Saturday, August 09, 2008

The media angle on the Edwards affair (Updated)

The media coverage of John Edwards' affair provides far more interest than the affair itself. On that point The New York Times appears to agree with me. The Times published a story about the media coverage of the Edwards affair. A key excerpt:
“These kinds of allegations fly around about just about every candidate,” said Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post, which had not written about the affair until Friday. “We checked them out and we asked questions, and at no time did we have any facts to report.”
Aren't allegations facts? The Times appeared to think so when it covered suspicions about a John McCain affair. In Edwards' case at least there was a suspicious business relationship to sniff around. Rielle Hunter, the woman who drew Edwards' amorous attentions had a job with the campaign and apparently did not produce anything. The business relationship lasted through 2007, according to the Huffington Post.

But back to the current story by the Times:

The New York Times looked into the Enquirer reports last fall, though none too aggressively, editors said.

Bill Keller, the executive editor, said in an e-mail message that Mr. Edwards’s dark-horse status and the “added hold-your-nose quality about The Enquirer” contributed to the lack of interest by The Times and the mainstream media generally.

That one has the ring of truth to it. The reporting on suspicions regarding McCain came only after McCain had pretty much sealed the Republican nomination. If Edwards had similarly sewn up the Democratic nomination and the Times had remained silent then we'd have a good reason to suspect the exercise of a double standard.

Just a touch of sarcasm, there.

One other graph from the story drew my attention:
In the months since then, Mr. Friedman said, CBS kept track of the story but did not actively pursue it. “We saw no reason to make his life or the life of his family any worse, until it became well-documented or he admitted it, which is what happened today,” he said.
Now CBS sees a reason to make his life and the life of his family worse.

You didn't mean it to sound like that, did you, Mr. Friedman?

The Times' public editor, Clark Hoyt, thinks his paper blew it. Check out the comments of Bill Keller and Richard Stevenson regarding the comparison between the Edwards story and the McCain story:
Keller and Stevenson said it was wrong to equate the McCain and Edwards stories, as so many readers and bloggers have. The editors saw the McCain story as describing a powerful senator’s dealings with lobbyists trying to influence government decisions, including one who anonymous sources believed was having a romantic relationship with him. “Our interest in that story was not in his private romantic life,” Keller said. “It was in his relationship with lobbyists, plural, and that story took many, many weeks of intensive reporting effort.”
Hoyt, to his credit, repeats his difference of opinion regarding the McCain story. Hoyt is on solid ground, for the excuse offered by the Keller and Stevenson doesn't hold up. If the story was that involved without the unproven allegations of an affair, then run that part of the story without those allegations just like Hoyt suggested. The notion that the Times could not come up with a story angle on Edwards that would similarly support inclusion of the allegations regarding his infidelity simply doesn't fly. Edwards, after all, emphasized his character as a selling point during the Democratic primaries, analogous to McCain's emphasis on political independence from lobbyist influence. Given that Edwards pushed that emphasis after news that his wife's cancer was expected to prove fatal, pursuing that story would have doubtless have resulted in some harm. I'm betting the moral calculus was more than what Hoyt relates from Keller and Stephenson.

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