John Edwards & Larry Craig: The Hypocritical Media's Double Standard
It is a story with three of America's favorite subjects -- celebrity, sex and hypocrisy -- but you'll have to look awfully hard to find it.
When Senator Larry Craig was arrested for allegedly playing footsie with an undercover cop in a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport men's room stall, the mainstream media was all over it like a bad suit. After Roll Call broke the story last summer, it appeared in thousands of print and TV outlets and was the butt of many a late-night comedian's jokes.
But when the National Enquirer breathlessly reported that former presidential candidate John Edwards had visited an alleged mistress and their love child at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles on Monday night you could have heard a pin drop. As of this morning, only the Los Angeles Times among mainstream media outlets has picked up the Enquirer story, according to a Google News search.
It is possible that the Enquirer story about Edwards' alleged linkup with Reille Hunter is false, based as it is on circumstantial evidence and unnamed sources. (And maybe Edwards just likes to hang out in hotel stairwells in the wee hours.) Edwards has vehemently denied having any kind of relationship with Hunter, nor is it alleged that he has committed any crime.
But my gut tells me that there is something to the Enquirer story and sooner or later that will be confirmed. The real crime here is the double standard that the mainstream media is using in an era when the lines between tabloid journalism and traditional journalism have become blurred.
That process began in earnest with the O.J. Simpson double murder case in 1995 when The New York Times and yes, the Enquirer, committed substantial resources and did a better job, by my lights, of covering this unparalleled story of celebrity, sex and crime than anyone else.
The obvious double standard here is that Craig is an unapologetic and snarky conservative Republican who shamelessly continues to beat the family values drum despite his own dirty laundry while Edwards is a pretty boy moderate-liberal Democrat who is said to be on The Messiah's short list as a running made.
But there is more to it than that because sex-scandal reprobates from both parties have had tons of ink spilled on their account. Indeed, there is a second double standard here as well that Jack Shafer confronts in an article at Slate: Craig is perceived as a creepy homo and Edwards as a red-blooded hetero.
The polar opposite media response to the Craig and Edwards stories is even more glaring when you consider that political sex scandals occur with reliable frequency, although Republicans seem to have an edge for sheer tawdriness because of their holier-than-thou-ness.
To name but a few, there was Eliot Spitzer, David Vitter, James McGreevey, Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, Wilbur Mills, Bob Packwood, Gary Condit, Mel Reynolds, Neil Goldschmidt, Brock Adams, and of course the granddaddy of all sex scandals -- Grover Cleveland . . . er, Bill Clinton.
Then there is the poor besmirched wife aspect. It so happens that Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, has incurable cancer, which calls to mind Newt Gingrich, who was cheating on his cancer-stricken and about-to-be-dumped wife while he was helping bring the impeachment hammer down on Clinton.
The news media dutifully steered clear of longtime rumors about the Newtster's dalliance much as it has been chary to address similar rumors about John McCain, including the well-documented messiness of the end of his first marriage and simultaneous affair with his present wife.
Gingrich himself finally offered a choreographed "confession" about his own indiscretions to conservative Republican televangelist James Dobson last year when he was contemplating a presidential bid. This just may have been the perfect way to close the door on a good old fashioned political sex scandal.