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Thigh-Rubbing Is Not Speaking Truth to Power

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I’m reluctant to write this post, not only because it involves siding with suits over writers and editors but because many in the latter category are writers I admire, and in some cases they have edited and published my work.  But the brutal truth is that Denton is right: the now-deleted story about the ex-Treasury Secretary’s brother was indefensible.  Arana, Greenwald, and Heer have good explanations of why.  To summarize:

  • Geithner is not a public figure in any meaningful sense.  What power the CFO of Conde Nast holds is relevant to nobody but the Newhouse family and the company’s employees.  Geithner is not a public figure; he has no record of public moralism about sexual issues.  This case involved blackmail, a subject of potential public interest, but Geithner was the target of the blackmail; Gawker was more abetting the scheme than revealing it.
  • The underlying behavior is of no non-purient public interest.  Worse than point 1 is the fact that the behavior being uncovered would be unworthy of publication if it involved Tim Geithner.  His consensual sexual activities simply don’t matter.  The media isn’t the marriage police, and as Greenwald observes we don’t even know that he was doing anything his wife disapproves of.  As long time readers know I have always held the view that the consensual sexual behavior of public officials is in most cases irrelevant, and I stand by that — if there’s any relationship between being an effective politician and a good spouse history keeps it very well-hidden.  But even by the more expansive media mores of today there’s no hint of public relevance here, no “hypocrisy” angle or any other reason to reveal the private behavior.

The problem with the justification that this represents an adversarial media speaking truth to power, then, is that the truths are irrelevant and the meaningful power is absent.  There are many critical things than can be said about Tim Geithner’s public actions; it should also be obvious that humiliating his brother does nothing to address them.  Less than nothing, actually, since it brings discredit to a media voice that is in fact often a very valuable adversarial voice.

…[Erik] See also Evan Hurst

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