial department and the news departments. That's certainly the case here at The Post.


Chicago: Good morning and thanks for chatting. I am sure you will get a lot of questions about the McCain/lobbyist story but I am curious about what you think about the timing of the New York Times breaking the story. Drudge indicated that the story was out there in December and McCain denied it then. However, Keith Olbermann reported that Bill Bennett went to the New York Times and got the "story" spiked because the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire were upcoming. Now, when McCain practically has the race locked up, the New York Times breaks the story (though apparently the fact that the New Republic was going to break the "story" tipped the New York Times's hand).

Assuming that there is some substance to the "story," shouldn't the voters of New Hampshire and Iowa have been allowed to know what that substance was before they voted? What does it say about the New York Times's timing that this "issue" might have gone unreported until McCain got the nomination, but now potentially will be an issue for the Democrats? What factors go into a newspaper's decision to delay a story at the request of the impacted party(s)?

Michael Shear: I believe you will hear a lot about this today and in the days to come. I have no information about the timing of the Times's decision, but have seen much speculation and rumor, especially from conservatives, that the Times somehow "timed" the release for some political purpose.

It has been reported that Sen. McCain talked to the executive editor of the Times and that he had top aides and his lawyer do the same. That's obviously something I have no independent knowledge about. And to be honest, I am not high enough in the food chain here at The Post to be involved in those kinds of conversations here.

But I have confidence that when such discussions happen with top editors here, they take them seriously and listen to the people involved before making a decision.


Detroit: As a Republican, I read and enjoy the NYT, but this piece on Sen. McCain is outrageous. At the very least it is tabloid journalism, at the very worst it is a hatchet job and deliberate attempt to affect the election. This piece is nothing more than innuendo that leaves it up to the reader to make their decision. Also, the New York Times refused to print the numerous instances where Sen. McCain and the Commerce Committee did not vote in the lobbyists' interests. Additionally, why did the New York Times hold this so long?

Michael Shear: Thanks for your thoughts. I think this gives people a sense of why Sen. McCain believes it is in his interests to go on the offensive against the New York Times.


Washington: Forgive me for being naive, but the allegations in the New York Times and Washington Post articles involved events that happened some eight years ago! How is that news? It's like somebody resurrecting the whole sordid Lewinsky or Rose Law Firm documents affairs. How can I see this as something other than a smear tactic?

Michael Shear: I think the question of time is relevant, but I also believe that when a person runs for president, their entire record is open to scrutiny. I also think that if Sen. Clinton gets the Democratic nominee that the Rose Law firm scandals are very likely to be brought up again. That's the nature of being the nominee.


Michael Shear: Hey guys. Gotta run. But thanks for the questions. See you again next week.


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