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Rock bottom


This Slate article is so appalling it’s hard to know what possibly could have been going through the minds of the editors who allowed it to be published. Even for a publication that gives a fulltime blog to a guy obsessed with irrelevant trivia about (Democratic) politicians, the bad taste displayed here is simply beyond belief.

When trying to figure out whether to publish personal details about public political figures, one obviously has to assess 1)their relevance of these details to the performance of the political figure, and 2)the magnitude of the violation of privacy involved. Like many people, I believe that the media has tended to exaggerate the relevance of personal trivia and not sufficiently respect the privacy that even public figures should be afforded. But reasonable people can certainly disagree in many cases. Personally, I don’t give a shit about Bill Clinton’s philandering or whether John Kerry was in Cambodia on Christmas or Tet or whether George W. Bush snorted coke. But in these cases, one can at least reasonably argue that these personal details may tell us something about how the men will perform in office. I think that the “character voting” espoused by people like Kaus is ultimately an empty tautology; given that public figures are imperfect, you can always construct an argument about why a politician has bad character (and, of course, Mickey would have done that to any Democrat running for president.) But, again, people can disagree about the extent to which vague “character” concerns should trump likely policy outcomes.

With respect to this story, however, there’s simply no rational defense whatsoever; the issue is completely irrelevant to John Edwards’s fitness for office, and extremely intrusive of the intimate details of a marriage. What possible relevance could the way in which the vice president’s wife conceive her children have on the political attractiveness of the Kerry/Edwards ticket? It’s difficult to imagine anything less relevant. Why should the Edwards’s children be subjected to this tasteless speculation? Why on earth would Slate, with an election less than a week away, focus on this as something the public needed to know? No remotely competent editor would have let this garbage get past the idea stage.

While this story tells us less than nothing about the presidential candidates, it certainly tells us everything we need to know about the fitness of Jacob Weisberg and Jack Shafer to edit a magazine that presumably wants to be taken seriously. Tomorrow in Slate: The Bush twins–were they conceived in the missionary position?

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