TNR: "The Long Bombshell"
Here's the New Republic's behind-the-scenes dig at the New York Times.
The key paragraphs:
The publication of the article capped three months of intense internal deliberations at the Times over whether to publish the negative piece and its most explosive charge about the affair. It pitted the reporters investigating the story, who believed they had nailed it, against executive editor Bill Keller, who believed they hadn't. It likely cost the paper one investigative reporter, who decided to leave in frustration. And the Times ended up publishing a piece in which the institutional tensions about just what the story should be are palpable.
In late December, according to Times sources, Keller told the reporters and the story's editor, Rebecca Corbett, that he was holding the piece in part because they could not secure documentary proof of the alleged affair beyond anecdotal evidence. Keller felt that given the on-the-record-denials by McCain and Iseman, the reporters needed more than the circumstantial evidence they had assembled to prove the case. The reporters felt they had the goods.
The Drudge item didn't derail the investigation, however. By late December, the reporters had submitted several pages of written questions to Bennett for comment, and completed a draft of the piece before the New Year. But to their growing frustration, Keller ordered rounds of changes and additional reporting. According to Times sources, Baquet remained an advocate for his reporters and pushed the piece to be published, but sources say Keller wanted a more nuanced story looking less at personal matters and more at questions of Iseman's lobbying and McCain's legislative record. (The Washington-New York divide is an eternal rift at the Paper of Record: Baquet had successfully brought stability and investigative acumen to the Washington bureau; with the McCain piece, he was being sucked into his first major struggle with New York.)
It was at about that time, amidst flurries of rumors swirling about the looming Times investigation, that the Times' McCain beat reporter, Marc Santora, abruptly left the campaign trail after covering the senator for four and a half months, frustrated by the McCain rumors. A rising star at the paper, Santora had been working grueling hours, joining the 2008 election coverage straight from a reporting assignment in Baghdad. As the campaign headed to South Carolina, the site of McCain's defeat in 2000, Santora emailed the Times deputy Washington editor, Richard Stevenson, to vent about how the rumors were dogging him on the campaign trail, and left the McCain beat on January 10. "The last thing I wanted was to be a pawn in this thing," Santora told me. "I was exhausted, there were a lot of rumors flying around. I thought the best thing for me to do was take a break."
Of course, each of these sources had reason to keep the story from breaking. But what actually pushed it into publication? The reporters working on the investigation declined to comment. In an email to me on February 19, Keller wrote: "This sounds like a pointless exercise to me--speculating about reporting that may or may not result in an article. But if that's what Special Correspondents of The New Republic do, speculate away. When we have something to say, we'll say it in the paper."