Vicki Iseman Sues Times for $27 Million for Defamation

The telecom lobbyist is charging that a February front-page story paper "falsely communicated" that she had a romantic relationship with Sen. John McCain.

Telecom lobbyist Vicki Iseman is suing the Times for defamation to the tune of $27 million, charging that the paper "falsely communicated" that she had a romantic relationship with Sen. John McCain in 1999. The Times' David Johnston filed a story Wednesday, "Lobbyist Sues Times, Citing Report of Ties to McCain."

A Washington lobbyist sued The New York Times and several of its reporters and editors Tuesday, charging that the newspaper had falsely created an impression that she had engaged in an improper romantic relationship with Senator McCain.

The suit, filed in the Federal District Court in Richmond, Va., said that a front-page article on Feb. 21 "falsely communicated" that the lobbyist, Vicki L. Iseman, and Mr. McCain "had an illicit 'romantic' and unethical relationship in breach of the public trust in 1999." At that time, Ms. Iseman was representing clients before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, then headed by Mr. McCain.

"Ms. Iseman did not engage in any behavior toward him that was anything other than professional and appropriate," said the suit, which seeks damages of $27 million.

The article, published at a time when Mr. McCain had clawed his way back from early setbacks to emerge as the all but certain Republican presidential nominee, examined his stated efforts to maintain high ethical standards even as he sometimes edged close to potential conflicts of interest. With its focus on the details of his Washington life behind the scenes, it provoked immediate debate and angry protest.

Indeed,as Times Watch documented back in February, the Times suffered a serious backlash from both left and right. Even the network newscasts questioned the paper's journalist standards, while McCain was able to do the previously impossible - rally conservatives behind his candidacy.

Given the strong First Amendment protections provided to journalists in the United States, the lawsuit's prospects are questionable. But the very fact Iseman is sufficiently confident to take the step is a strong argument that the Times' sleazy insinuations of an affair are without merit. The Times may also be compelled to reveal the anonymous sources that voiced concerns about the relationship between Iseman and McCain during the discovery process. And as the paper learned with its prying into the lives of Cindy McCain's children on Facebook, the more people see how the sausage is made, the less respect they have for the process.

The conclusion to Iseman'sactual defamationcomplaint (obtained by the Smoking Gun) neatly sums up the Times' reputation - and its public dilemma:

Liberals may live to love The New York Times, and conservatives may live to hate it, but all must admit that it has historically been among a handful of American media outlets that occupy a unique niche of authority and respect within American and world culture.

But for how much longer?