Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Media Log's three rules for reporting on extramarital affairs. After the Kerry sex-scandal non-story imploded, Matt Drudge hit what might have been a new low even for him. On Monday, the Drudge Report alleged that the young woman who did not have sex with Kerry may have had sex with a veteran Kerry-campaign operative.

Thus we have a new sex story that may or may not be true - complete with names! - about two entirely private figures. Other than the vicarious thrill Drudge apparently receives from destroying two families, it is impossible to imagine why anyone would do such a thing. As my late father liked to say, it's enough to gag a maggot.

Garbage like this is going to come up again. So with that in mind, I would like to offer Media Log's rules for reporting on the sex lives of presidential candidates. Conveniently enough, I learned them from eight years of watching Bill Clinton, who, unfortunately for him, ran afoul of all three rules. To wit:

The Gennifer Flowers Rule. If an ex-paramour calls a news conference in order to talk about her affair with The Candidate, it's okay to cover it, provided - in the absence of proof - that the allegations are treated with suitable skepticism. Public events are public events, and it would be an abuse of the media's gatekeeper role to pretend they didn't occur. Nor should the entertainment factor be overlooked.

The Paula Jones Rule. If a woman files a lawsuit that alleges The Candidate harassed her by soliciting a blowjob, it's okay to cover it - again with suitable skepticism. If said lawsuit makes it all the way to the Supreme Court, it's definitely okay to cover it. If said lawsuit further alleges that the plaintiff can identify "distinguishing characteristics" on the defendant's unit, then coverage is mandatory.

The Monica Lewinsky Rule. If a $40 million (at the time) government investigation reveals that The Candidate (or, in this case, the president) was carrying on with a woman other than his wife, and that his lies about said carrying-on may constitute perjury in the context of a sexual-harassment suit (see the Paula Jones Rule, above), then it's okay to cover it. It's not okay to go berserk for six months, leading to a stampede that resulted in the only presidential impeachment in the 20th century. (Note: Media Log confesses to breaking the don't-go-berserk rule on several occasions.)

There's a gray area here, too. Occasionally, there will be a candidate - like Gary Hart in 1988 - who essentially says, I've got nothing to hide. Please follow me around and report on what you find! Of course, someone did, and Hart's presidential ambitions went down on the Good Ship Monkey Business.

The answer: damned if I know what the media should have done. Hart was stupid, and stupidity is always worth reporting on. Still, affairs between two consenting adults should always be off limits unless one of the Clinton rules comes into play. My best answer is to hope that someone else reports it, then write a thumb-sucking think piece about the decline of media standards.

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