Wednesday, May 18, 2011

News Media Practices Selective Outrage About Infidelity

It was no surprise to me when the news media disclosed that former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was unfaithful to his wife, Maria, and had a love child with a former staffer.  Isn’t this almost par for the course with many celebrities, whether they are in politics, entertainment, or sports?

What has always bothered me about these disclosures is the selective outrage the news media shows.  When the adulterer is a conservative Republican, the media goes out of its way to highlight the hypocrisy of the Republican Party, which presents itself as the party of family values.  When a Democratic politician proves to be unfaithful, then the media usually says that it’s just another normal human flaw, and it shouldn’t be considered a factor in their public performance. Many in the media also go to great pains to assert that what someone does in their private life should have no bearing on how they are perceived in public, especially if they like the politician who has fallen.

Are you kidding me?  Isn’t the way someone treats anyone in private, especially a spouse, children, friends, brothers, sisters, and co-workers really the truest mirror to that person’s character?  That’s not supposed to matter in politics, especially where both men and women try to gain voter confidence through trust?  How can you trust someone’s public record if that person mistreats or betrays those close to him or her in private?  And why is the media so intent on protecting someone’s private peccadilloes, especially if it is someone that they have editorially supported?

The professional spinmeisters and compliant editorialists can do a lot to shape an exaggerated or false image, and the Kennedy family example may be most blatant of our lifetime.  How did we ever get to the point where a person’s personal behavior and character should have no influence on how that person is perceived as a public person?  Is it because that many in our vaunted communications professions, both news media and public relations could never withstand the scrutiny of their own private lives.

Look at the history of the way the media has covered politicians and their infidelity.  Ben Bradlee, the former managing editor of the Washington Post, has admitted that he knew of the cheating ways of President John F. Kennedy, but because they were close friends, Bradlee, who was a young Washington reporter at the time, did not disclose Kennedy’s shortcomings in any of his stories. 

A more recent example is the way many in the news media covered up John Edwards indiscretions until he was no longer a viable candidate for President in 2008.  Bob Schieffer, host of the CBS News’s “Face the Nation” said that reporting on Edwards' extra-marital affair was not important because he had already dropped out the race.  The reality is that “The National Enquire” ran several stories about the Edwards' affair with another woman long before the first caucus or primary was held in 2008.  The rest of the main stream media ignored those stories because many of them liked Edwards' political philosophy, and they didn’t want to see him politically hurt by such a disclosure.

A very liberal reporter once told me that Democrats usually get a pass on marital infidelity because they don’t preach about moral values.  That same reporter also admitted that many liberal reporters love to catch Republicans in compromising sexual positions because they always talk about morals and family values.

Now let me see if I’ve got this right.  If you talk about morals in the public square and fail to live a perfect life, the media has the right to savage you.  If you never claim to have any morals, then you have a license from the media to live a completely immoral life.  Sounds crazy to me.

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