I’m not sure whether to file this Pathetico article by Matt Bai under Friday Funnies or Friday Facepalm:
Last week I published a book called All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid. It’s about the five days in 1987 when Sen. Gary Hart, the presumed Democratic nominee for president, was felled by the first political sex scandal of the satellite age, and how that collision of politics and celebrity reverberated in our public life—and in the life of a complicated and compelling man—for many years after. At the core of the book is the retelling of an infamous stakeout, in which reporters from the Miami Herald hid outside Hart’s Washington home in order to catch him with a younger woman who was not his wife.
On the day the book came out, Tom Fiedler, who was the Herald’s lead reporter on the story, offered a gracious but pointed rebuttal to the book. I’ve been reluctant to respond, because I feel like the book speaks for itself, and because I don’t want an arcane debate over journalism ethics to obscure the larger story at the core of the book. As anyone who’s read All the Truth Is Out knows, it is a work of literary nonfiction, not a manifesto or a screed.
Here’s what I think: Twenty-seven years ago, Fiedler and the others got caught up in a big story, with all the natural competitiveness and adrenaline and blinding career ambition that such a moment entails. I probably would have gotten caught up in it, too, had I been in their position. Fiedler is an outstanding reporter who had a Pulitzer Prize by the time I got my first job at the Boston Globe; I’m not going to suggest I wouldn’t have made the same decisions he did.
But then what happened, I think, is that a bunch of serious reporters found themselves responsible for disclosing a scandal that changed the rules of political reporting and repulsed a large segment of their own industry and the public. And so, as we all do, they set about erecting a series of rationales for decisions made in the heat of the moment—tortured and sometimes misleading explanations having to do with “follow me around” or “it was the lie, not the sex,” which over time they have come to believe were actually at the heart of the issue, and which they have never really been asked to defend.
The problem is that accountability runs both ways. You can’t constantly insist that politicians take responsibility for the consequences of their actions and then refuse to acknowledge your own. In my book, I wrote about my own piece on Hart for the New York Times Magazine in 2003 and how I had inadvertently repeated conventional wisdom (such as the “follow me around” quote) that I later learned to be untrue. It was a little embarrassing to admit my own complicity in the mythmaking, but the truth was the truth, and our prime directive as writers is to reckon with it.
The plain fact is that Fiedler and other reporters made some previously unthinkable decisions during that frenzied moment in 1987, carried along by powerful currents in the society, from the echoes of Watergate to the advent of the satellite dish. And those decisions, which were probably inevitable in any event, helped set our politics and our political journalism on a scandal-littered path toward entertainment and triviality.
Writing of the moment when he and his colleagues cornered Hart in the alley alongside his townhouse in 1987, Fielder poses a question directly to me: “What should we have done at that moment? Should we have closed our notebooks and caught the next plane back to Miami, concluding that reporting the lie wasn’t newsworthy?”
My answer is that probably all of us who report for a living would have stood our ground and written the story at that point. But it’s past time we considered whether anyone should have gone down that darkened alley in the first place.
I love it when members of the mainstream media pretend they
aren’t whores have ethics. Politics is the same as it ever was. What has changed is the media.
Here is how modern “journalistic ethics” work: If you are a Democrat (and you probably are) then any dirt you can dig up on a Republican office holder, candidate, potential candidate, or leader of the GOP is fair game. On the other hand, the dirty laundry of Democrats should be ignored or, when necessary, actively suppressed.
If you don’t believe me, compare the media’s treatment of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.
If you are a Republican, well, everybody knows you have no ethics because FOX NEWS LIES!!!.
The reason that the Gary Hart scandal remains controversial is because it was a breach of journalistic ethics. Gary Hart was the DEMOCRATIC front-runner for the 1988 presidential nomination. The scandal destroyed his White House ambitions and the DEMOCRATS were left with Michael Dukakis as their nominee.
If then-Vice President George H. W. Bush was stepping out on Barbara you know it damn well would have been considered newsworthy.
This is how badly our media has deteriorated:
Josh is the politics editor for National Journal, a Prog rag.
Jennifer is the White House reporter for Huffpoop.
But wait! There’s more!
NOTHING in Sarah Palin’s life is considered private, including her own uterus.
I accept that the media uses a double standard. What annoys me is when they try to pretend they don’t.