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Reporting The Edwards Scandal

Mickey Kaus makes the case:

The only legitimate reason not to cover this scandal, it seems to me, is simple sympathy for Elizabeth Edwards--and I've gotten enough emails from anguished and angry members of the MSM to conclude, with Estrich, that it's the prime reason for the MSM blackout. True, I also suspect that if Mrs. Edwards were a conservative Republican, or even an unbeloved Democrat, the MSM might somehow find a way to overcome this compassionate sentiment. But that doesn't make it wrong. Reporters don't have to print everything. You could conclude that the need to protect Mrs. Edwards her children is so great, the karma of Enquiring so bad, that all of the obvious, public-interesty reasons for covering the story should be thrown out the window. And if John Edwards were already so damaged that in practice he'd never get a significant public office even if he wants one, I might agree (even if that meant sacrificing the deterrent effect of full exposure).

But that's a point that clearly hasn't been reached yet, at least not while most Americans are being kept in the dark about what, exactly, has led to Edwards' mysterious disappearance from the political oddsmakers' charts. A man arrogant and ambitious enough to think he can run for president posing as a loyal husband while keeping his second family secret, even as he visits his mistress in a famous hotel that is hosting a convention of journalists, will be arrogant and ambitious enough to keep hiding under the shield of his wife's illness until he can attempt a comeback-- if given the chance.

The alternative, it seems to me, is to let affection for Mrs. Edwards suck journalists into a Print-the-Legend world where they must spend their time burnishing--or at least accepting--the story powerful people and institutions want them to tell, the story of the wonderful Edwards marriage, rather than figuring out and telling readers the truth. If I wanted to be in that business I'd be a publicist.

That's certainly what the "journalists" have been when it came to Barack Obama. Does anyone doubt that if Edwards were a Republican in similar circumstances, that there would have been a NYT story about it? The question answers itself.


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Fred K wrote:

I don't agree that there are TWO Americas -- but I guess the evidence suggests that there are TWO Edwards families.

The Private sex life of a Republican: fair game for the media (see ), but the private sex life of a Democratic contender is off-limits.

The MSM is Positively in the tank.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

His "values" show loud and clear: can't keep it in his pants like too many others (females included, makes no difference) and the sleaze protects him but doesn't dare admit it, makes them no better.

The boy (he's no man) is an absolute prick and one doesn't help anyone by trying to cover it up or assisting in it --deadly illness or not. I wish one could transplant the illness from her to him.

Carl Pham wrote:

Yes, well, unbelievable as it might be, I'm going to defend this decision with respect to that sanctimonious hypocritical ambulance chaser.

What kind of people are going to cheer the "Two Americas" naked class-warfare speech, overlook the fact that he made his fortune screwing productive people out of $millions for tragic bad luck, ignore his rampant hypocrisy in living like an aristocrat while preaching the poverty of a Zen monk for all the rest of us -- love all that, I repeat, and then turn on him when they find out he cheated on his wife?

Not the kind of people I think should be courted by any candidate, pro- or anti-Edwards. Not the kind of people who I even think should have the franchise. These are folks who vote purely on image and high-school clique popularity, the worst sort of lemmings. I'm totally cool with utterly ignoring their votes.

Sure, if Edwards were Republican, the MSM would be all over this story in the worst sort of gossipy old lady prying poking fingers in the eyes way. And so? Because they behave like assholes towards Republicans, the correct solution is to make sure they behave like assholes towards Democrats, too? We should encourage a race to the bottom, ethically speaking? If the only way to level the playing field is sink it at both ends into the mud, this should be done? Not by me.

Let John Edwards' sad family life be his own secret. Who knows what madness and misery lies behind his actions? Having your young kids' mom stricken with stage 4 breast cancer is the kind of thing that can drive any man to drink, or worse.

There's reason enough in his politics and public behaviour to reject John Edwards as candidate for high office. And if those reasons are not sufficiently compelling for a certain slice of dumbass voters, I don't think the election of a better candidate is good enough reason to stoop to spreading personal dirt to recruit them. The ends do not justify all means. There are more important things than winning elections.

Robert Huntingdon wrote:

Carl, while it would be nice to avoid "a race to the bottom", it's simply not realistic. We already are at the bottom, or near enough as makes no difference.

There are dirty Republicans who SHOULD have the light of day shone on their actions. But there are also just as many (snort, can we nominate that for understatement of the week?) Democrats who ALSO should have the light of day shone on their actions. And with all but the rarest of exceptions, the lamestream mediots will not do so.

I really wouldn't consider the sexual escapades of a member of either party to be newsworthy unless accompanied by hypocrisy ala Edwards or Spitzer. But until the LSM gives equal treatment to both parties, then their hypocrisy will not end. And it is long overdue for that to be ended, by very nearly any means necessary.

We already ARE at the bottom. The bias is so blatantly obvious anybody who isn't just as biased themselves to the democrat party could see it with both eyes closed. Unless the bias is eliminated, the race to the bottom that we are *already* in cannot be ENDED.


Carl Pham wrote:

I appreciate your POV, Robert, but I disagree. You should see Karl Hallowell's excellent and perceptive comment in another thread about the curious fact of human nature that we renormalize "awful" to be just a bit worse than what we have now -- no matter how good it is.

On that basis, I assure you, things could get a lot worse. The American MSM is certainly a pain and biased and all that, but they are not the equivalent of Pravda or the Chinese media. We don't have massive wholescale lying and deception (just something a lot like it around the edges). There most definitely is a bottom significantly below where we are now, where dirty secrets being outed are small potatoes -- where hideous lies and conspiracies of falsehood, planted evidence, criminal fraud, bribery and blackmail and all kinds of ugly stuff is the norm.

Also, I recommend this passage from Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson in which a neo-Victorian holds forth on the smallness of elevating a minor sin, hypocrisy, to a high level of seriousness.

Are you a hypocrite? That is, are you ever hypocritical? Say one thing and do another? Unless you're a lineal descendant of Jesus Christ, I suspect you are. I know I am. Hypocrisy is a typical human failing, an indication that our moral reach exceeds our grasp, that we aim to be better than we typically are. Saying Edwards' sins would be reasonably off-limits except for his sin of hypocrisy make hypocrisy unreasonable important. By the same standards, you or I could be crucified for any number of somewhat tawdry things we've done that contradict our stated moral standards.

Furthermore, this crap is not cost-free. The hypocrisy (ha ha) of our media and electorate, in demanding an inhuman pristine purity of our candidates (which we ourselves cannot meet), has the result of driving good but human people out of the race. We're left with the mildly antisocial robots, like Clinton and Obama, who are capable of believing their own lies, of thinking that being the Messiah of The Movement transfigures them in some way, makes them no longer subject to human limitations, human limitations, and (alas), human law and ethics.

J.J. Jameson wrote:

I dunno. I've been seeing supermarket tabloid reports for years about one very prominent Republican alleging that (a) he's drinking again (b) shacking up with a subordinate and (c) on the verge of a nasty divorce from his wife.

I'll give you one guess as to who that is. Hint: rythmes with tush.

Don't see the dreaded MSM covering any of that based on tabloid reports.

Scott wrote:

Your points are well-taken Carl, and while I do agree that we are nowhere near the bottom, we are sufficiently far from the top that we must see what can be done about providing disincentives for even more decay.

The fact of the matter is that the current regime (the sins of one party are largely ignored, while those of the other party are shouted from the rooftops) does immense damage to the political and social discourse in the country, and simply pretending that because it isn't even worse that we can accept it as it stands is (in my eyes) a very dangerous long-term policy. The problem is, however, how do we encourage the press to change this behavior?

If we encourage 'mud on everyone', the press might think twice about espousing the public's right to know everything all the time. When they are forced to choose between their political preferences and their economic viability (as the MSM becomes less creditable, they lose their competitive advantage over time), we can be fairly sure that their economic masters will rein in their worst impulses.

I am not so naive to believe that this will lead to some golden age of responsible journalism, but I suspect that it will be better than what we have now. At the very least, it will show the press for the hypocrites that they are, and that won't hurt. Bias in the press isn't a bad thing as long as it is out in the open. I enjoy reading the Guardian, for instance, but I take everything they say with a few boxes of salt...

As for private lives...I don't believe that politicians have them, nor should they. They choose that role in life, and must live with the consequences. The more we let them dissemble, the more that we let them hide, the greater the chance that they will be hiding something much worse than a few private pecadillos. The truth is that drawing some imaginary line between the personal sin and the subsantive sin is an iffy exercise at best...

Carl Pham wrote:

Scott, I think the right disincentive is economic. Have you noticed how the circulation and profitability of, say, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times are plummeting? The LAT in particular is laying off people like crazy, and those who can work in other fields are fleeing like rats from the sinking ship. I don't think this is wholly unconnected with the nature of their news coverage, and the fact that the Internet gives people other options.

I don't really believe in reforming people with passionate views. First, it's not likely to happen, given human nature. Second, it's actually a good thing that the Republic contains divergent passionate views. Believe it or not, we need BDS ("Bush Derangement Syndrome") journalists who think everything from global warming to high gas prices to bad luck at the racetrack can be laid at the feed of Bushitler and his Halliburton cronies. Such gadflies help to keep our leaders honest and on their toes. It does help keep Republican politicans more honest that they know that the MSM will mercilessly crucify them for the least ethical transgression.

Compare to the laxer morals on the Democratic side. Is this because Republicans are inherently better people? Er, I think not. I think it's because the MSM doesn't prune the Democratic herd, so to speak, weeding out the less fit specimens. I don't think it's uncoincidental that the Democrats have a hard time winning elections, even with the wind at their backs. Look at Obama, pissing away his natural advantages by saying one damn silly thing after another, in part because the MSM have played the part of enablers instead of discipliners, making him sloppy.

But the Republic needs similar gadflies and watchdogs on the right; it needs people to jump all over Democrats for their misdeeds, real and perceived, to weed out the really bad apples and leave those with honest, but different, opinions about the proper role of government. I don't want a one-party state. I want a vigorous and continuous debate between Republican and Democrat values, conducted by honest politicians.

It's a bit much to ask people who are Democrat partisans to pretend to be objective and equally criticize their own side. Much better to support, economically and otherwise, the emergence of Republican partisans who will take on that role. Really, the mistake was in allowing ourselves during the 50s through 80s to become dependent on one slim source for our news (network television). We did not act that way in the 19th century, and hopefully we will not in the 21st. We need many sources of news and analysis, which may be as partisan as they like. The pipe-dream that we can have one (or a few) "objective" sources that we can trust to just deliver The Truth daily to our brains is dangerous and ignorant, besiding smacking a bit of Orwellian totalitarianism.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

Quoting from Diamond Age is unfair, it's basically instant win and god-mode combined ^_^

Scott wrote:


We may be moving in the same direction here. Like you, I believe that economic disincentives will ultimately 'deliver the goods' (the NYTimes example is best here, though there are plenty of others), and certainly do NOT wish to see any other approaches (legislation, etc.) used to deal with this problem. With that said, it is a problem, and a serious one at that. If the BDS and CDS folks were fringies and gadflies, I would agree that they served a useful, even valuable role. The problem, however, is that (certainly on th left) the BDS types have become the dominant force, and the moderates (i.e. those who merely believe the Bush is evil, not evil and all-powerful) are simply being crowded out. I have seen this process play itself out in academe, and the results are not pretty.

None of this should be taken to suggest that there aren't serious problems with the equivilent sort of lunacy on the right, but to suggest that this is a healthy situation just because both sides share the infection is whistling past the graveyard. This kind of polarization, while hardly new (just read a newspaper from the Civil War era if you want to see polarizaion) doesn't make it something to ignore, and I might argue that the consequences of the kind of breakdown we are facing are perhaps even more daunting.

To my original point though. If we accept that this sort of scandal will be reported upon, and push for EQUAL exposure, then we produce two positive outcomes. First, we prevent this sort of salacious crap from being the burden of only one side of the political equation (and believe me, I don't think that EITHER side is more or less corrupt than the other) while the other would tend to get off scot-free. Secondly, by making sure that the mud falls equally on all, we provide the press with a strong disincentice to establish their own limits, so as not to muddy up their own guys too badly. Like it or not, the left-leaning press tends to adore the 'politics as a morality play' approach far more than those on the right (a topic for another debate), and thus will likely be less desirous of throwing the GOP into the mosh pit if they know that their paladins will have to join them there.

Maintaining balance is simple enough...demand it as consumers and boycott those who refuse to comply. I am NOT asking for neutrality, as I mentioned earlier, I read the hugely biased Guardian and enjoy it immensely. The are quite upfront about their bias, however, and tend to avoid it on the news pages as opposed to the op-eds.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on August 5, 2008 7:43 AM.

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