The media’s push to defeat McCain officially begins (MORE: NRO TALKS TO ONE OF STORY’S MAIN SOURCES)

We’ve all predicted it would happen eventually, and the NYT didn’t dissapoint:

WASHINGTON — Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist’s client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

It had been just a decade since an official favor for a friend with regulatory problems had nearly ended Mr. McCain’s political career by ensnaring him in the Keating Five scandal. In the years that followed, he reinvented himself as the scourge of special interests, a crusader for stricter ethics and campaign finance rules, a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame.

But the concerns about Mr. McCain’s relationship with Ms. Iseman underscored an enduring paradox of his post-Keating career. Even as he has vowed to hold himself to the highest ethical standards, his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.

I have no problems with his role in the Keating Five being discussed. It’s part of his political career, and one he will have to always answer for. But the insinuations that he had an affair with a lobbyist are the gutter type politics you’d expect to find on an opinion piece, partisan website, or blog, not a mainstream news outlet.

But then again, this is the NYT, so what am I supposed to expect? They’re so dedicated to helping the Dem nominee win in the general and bringing down McCain that they’ve already devoted a four-page exposé on the Mc, before he’s even officially gotten the nomination wrapped up. The Times story is such big news that MSNBC interrupted its regular programming to report it.

I wonder how long the NYT sat on this story?

Update/semi-related: Tom Maguire reminds us once again why he is one of the best bloggers in the conservasphere with his “attack piece” on Barack Obama. Consider it a must-read :)

Thur AM Update 1 – 8:22 AM: The McCain campaign issues a lengthy rebuttal. And the Captain expresses a sentiment many of us are feeling this morning.

Just got word that there will be a press conference on this at 9 AM ET.

Update 2 – 9:49 AM: McCain responds:

TOLEDO, Ohio – Sen. John McCain, responding to published reports suggesting an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist, said Thursday that the allegations were “not true” and denied a romantic relationship with her.

“I’m very disappointed in this article. It’s not true,” the likely Republican presidential nominee said as his wife, Cindy, stood alongside him during a Toledo news conference called to address the matter.

McCain described the woman in question, lobbyist Vicki Iseman, as a friend.

Mary Katharine Ham: What’s the Quickest Way to Rally Conservatives ‘Round McCain? Sounds like it is.

Thur PM Update – 12:09 PM: Byron York spoke with John Weaver, who he describes as a “former top McCain campaign official who is now an informal adviser to the campaign” and who was also the source for some of the claims in the story. York’s interview is much more detailed and a lot less innuendo-based than what the NYT has reported. Surprise.

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