Susan Estrich: First Amendment Abuse?

Maybe there should be an asterisk in the First Amendment's protection of the freedom of the press making the point that most of us who are parents of teenagers do on a regular basis: that freedom is not simply a privilege but also a responsibility, that just because you have it doesn't mean you need to push its limits, much less abuse it.

I'm certainly not a McCain partisan. And I don't think I've ever met his old friend, the lobbyist Vicki Iseman, as she is described beneath her smiling picture in Thursday's New York Times.

I do know that the definition of all the news that's fit to print has changed if it includes a collage of anonymous anecdotes proving nothing more than that some of the senator's aides might have been troubled by the appearance that he was too close to a woman lobbyist at a time when he was running against the influence of big money in politics.

But the story really isn't about money.

It's about sex -- sex that no one has admitted ever happened; sex that both those involved, or not, deny; sex that no one can prove changed a vote or influenced a call.

After all, would the New York Times be devoting four reporters for three months to tracking down former golfing buddies of the presumptive Republican nominee?

McCain, it should be noted, did everything right in dealing with this investigation.

His hiring of Washington superlawyer Bob Bennett, the Michael Clayton of modern media scandals, janitor par excellence, may not have killed the story, first rumored in December in the Drudge Report, and followed closely by the New Republic, which has detailed the background of its investigation, postponement, and ultimate publication, but his efforts almost certainly pushed it back to the point that it can no longer play the role the whispering campaigns about McCain did in derailing his bid for the Republican nomination in 2000.

No, McCain weathered what could have been a major storm in December or January, but is more like a bump in February. Democrats, myself included, who have spent years defending Bill Clinton, who may yet find themselves defending a candidate who has openly acknowledged drug use not so many years ago, aren't about to get in a fight with John and Cindy McCain on the topic of morality.

At least I'm not.

No, it's not Mr. McCain I'm worried about. If anyone can weather this storm, he can — especially now, with the Republican nomination all but locked up while the Democrats keep trading barbs.

It's Vicki Iseman, and all the other women, many of them attractive, trying to make a living as lobbyists or aides or advisers in Washington, who will now be viewed with even greater suspicion in a world still dominated by powerful, charismatic, attractive men and those who serve them.

Are we all suspect?

It wasn't so many months ago that the woman who travels with Hillary Clinton was being featured all over the Internet amid gossip about exactly how close she really was to the former First Lady. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but at least one Web site this morning was reporting a spike of traffic in Google searches of that woman's name in the wake of the McCain revelations, as if two wrongs, two women ruined, might make things fair.

Maybe some people figured the Clintons had put out the story, and revenge would even the score. But there's no basis for thinking that they were trying to play dirty with McCain. Even if what's good for the goose may be good for the gander, it's a disaster for half the people who are trying to make their way in Washington.

I may have written before about the first time I went to an event alone with my then-boss, Ted Kennedy, during his 1980 Presidential campaign. It took me a while to realize why everyone, men and women, were looking at me funny. I had been to events with him before, but there was always at least one guy along.

This time, the body guy was sick, and I went instead, alone.
"She works for me," the senator said, over and over. How nice, people responded.
But she's really smart, he added, just finished a Supreme Court clerkship, Harvard Law Review, all that.
He practically recited my resume in explaining my presence. It didn't matter. I was young and blond. He was older and powerful.
Is there more to say than that?
There is.

It's between John and Cindy McCain whom he goes out in public with, whether he's friendly with attractive blondes, whether she cares if he went to some dinner in Florida with Ms. Iseman and flew back with her on a private jet.

I care how he votes on bills, not whom he eats dinner with. If Mrs. McCain cares, she can deal with her husband on the subject. If she doesn't, I don't. If this is what a free press means, maybe they should try being a little less free. Or a little more careful.

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for