There’s nothing better to grab a nation’s attention than a good old-fashioned sex story. It seems every few months, politician we’ve never heard of – and some we have – has his personal indiscretions exposed across the national media.
When it comes to covering sex scandals, the press is so consumed about coming to the party too soon – under the guise of concerns about privacy or propriety – that they never time a story’s release appropriately. And it’s a tortured path that leads – regardless of the political orientation of protagonist – to criticism of political bias.
Since 2007, readers of the National Enquirer, Slate’s Kausfiles and, well, the Internet, have been familiar with the name Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer for former Senator John Edwards. Only this last week, however, did I realize that her name was not pronounced “Riley,” because there was nary a peep about her – and the suspicions surrounding her involvement with the Edwards campaign – in the national press.
When Edwards was caught hiding from photographers in a Beverly Hills hotel restroom at 2:40 in the morning, did we hear about it? Did we see the pictures of Edwards coddling Hunter’s child in a room of that very hotel? Not until John Edwards admitted to having an affair with Hunter did the story of Edwards’ extramarital affair break into the mainstream media consciousness.
It is more curious when the story broke rather then how. That Edwards was cheating on his cancer-stricken wife had been known throughout the Democratic primaries. To ignore that, as the press did, only served to benefit their story line of a competitive primary season and, as some of her supporters allege, to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination early.
While the effects on the Democratic Primary are debatable, the timing of the Edwards story raises an important question about political coverage: what does the media know about the two presumptive nominees, Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, and when will they tell us what they know?
Sex scandals involving Republicans always seem to get exposed right around election season. The media sat on the Mark Foley Instant Messaging scandal from May until after Labor Day in the 2006 election cycle. In the 2003 recall election, the Los Angeles Times dropped a stink-bomb of a story about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s grabbiness the Thursday before voters went to the polls. And only after Senator John McCain secured enough delegates to become the presumptive Republican nominee that the New York Times ran its poorly-sourced sex scandal story on the Senator.
Meanwhile, the media sat on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal until the story was forced into the open by the Drudge Report and we all learned of the infamously stained blue dress. The media apparently knew nothing about New York Governor Elliot Spitzer until the FBI went after him. In all fairness, they pounced on the David Vitter story when the Republican Senator admitted he had hired a call girl. And Sen. Larry Craig’s frequenting mens’ restrooms for sex was widely known across Internet chat rooms and political sites for two years before a courtroom confession broke his story. Had his Minneapolis encounter not occurred, questions about his tap-dancing skills surely would have arisen in his next re-election campaign. In these cases the press only reported the stories when their hands were forced.
Will Republicans only learn the truth about their nominee after the Minneapolis convention, when it is too late to change horses? And, pray tell, what does the media has on Obama, the media’s own personal love child? If there were something scandalous, would American know about it before it is too late? Somehow, I have to wonder.