Iseman Cometh: Lobbyist Sues New York Times Over Story on Alleged Affair with John McCain

originalNow this is a defamation lawsuit that will be fascinating to watch unfold in Richmond, Virginia. Vicki L. Iseman, a Washington lobbyist alleged to have had an affair with Sen. John McCain in 1999, has sued the New York Times for $27 million. The newspaper stands by the story and this could produce a substantial ruling on the limits of defamation.

Iseman represented telecommunications companies before the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain chaired and the newspaper reported that McCain aides were worried about their relationship being more than professional or platonic. The story itself does not seem particularly strong as the basis for defamation since the newspaper reported that McCain and Iseman denied the relationship.

What is most interesting about the lawsuit is Iseman insists that published denials are ignored by readers as perfunctory and meaningless. She has included accounts of how pundits and readers interpreted the language as a type of code for confirming an affair.

The lawsuit focuses on that part of the article where two former McCain associates had warned McCain that he was risking his career and recounted how he “acknowledged behaving inappropriately” and “pledged to keep his distance” from Iseman. One specific instance raised in the article involved McCain flying back to Washington with Iseman on one of the corporate jet of one of her clients. For those of us who have criticized corruption in Congress, I am more concerned with McCain flying around in private industry clients than what he did on the flight.

The New York Times has detailed how McCain seemed to be at the beck and call of Iseman to assist her clients. For example:

In late 1999, Ms. Iseman asked Mr. McCain’s staff to send a letter to the commission to help Paxson, now Ion Media Networks, on another matter. Mr. Paxson was impatient for F.C.C. approval of a television deal, and Ms. Iseman acknowledged in an e-mail message to The Times that she had sent to Mr. McCain’s staff information for drafting a letter urging a swift decision.

Mr. McCain complied. He sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman. In an embarrassing turn for the campaign, news reports invoked the Keating scandal, once again raising questions about intervening for a patron.

It will come down to those sources. On a story of this kind, the Times is likely to have confirmed its sources and expected a threat of litigation. It will also be interesting how Iseman is defined: as a public figure or non-public figure. She has not sought the limelight. However, she is a lobbyist who deals with high-profile clients in national politics. If she is defined as a public figure or limited public figure, she will have even greater difficulty in prevailing. The governing precedent is not hard to find: New York Times v. Sullivan defined the constitutionally based standard later extended to public figures. I am sure the defendants have copies.

For the full story, click here and here.

13 thoughts on “Iseman Cometh: Lobbyist Sues New York Times Over Story on Alleged Affair with John McCain”

  1. The NYT is reporting that Vicki Iseman dropped her 27 million dollar defamation law suit filed here in Richmond by Dean Rodney Smolla and Coleman Allen, Esq. No checks written, no retraction, no apology, just a”note” which confirms what we already knew that there is no evidence to suggest a romantic link between Ms.iseman and Sen. McCain. Politico has the story too along with the statement from Ms. Iseman’s lawyers. It’s worth a read not for the flowery prose about reputation (character is much more important, by the way)or its references to Shakespeare’s Otello, but rather for its spin of a retreat into a victory. Funny how feelings get soothed and egregious wrongs get righted after an election and when a new administration gets seated –and especially so when lobbying clients have to think twice about hiring one who is engaged in litigation with a company that buys ink by the barrel over allegations of ethics violations. Here’s Michael Calderone’s article:

  2. Actually, the reason New York got all the lawyers is simply because they have better beaches, where you never see a lawyer, however, because the cats cover them up.

  3. waynebro:

    I liked it too!! My favorite is the one answering the question about why New Jersey got all the smoke spewing chemical plants and New York got all the lawyers. The answer, of course, was that New Jersey got first pick.

  4. rafflaw 1, December 31, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Good joke”

    Thanks. It’s an old joke that I just made up.


  5. Waynebro,
    Good joke. Candy, Candy, Candy! Why don’t you save yourself some time and well deserved abuse and go post on a RNC approved site. Mespo,the recommendation for local counsel is a good one. I would also be interested in watching this case, but as stated above, this is one to be settled if it survives pretrial motions. There is no way that McCain wants to respond to probing questions about his conduct.

  6. Did you guys hear the one about the Personal Injury Attorney?

    One afternoon he was musing on ways to increase his small firms cash flow when a junior colleague pointed out that PI cases involving death often carried a higher dollar award than dismemberment or other injuries.

    Later that day the attorney sends out a memo instructing everyone at the firm to immediately stop chasing ambulances and start chasing hearses.

  7. “candy:

    Here’s a revelation for you– I am one too!!”


    What a reply!

    Depending on a person’s perspective and which side of any particular case–plaintiff or defendant–a person is on, any lawyer can be “called” an ambulance chaser attorney because every person has a right to legal representation.



  9. Here’s a case I ‘ll drive downtown to watch although I suspect it will be settled. Coleman Allen, the attorney for plaintiff, is a lawyer I know and has a fine reputation as a legal scholar, though his firm usually handles the typical gamut of personal injury cases like car crashes and medical malpractice like my firm. I would offer one piece of advice to the defendants. They should hire local counsel here to try the case. The last time we had out of town counsel defend a big one, the out of state corporate defendant got hit for $16 million (later reversed on appeal of course). Additionally one of the larger verdicts in recent memory was against our local newspaper for an alleged defamation against a teacher. That, of course, was remitted by the trial court.

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