The New Republic's story-of-the-story of the New York Times' story of how John McCain might've fucked lobbyist Vicki Iseman is up, and, as could probably be predicted, it's the story of Bill Keller being a total pussy and not letting his reporters go with all the awesome juicy stuff they were totally sure they had nailed down, provable or not. It's also the story of how now, basically, the standard for publication at the Times has slipped measurably closer to, say, ours.

Anyone familiar with Times Kremlinology could probably have guessed at that basic narrative by reading the front-page story: respected investigative journo Jim Rutenberg got the tip, four star reporters followed it, and they never quite ended up with solid documentation to satisfy Keller, who was under pressure from the McCain camp and their new (criminal!) lawyer Bob Bennett. Then it hit Drudge and suddenly they had to do something with it, 'cause if they didn't, someone else would.

Also it was a major battle between the Washington bureau (who wanted to run it!) and the New York bureau (stodgy and old and wanted to kill it!), with Keller, in New York, eventually making them reshape the piece into a history of vague ethical malfeasance and not OMG INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIP. This hedging led to the story being even fuzzier and more open to the criticism it's received than it would've been if they'd stuck to the "anonymous former aides insinuate this" angle, probably.

But, after continuing to pretend they didn't know anything about the story or when it would run up until the night the final draft arrived on Keller and managing editor Jill Abramson's desks, they had to do something with it, before everyone else did their pieces on how they didn't do anything with it. And there you have it. The New York Times is just a fancy blog.

We also extend our congrats to TNR for being, as far as we know, the first major publican to headline their story on this scandal with a Top Gun joke.

The Long Run-Up [TNR]