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Is It News?

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Emily Bazelon and Hanna Rosin discuss the news value of the National Enquirer story about John Edwards’s alleged affair. Both score some points. I guess that in a world where Maureen Dowd can win a Pulitzer Prize it’s hard to dispute that under existing standards “it “is news, absolutely clearly and by any definition I can think of.” From Edwards’s standpoint, if he did it he had to know the risks he was taking and can’t be shocked that he was exposed. Modern politics, for better or worse, means that you can’t expect discretion about your private affairs. After all, in this campaign we’ve seen the Paper of Record engage in innuendos about John McCain with less basis than this.

Having said that, on a normative level — if we ask whether this should be considered news by the serious press — Rosin is right. It is unlikely that Edwards will be a candidate for vice presidency, and as for the possibility that he could be Attorney General, please. I don’t recall extensive discussions about Michael Mukasey’s sex life during his confirmation hearings, almost as if they were completely irrelevant to his performance in office. The analogies with Craig and Vitter are null, and not only because there’s no contradiction with any policy being advocated by Edwards. Edwards wasn’t testifying in open court. The mainstream media didn’t discuss Craig’s sexual proclivities until he was arrested and his colleagues demanded he resign, both of which are actual news (although the coverage was, I think, greatly overblown and calls on him to resign ridiculous.) In the midst of this gruesome thigh-rubbing, Roger L. Simon cries crocodile tears about how “playing this game while his wife had cancer makes it contemptible beyond words.” Leaving aside that if I were his wife I would (as Rosin says) prefer to be left alone, what would Simon say about an actual current candidate for President who cheated on and then unceremoniously dumped his wife after she was in a horrible accident? Why, he would support him, of course. Because when you get down to cases almost nobody really thinks that this kind of thing matters in evaluating candidates for higher office; it’s a way of trashing people you already dislike for independent political reasons. And this is entirely appropriate.

So, basically, the current confinement of the story to the National Enquirer seems exactly right, and I hope it both continues and (while we’re dreaming) is applied more consistently.

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