NEW YORK—Although his lack of charisma and charm has lately prevented the Arizona senator from grabbing front-page headlines, the tenets of journalistic objectivity made it necessary today to publish a top news story on Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
According to the newspaper's editors, the decision to run the story came after they realized that they had not printed a cover story about Sen. McCain (R-AZ) in a number of months, despite the distinct possibility that he could become the leader of the free world for the next four to eight years.
Some of the publication's employees said they recalled a recent profile on McCain's military service—also run out of obligation—but archival records revealed that piece was published in April 2007. While other articles published in recent weeks have referred to McCain, today's story marks a conscious effort to focus on John McCain and only John McCain, and to mention John McCain's name whenever possible.
"John McCain is one of only two men who has a chance to become president of the United States of America, and by running an entire 600-word article about him, we are acknowledging that we are aware of that fact," a statement from the newspaper's editorial board read in part. "Even though we are certain that the presence of Sen. McCain's name and image on the front page will result in a decrease in reader interest, sales, and web traffic, running this story was, regrettably, the right thing to do."
"On the plus side, it gives us the opportunity to wait two more months before we feel pressured to write another lead story on the senator," the statement continued.
To make room for the McCain article, a story about Vice President Dick Cheney and 9/11 was relegated to a less prominent position on the front page.
Sources confirmed that the primary placement of the McCain article also serves to bolster the publication's reputation as a legitimate paper of record, one that is above being swayed by the hypnotic effect of other, more dynamic public figures who are younger, more visually pleasing, and more adept at garnering media attention.
"Featuring this article was a bold move, and the result is—though completely uninteresting—quite impressive," media critic Tim Keller said. "They have printed a headline that includes McCain's name, put it in a bolded, 48-point font size, and accompanied it with a significant amount of text and a large color photograph of the senator. It takes a strong sense of professional responsibility to commit to something like this."
"Granted, nobody's actually going to read the story," Keller added.
The completion of the article, however, proved far more difficult than expected. Approximately two-thirds of the way through, the legitimate news content grew thin, and several last-ditch efforts were made to increase the length of the story, including a crude listing of pertinent or interesting facts and background information on McCain.
John McCain was born at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone. John McCain attended Episcopal High School, a private boarding school in Alexandria, VA. John McCain was captured and taken prisoner in Vietnam on Oct. 26, 1967. John McCain hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live with musical guest the White Stripes in 2002.
In a clear attempt to fill the remaining space on the jump page, the article then presented a dissenting opinion from an outside source on several points made previously in the story.
"If you have to convince the reading public that the story you want to publish is a top story, then it's not a top story," said New York University journalism professor Greg Hillman. "There is obviously a reason the newspaper decided that McCain had done little up to this point to warrant front-page coverage. Perhaps that's the story right there."
Toward its conclusion, the article began to stretch for even more information to pad the piece, at one point mentioning John McCain's age (72), his years in the Senate (21), and his wife's name (Cindy Hensley McCain, born Cindy Lou Hensley) for the sole purpose of adding 49 words.
"Maybe they should have quoted an average citizen to make the article a bit more relatable to readers," said Akron, OH resident Mark Casali, 32. "But I doubt he'd really have anything interesting to say."