It’s Not The Politician’s Fault. It’s The Media’s Fault.
On a recent Real Time With Bill Maher, guest Janeane Garofalo said something exasperating that I hear clients (and other pundits) say a lot. While discussing the Anthony Weiner saga, she said that it was the media’s fault that the Weiner story was such a big deal, not Mr. Weiner’s.
I’m going to call bull on that one.
That implies that the media’s excesses aren’t predictable. But they are, and public figures have ample evidence that their personal scandals will receive relentless coverage. They proceed with their reckless acts in spite of that foreknowledge, and retain the power to avoid being in the media spotlight simply by not committing them in the first place.
- Did Rev. Jesse Jackson (D-IL) really not know that fathering a love child would get media attention?
- Did Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) really not know that sending messages to under-aged male pages would be a news story?
- Did anti-gay rights Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) really not know that trying to recruit a male sex partner in an airport bathroom would get coverage?
- Did “family values” Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) really think that cheating on his wife by visiting a prostitute wouldn’t get him in the news?
- Did the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) really think hiring hookers wouldn’t be covered in the world’s largest media market?
- Did Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) really think that having an affair on his cancer-stricken wife and fathering a child out of wedlock during his presidential bid would not become a major tabloid headline?
- Did Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) really think that having a child with his housekeeper would stay out of the news forever?
- Did Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) really think he could disappear with his Argentinean lover without Chris Matthews and Anderson Cooper wondering where he went?
Yes, the media are excessive. Yes, they give these stories way too much life. But we all know well by now what they do and how they do it. And with that knowledge, politicians have the information they need to have to avoid being the subject of their next breathless, week-long, national sex scandal.
What do you think?
Related: Why You Should Be Paranoid In Public
I totally agree with this. Blaming the media is the totally wrong attitude. By now people in the public eye should have learned the lesson, don’t do it unless you’re comfortable with it being on the front page of the paper. Accepting public office or any other position that benefits you by being in front of the media puts an immense burden on a person to lead a transparent lifestyle, whether its for good or bad (some celebrities have done quite well by being “bad” in the media). If you aren’t willing to accept that burden then you shouldn’t accept that position.
Are there any possible examples when it would be a good strategy to fight back against the media? In most cases, people who do fight back are hiding or covering up some issue (as your examples demonstrate). But I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a situation where a strong, aggressive push-back against the media was successful.
Thomas – great question! Perhaps I can open this up to other readers.
One that comes to mind immediately is when Dan Rather used a doctored document to call President Bush’s service into question. His team pushed back hard and got an apology; the incident led to Dan Rather exiting the network.
Another example that comes to mind is when the media report accusations of affairs with sparse evidence. Drudge once claimed John Kerry was having an affair, and the New York Times suggested John McCain had gotten close with a female lobbyist. Both teams pushed back, and neither story got any traction.
I’m sure I’m missing a lot of examples, and will tweet it out to see if others can think of additional examples.
Brad, thanks for a thoughtful post. why wouldn’t media report stories where politicians and other public figures don’t take responsibility for their actions and decisions? Doh!
More examples for Thomas: look for “Newt Gingrich attacks reporter” on Youtube. There are a few examples, one of them I remembered from the primary debates in 2012.
To be frank, I’m not sure he’s innocent like he claims. But he does use offence as defence, and it does seem to work.