Limbaugh, conservatives attack NYT attack on McCain

Interesting development in the McCain smear by the New York Times. Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingram have both come out and attacked the outrageous smear being leveled against John McCain by the hit piece in the Times this morning:

"You're surprised that Page Six-type gossip is on the front page of The New York Times?" Limbaugh asked as he began his radio show. "Where have you been? How in the world can anybody be surprised?"

Limbaugh said earlier in an e-mail to Politico that the Times article about McCain’s relationship with a female lobbyist was a clear case of "the drive-by media ... trying to take him out."

Laura Ingraham, another influential conservative radio host, asserted that the Times waited until McCain was on the brink of the Republican presidential nomination and now is seeking to "contaminate" him with an article that she calls "absurd" and "ridiculous.", the website of the Christian Broadcasting Network, calls an attack by the Times "a conservative badge of honor." Ironically, a potentially damaging article about McCain may help bond him to conservatives, who are relishing the fact that now he needs them.
Does McCain now need the conservative base to fight back effectively against this attack? One thing for sure, he better be humble about it and accept this help because if he makes any noises about not needing anyone to help defend him - something I think McCain perfectly capable of believing and saying - he is going to become one lonely Republican candidate out there. Here's Ingraham:
Ingraham said triumphantly, “I ask the McCain campaign this question: Do you think you need talk radio now? Do you think that talk radio’s important to set the record straight, or do you think a press conference, where the media is shouting question after question at you — do you think that's going to put an end to all of this?”
Which probably isn't a very helpful attitude but conservatives are in no mood to be generous with this candidate. All over the conservative blogosphere today, the right is lashing out at the Times for what many professional journalists are saying was an thinly sourced, questionably reported piece.

The New Republic has now posted the piece I mentioned this morning that covers the debate in the newsroom that pitted Editor Bill Keller against the 4 reporters who were assigned to investigate and write the story. It turns out despite the fact the story has been ready to go since December,  that Keller just didn't think the story was strong enough:

Beyond its revelations, however, what's most remarkable about the article is that it appeared in the paper at all: The new information it reveals focuses on the private matters of the candidate, and relies entirely on the anecdotal evidence of McCain's former staffers to justify the piece--both personal and anecdotal elements unusual in the Gray Lady. The story is filled with awkward journalistic moves--the piece contains a collection of decade-old stories about McCain and Iseman appearing at functions together and concerns voiced by McCain's aides that the Senator shouldn't be seen in public with Iseman--and departs from the Times' usual authoritative voice. At one point, the piece suggestively states: "In 1999 she began showing up so frequently in his offices and at campaign events that staff members took notice. One recalled asking, 'Why is she always around?'" In the absence of concrete, printable proof that McCain and Iseman were an item, the piece delicately steps around purported romance and instead reports on the debate within the McCain campaign about the alleged affair.

What happened? 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
With all this going on and with the painfully thin evidence for both the infidelity and ethics lapses, why did the New York Times publish the story anyway? All we can do is point to a well known bias at the Times against conservatives and believe that there was a political agenda at work. No other explanation makes much sense.

The Times went with a questionable story - violating their own journalistic standards in doing so - and we are supposed to believe they did it for the good of the country? Or that the pressures of competitive journalism simply overwhelmed them and they were forced to publish?