At The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg writes:
The era of the modern sex scandal began in 1988 with Gary Hart, Donna Rice, the S.S. Monkey Business, and the Miami Herald. It seems almost quaint now, but back then it was de rigueur for the press to maintain that the sex scandal of the moment was not really “about” sex. What it was “about” was lying, which in turn meant that it was “about” something more important than sex, i.e., “character.”
The problem is that lying is an inherent part of adultery and, by extension, of any illicit or potentially embarrassing sexual activity or proclivity. By itself, the fact that a person has lied about sex tells you nothing about that person’s general propensity to lie. Unlike most citizens, prominent politicians like Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, and Anthony Weiner make speeches by the hundred, give media interviews constantly, and have extensively documented public records. If the politician is a habitual or characterological liar, the public record will show it and the lying-about-sex is redundant. If the politician is not a habitual or characterological liar, his lying-about-sex is misleading—is itself a lie, in a way.
On MSNBC, the cable-news “home page” of my political tribe, one commentator said that one of the things Weinergate shows is that powerful politicians assume they can get away with things that regular people can’t. If they do assume that, they’re wrong. It would be more accurate to say that they can’t get away with things that regular people can. Look around you. Consider your friends, your work colleagues, your relatives, maybe even yourself.
The sex scandal does what it has always done: It titillates, it allows hypocrites to tsk-tsk publicly what so many of them engage in privately, and it allows the traditional and not-so-traditional media to avoid filling pages or air time with stuff that really matters. Not who a politician is tweeting, or actually trysting with but which moneybags he or she is actually in bed with when it comes to, for example, voting on a new energy policy or changing the tax rate for billionaires.
Alas, that stuff is just not as sexy as, well, sex or the hint of it. Think of all the intense time spent by so many clever minds this past weekend on trying to figure out who hacked Rep. Anthony Weiner and how. Wasted time not just because he wasn't hacked and somehow imagined he could bullshit his way out of the little mess he had made but, more importantly, wasted time that might have been spent digging into real scandals. Like the gigantic scam being run by the corporadoes in charge of our economy. But enough bashing the media—new and old—for its part in these affairs. What about the audience?
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At Daily Kos on this date in 2004:
By the time Ronald Reagan’s funeral rolls around on Friday, I wonder how deeply brainwashed about this “great president” we all will have become in our desire not to give the enemies of democracy and peace quotable ammunition in their efforts to keep George Bush in the White House for a second term. How far are we as people of the left willing to go while the avalanche of Reagan mythology spews forth from every cranny of television, radio, the press and Blogworld? ...
It is one thing to bite our tongues for a few respectful moments while Reagan’s fans sign the Icon’s commemorative guestbook, tell us what a fabulous leader he was and try to persuade us that we are all better for his having passed this way. It is quite another to repeat the bullshit ourselves.