Originally, I wrote, "What people, particularly those outside of the media, need to realize is that there rarely are smoking guns in these sorts of stories and that anonymous sources are a necessary evil. At times, journalists have to build their cases using circumstantial evidence the same way lawyers do in court."
But after reading Clark Hoyt, the paper's ombudsman, blast the piece in his column Sunday, I realized that I was too easy on the paper. The story, as Hoyt noted, "did not say what convinced the advisers that there was a romance. It did not make clear what McCain was admitting when he acknowledged behaving inappropriately - an affair or just an association with a lobbyist that could look bad."
Moreover, letting anonymous sources make accusations against someone is potentially dangerous for any news organization. The Times' decision to pursue the story was legitimate because questions about McCain's relationship with lobbyists have been raised for years. I only wish the execution was better.
Still, the exposé has done more to shore up the Republican base than the candidate has been able to do himself. I bet that McCain has no plans to let his subscription to the newspaper that conservatives love to hate lapse.
--Jonathan Berr edits the blog Ketchup and Eggs. He's done freelance work for the Times.