CORPUS Christi, hasn't Harvard demanded this guy's degree back yet?
Last Thursday, after weeks of hedging, the Pulitzer Committee acknowledged that the Enquirer’s extensive coverage of John Edwards’s double life — stories that were first ignored, then dismissed, and finally vindicated in the mainstream press — would be considered for investigative reporting and national news reporting awards.
By rights, the Edwards story should have been entered in the “public service” category as well. If the supermarket tabloid’s reporters hadn’t gone digging where other journalists declined to even tread, we might never have learned how close the Democratic Party came to nominating a truly disgraceful character for the presidency.
Yeah, thank God we avoided that ugly precedent.
Let's just take a moment to dispose of any actual issues which might be involved here, since Ross won't be touching on them (understandable, since the specter of S-E-X has been summoned from, you know, Down There):
• The Tsk-Tsk, Cluck-Cluck-Cluck Factor was turned up to 11 in Edward's case--not that Ross needs any, well, prodding--because of Elizabeth Edward's cancer. Not that she isn't a courageous woman--though, personally, I wish she'd used some of that courage to turn down a book deal--and not that I believe her health could have, or should have remained private. But I found that press conference extraordinarily creepy (not her fault; I'm sure she had other things on her mind). It was a fucking year before the primaries, for one thing; John Edwards couldn't suspend his campaigning for a few months? And it was guaranteed to be given the Full Oprah treatment, which couldn't hurt, eh? Who said anything about that then?
• We think Skepticism is always warranted, and cynicism justified by the preponderance of the evidence in any case you'd care to name, but look: if you've decided, retroactively, that John "Gunslinger" Edwards is the evilest man ever to come within several dozen percentage points of lasting more than one month in a major party primary, then there's one fact you ought to face. None of us has any control over the inner life of our candidates, and few of us have Ross' plerophoric ability to judge them so completely. What we can do, then, is not fucking go ass over teacup over these staged events, no matter how poignant or admirable or rich in symbolism (and there goes NBC's Olympic coverage). Thousands of people in this country wake up every morning facing the same, or worse; few if any have lifetime government healthcare, and many of those who do had to spend themselves into poverty first to get it. Somehow the mass-market empathy for Elizabeth Edwards--to be sure, a champion of public healthcare--didn't translate into Senate votes for taking care of people who really need it.
• Newt Gingrich, Ross? Is he less disgraceful than Edwards? Yet you seem willing to engage him in debate over the future of that Crime Family you both belong to.
Now, as we attempt to segue into what Douthat seems to imagine is the real issue--how the "reputable" Press' disinterest in John Edwards' character came this close to putting a man in the White House we later would have determined to be a serial philanderer, thereby requiring Congressional Republicans to grind the nation's business to a halt in order to read "fellatio" into the Record seven thousand times per week--a prospect which gives young Ross the shudders, no doubt--let us note that one man's "The mainstream Press totally ignored the story" is another man's "Yeah, because they were focused on his grooming practices".
We're willing to admit that some of this "The Press gives x a free pass" depends on your view of x, even though this is our stock in trade; the distinction, Your Honor, is that I'm not a paid fucking shill for either of the two major parties, and my belief about the national Press--that it defends not one "side" or the other, but the interests of its corporate bosses and the status quo its "personalities" bask in--is empirically demonstrable. I don't think the Press "ignored" the multiple questions about George W. Bush's character--and how'd that one work out?--in 2000 because of some simple-minded partisan bias of the type Mr. Douthat earns his living peddling. I think it did so because that's the way the Press works, generally, with a minor in "charges from what is euphemistically termed The Left in this country will be pushed back against more forcefully than those from The Right in no small measure because the whole Librul Media canard has played so well for forty years". For any of us the ideal Press scrutiny is the exact amount needed to topple our enemies and give our friends the benefit of the doubt. Patience is that virtue we admire in the driver behind us, but not the one in front. Douthat's Outrage meter is pegged by Edwards, but fails to register Newt. He's entitled; we're entitled to ask Why, and to ask the Times why he doesn't have to show his work.
It’s remarkable, in a way, that the Enquirer still exists at all, let alone that it’s enjoying a moment in the journalistic sun. In the age of Gawker, Twitter, and TMZ.com, a weekly scandal sheet seems quaint, if not archaic. And in an era when newspapers are fighting desperately for readers, you would think that the mainstream media — hemorrhaging subscribers and hungry for online eyeballs — would uncover all the really interesting scandals first.
But you’d be wrong. The Internet is very good at generating gossip, but lousy at the dogged work of transforming rumor into news. And the national press almost seems more uncertain about when and whether to probe into politicians’ private lives than it was in the days when The Miami Herald cheerfully ran a photograph of Donna Rice sitting side-saddle on Gary Hart’s lap.
First, this observation courtesy a guy whose "reporting" consists of linking to articles he's read, and, second, who can't seem ever to understand how far away he should stay from anything that happened more than six years ago. Gary Hart wasn't the guy who was caught due to the Media's clear-eyed sense of mission and dogged bone-sniffing; he's the guy who was caught because he dared the curs of the national Press to follow him and catch him at something. Meanwhile the Republican nominee-to-be, George Herbert Walker Bush, carried on an affair that'd been an open secret for years.
And, for good measure, chose Dan Fucking Quayle to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency, which was more of a joke than a scandal, but should've been both. Quayle had only recently returned from a golf outing where he shared living arrangements with seven other Republicans and insurance lobbyist/demirep Paula Parkinson. Between the two of 'em you've got enough shady finances, malfeasance, draft-dodging, miching mallecho, and whiffs of soiled silk to've disgraced the character of a half-dozen national nominees. The Bulldog Press went sniffing around Kitty Dukakis' medical records.
Look, Ross boy, I don't expect you to know this stuff; I do expect that at some point you might recognize your lack and tread with some care. John Edwards is a detestable human being--though it ought to be noted here that it's your people, not mine, who claim to be in the forgiveness business--but he's not President of the United States at this moment not because he cheated on his cancer-stricken wife, and lied about it, and not because the National Enquirer happened to find some shit that stuck, for the first time since that Dingo did Eat the Baby. He's not President because Democratic primary voters, after the geek show in Iowa, didn't fucking vote for him. If you'd like to discard the cosseting fiction that this represents Democracy in Action, and that voters made an informed choice based on the issues, go ahead (but, for once, consider how it's going to play when the shoe's on the Right foot). But to suggest that sexual peccadilloes are a surer measure of character than, say, stealing from future generations to conduct an unnecessary war, or torturing captives in its pursuit, or listening in on private conversations just beggars belief, not to mention pointing out that had Edwards gained the Democratic nomination he'd be President today, thanks to the criminal mess of things your party made, whatever you think of its collective character.
One other thing: the real question here is "When did the Pulitizer committee lose its fucking mind, and is that evidence that whatever's going around is contagious"? Not that I expect you to ask it, Ross. At least until they're passing out statues to someone who did it to a Republican.