The Silent Sex Scandal
Written by hillel-aron on July 28, 2008
At 2:40 am this last Tuesday, the National Enquirer “caught” John Edwards at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. Allegedly, he was there meeting his alleged mistress, Rielle Hunter, as well as the baby that they allegedly had together. Allegedly.
But the strange thing is how reluctant the mainstream media has been to pick up the story. Wednesday and Thursday brought nary a mention in the major newspapers or networks. Finally, on Friday, the Philadelphia Daily News picked up on the story, as did Fox News, who confirmed it by talking to a hotel security guard. Meanwhile, as Mickey Kaus reported, the LA Times ordered its bloggers not to mention it.
You would think this was the kind of story that 24-hour cable news was born to cover. A seemingly virtuous (one might say self-righteous) politician. A long-term lover affair. A possible cover-up. A “love child.” This has scandal written all over it. By all rights, we should be so saturated in news coverage of this so as to be sick of it. What gives? Is there some sort of double standard at work? Does the liberal media only pay attention to scandals when they involve Republicans?
Here are the possible excuses:
Some of the skepticism for the story might be due to the source. To many, the words National and Enquirer, when placed together, are synonymous with stories about UFOs and Elvis. This isn’t exactly fair. While the publication certainly gravitates toward salacious stories involving public figures, the Enquirer has provided information on a number of notable stories in the last 20 years, including the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair, the news of Jesse Jackson’s illegitimate child, and details on the O.J. Simpson trial. (It has also gotten some stories wrong and is always being sued by someone.) Say what you will about these stories, but people pay attention to them.
(Sidebar: there’s been a bit of an edit war on John Edwards’ Wikipedia page about whether or not it should mention the scandal; the National Enquirer does not, apparently, meet Wikipedia’s standard for reliable sources.)
Also, since Fox confirmed the story on Friday, the “unreliable source” excuse has pretty much expired, anyway.
Granted, there are other explanations for what Edwards was doing in that hotel at 2:40 am. Edwards’ friend Andrew Young (himself a husband and father of three) has claimed to be the father of the Hunter’s child. And we all remember (okay, I remember) the West Wing episode where we thought that Congressman Santos had an illegitimate child but really was just covering for his brother.
On the other hand, when someone from the Enquirer confronted Edwards, he ran away. That in and of itself seems like news to me. And it’s not like The New York Times gave John McCain the benefit of the doubt when it published rumors of his affair.
Edwards is a private citizen
True, Edwards is not a sitting Senator and not exactly running for office, although he may have been under consideration for Vice President, Attorney General, or some kind of Poverty Czar. Even if he wasn’t, though, Edwards is far from a private citizen. He wants to be part of the public discourse and to have an influence on certain issues –especially poverty and health care.
He never broke any laws
Edwards never lied under oath or paid for a prostitute. But this argument misses the point. To print a story about a man having an affair isn’t necessarily a moral judgment. It’s just reporting facts. The media wasted no time in reporting LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s affair.
The media is more hypocritical than the politicians it covers
In past scandals, some rationalized the intense media coverage by saying that it was more about hypocrisy than sex. This always seemed like complete hogwash. The Larry Craig’s story would have been worth reading about even if he had been a Democrat. The fact that he supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was just an extra bit of irony. Hypocrisy doesn’t make for a scandal; it’s just icing on the cake.
No one cries foul when a reporter writes where Barack Obama vacationed, if he wore shorts, or if he talked on his cell phone. Why is it that it’s only private if it’s something bad? Granted, the reporting of an affair can potentially hurt other people — i.e., Elizabeth Edwards — but isn’t that her husband’s fault? And isn’t holding the media responsible simply shooting the messenger?
Now you could make an argument that the media should never report about people’s sex lives. I’m not sure how you would enforce that without violating the constitution, but you could make the argument that it’s not right. But the media should be consistent. If we’re going to read about the scandals of Larry Craig, Elliot Spitzer, and Bill Clinton, we should be privy to the affairs of all politicians.
I don’t think Edwards’ affair (if it happened) would disqualify him for public office. But it would change my opinion of him, just like if I found out he was caught shoplifting or lying about his IQ. But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s news.
Good thing everyone reads blogs now anyways.
Photo by Alex De Carvalho
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