Anyone who has covered the political game and tried to attract an audience knows how tempting it is to pass along information that has questionable “legs.” Around the blogsphere many so-called “citizen journalists” who self-righteously claim to have a monopoly on the truth, stretch that truth in order to promote their causes, build reputations, create “buzz.”

Today we have the New York Times, a newspaper whose circulation and revenues continue to plummet, tossing out a story about John McCain as if it were the National Enquirer, not a once-trusted newspaper that promised us only “news that’s fit to print.”

With no credible sources, a decade-old accusation, and the pressure to “do something” to prove its relevance, sell ink, and settle some liberal scores at the same time, it slanders McCain with innuendo and hearsay.

With all the backbone of a jelly fish, the Times doesn’t actually come out and say that McCain screwed Miss Iseman or was unduly influenced by her in his role on the Senate Commerce Committee. But you can’t read that story without getting that message.

No doubt the Times is crafting its face-saving strategy as I write this. Perhaps tomorrow, the anonymous sources of today’s story will go on the record tomorrow. Perhaps some form of “vigorous proof” will emerge to support their accusations. Truth is, anything that comes out after the fact will be suspect.

Although the original, unfounded accusation was brazen enough, this afternoon another Times reporter, Elizabeth Bumiller, is using her paper’s disgraceful story as an excuse to toss out another slur: McCain is only attacking the Times story to cozy up to the more conservative wing in the GOP. What a sissy kick in the balls!

Here’s what she says:

Later in the day, one of Mr. McCain’s senior advisers leveled harsh criticism at The New York Times in what appeared to be a deliberate campaign strategy to wage a war with the newspaper. Mr. McCain is deeply distrusted by conservatives on a number of issues, not least because of his rapport with the news media, but he could find common ground with them in attacking a newspaper that many conservatives revile as a left-wing publication.

If you are wondering if I — a card-carrying Democrat and Hillary supporter — am defending McCain, I am. Actually, I am defending integrity in political reporting. I believe a man or woman who has been smeared in the press deserves to be defended by all of us who write or report about politics. If I find out the Times story is true, I’ll deal with that reality when it’s here. Right now, all know is that an honorable man has been treated dishonorably.

And if you think it’s OK for “the enemy” to be slandered with this kind of story because you don’t like his or her politics, then you’re as bad as the Times. We might share the same politics, but we are definitely not on the same team.

We need to remember: if it’s not our candidate getting the Times treatment today, it could be our turn tomorrow.