But that wasn't the end of the rewriting.
The current version of the story re-buries the lede -- or, rather, it subsumes the lede in a narrative that portrays McCarthy not as a partisan hack, but as a happy, friendly golden retriever of a man who might run into trouble as Speaker because he's so darn outgoing.
No, I'm not kidding. I'll quote the current version story at some length so you can see how it works:
Can Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker Favorite, Go From Buddy to Boss?This is appalling. It suggests that the only problem with McCarthy's comment about the Benghazi committee was that he was trying to be the "fun dad" he always is and he's going to have to stop saying fun things like that if he wants to make House Republicans "eat their kale."
WASHINGTON -- Representative Kevin McCarthy of California has built a loyal following among House Republicans by calling them up just to gab, giving them special jackets when they joined his vote-whipping team and telling them their ideas are fantastic, even after telling the last guy who left his office that his (completely opposite) idea was great, too.
“If you want to talk to him,” said former Representative Tim Griffin of Arkansas, “then you’re the only one in the world at that moment.”
But for Mr. McCarthy -- relatively inexperienced at governing and at times a political chameleon -- the question now is whether he can transform himself from the House fun dad always ready for a trip to Disneyland into one who makes the children do their algebra homework and eat their kale.
In just the past 48 hours, the man who longs to be speaker of the House insulted the man he would replace, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, and suggested that a taxpayer-funded committee to investigate the terror attack in Benghazi was designed to harm the political fortunes of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The remark was a gift-wrapped gaffe for Democrats, who will now spend the week before Mr. McCarthy’s effort to be elected speaker painting him as a partisan hack.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” Mr. McCarthy told Sean Hannity of Fox News on Tuesday night. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”
Mrs. Clinton responded that she found Mr. McCarthy’s comments “deeply distressing.”
Mr. McCarthy’s moves point to an uncomfortable problem: Many of the qualities that have led to his meteoric rise during a mere eight years in Congress may be liabilities should he be chosen to wield the speaker’s gavel, as is widely expected to happen next Thursday.
“His success has been his personality,” said Representative John Carter, Republican of Texas. Nonetheless, he said, “There has to be a strong hand somewhere in this because it is like herding cats over here.”
(In the same interview, McCarthy undiplomatically gave Boehner's speakership a grade of B-minus. Steinhauer apparently believes that slighting Boehner and acknowledging the nakedly political purpose a committee ostensibly devoted to the investigation of four deaths at a U.S. diplomatic outpost are morally equivalent gaffes.)
If you look at the "Compare with previous" links at NewsDiffs, you can see that the "fun dad" bit is new, and became part of the story only in the third version. Obviously that was the take on McCarthy that Steinhauer was working on when news of his Benghazi statement broke, and she just plowed on and shoehorned the Benghazi remarks into her take without ever considering that maybe "fun dad" didn't quite address what had just happened. But the "fun dad" take is classic Beltway-insider journalism: It seems to be a frank assessment of a power player, but it's a gentle, toothless critique. Is McCarthy too warm? Is Hillary Clinton too cold? That's what matters to insider journalists, not what these people actually do -- what laws they enact, what policies they support.
A guy who exults in shameless smashmouth partisanship is not being a "fun dad." Steinhauer doesn't get that, nor do her editors at the Times -- to them, it's all just sport. This is the mentality of horserace journalism expanded even beyond election coverage -- McCarthy is rising in the polls in the House GOP, and that's all that matters. The real-world consequences of what dishonorable politicians do don't matter.