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Lobbyist Sues NY Times for Defamation

  Political and Legal  -   POSTED: 2009/01/02 17:14

Washington lobbyist Vicki Iseman sued The New York Times on Tuesday, claiming the newspaper defamed her in an article "falsely communicating that Ms. Iseman and Sen. John McCain had an illicit 'romantic' and unethical relationship in breach of the public trust in 1999, while Sen. McCain was chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and while Ms. Iseman was representing clients as a lobbyist on matters relating to the business of the committee."
    Iseman demands $27 million from the Times and its editors and reporters, insisting she "did not engage in any behavior toward (McCain) that was anything other than professional and appropriate."
    The lawsuit refers to the Feb. 21 story, "For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk." Iseman sued the four reporters whose bylines are on the story - James Rutenberg, Marilyn Thompson, Stephen Labaton and David Kirkpatrick - and editors Bill Keller and Dean Baquet.
    The federal filing quotes more than 30 paragraphs from the Times story, which reported that two of McCain's "associates" were so concerned about his behavior with Iseman that, according to the article as cited in the lawsuit, "they joined in a serried of confrontations with Mr. McCain, warning him that he was risking his campaign and career. Both said Mr. McCain acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Mr. (sic) Iseman. The two associates, who said they had become disillusioned with the senator, spoke independently of each other and provided details that were corroborated by others.
    "Separately, a top McCain aide met with Ms. Iseman at Union Station in Washington to ask her to stay away from the senator," the Times reported, according to the complaint.
    Iseman claims the article is "reasonably susceptible of two levels of false and defamatory meanings, constitution 'defamation per se' under Virginia law. ... The first defamatory meaning was that MS Iseman exploited an alleged personal and social friendship with Sen. McCain to obtain favorable legislative outcomes for her clients, engaging in 'inappropriate' behavior that constituted a conflict of interest and a violation of professional and ethical norms in breach of the public trust. This meaning was communicated through the literal words of the article and also by implication, by what was intentionally suggested and implied 'between the lines.'
    "The second defamatory meaning was that Ms. Iseman and Sen. McCain had engaged in an illicit and inappropriate romantic while Ms. Iseman was a lobbyist conducting business on behalf of clients before the committee chaired by Sen. McCain. This was also defamation per se under Virginia law. This meaning was also communicated through the literal words of the article and by implication, by what was suggested and implied 'between the lines.'"
    The article then cites 1o major media outlets that followed up the Times story.
    The Times broke the story of Iseman's lawsuit on its Web site Tuesday afternoon. The newspaper said it stands by its story.
    Iseman's 36-page filing claims the Times story is false, that it damaged her reputation and her emotional and mental health, that it was "deliberately and recklessly misleading," and written with negligence and "actual malice."
    Iseman claims she is a private figure and thus need prove only negligence to make the defamation claim stick. And she claims, on page 32 of the lawsuit, that the Times rushed the story into print to try to beat a story The New Republic was preparing "about The New York times failed and obsessive pursuit of the story, including its inability to 'nail down' the scandalous accusations," according to the complaint.
    Iseman is represented by W. Coleman Allen Jr. of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen.

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