The BFI (Big F-Word-Of-Your-Choice Idiot) should refocus. Forget owning an NFL team (filled with non0white players) and focus on a Pulitzer Prize! Hell, if The National Enquirer can nab the Big Enchilada, why not a Prize for The BFI? If this is a (fair & balanced) hallucination, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
By Ross Douthat
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This year, for the first time in its colorful history, The National Enquirer will be in the running for a Pulitzer Prize.
It might even deserve to win one.
Last Thursday, after weeks of hedging, the Pulitzer Committee acknowledged that the Enquirer’s extensive coverage of John Edwards’s double life — stories that were first ignored, then dismissed, and finally vindicated in the mainstream press — would be considered for investigative reporting and national news reporting awards.
By rights, the Edwards story should have been entered in the “public service” category as well. If the supermarket tabloid’s reporters hadn’t gone digging where other journalists declined to even tread, we might never have learned how close the Democratic Party came to nominating a truly disgraceful character for the presidency.
It’s remarkable, in a way, that the Enquirer still exists at all, let alone that it’s enjoying a moment in the journalistic sun. In the age of Gawker, Twitter, and TMZ.com, a weekly scandal sheet seems quaint, if not archaic. And in an era when newspapers are fighting desperately for readers, you would think that the mainstream media — hemorrhaging subscribers and hungry for online eyeballs — would uncover all the really interesting scandals first.
But you’d be wrong. The Internet is very good at generating gossip, but lousy at the dogged work of transforming rumor into news. And the national press almost seems more uncertain about when and whether to probe into politicians’ private lives than it was in the days when The Miami Herald cheerfully ran a photograph of Donna Rice sitting side-saddle on Gary Hart’s lap.
The result is salacious overkill one moment, but unexpected diffidence the next. The last election cycle, for instance, gave us the great Sarah Palin feeding frenzy. But it also featured a number of cases where the media raised a potential scandal and then left it unresolved — from The New York Times’s report about John McCain’s complicated relationship with a female lobbyist, to the Vanity Fair profile of Bill Clinton that implicitly accused him of philandering without coming out and saying it.
And then, of course, there was the scandal that was never raised at all, save in the pages of the Enquirer: the truth about John Edwards’s recklessness and caddishness, and the grim reality behind his doting-husband facade.
Such journalistic reticence might be defended as a means to a less prurient and sex-obsessed culture, which heaven knows we could use. But the gossip machine will grind on irrespective of what the major newspapers report. If Americans aren’t reading about Edwards and Rielle Hunter, they’ll just read about Tiger Woods or the Jolie-Pitts instead.
Better the former than the latter. Watching Woods unburden himself last Friday made me think: This really shouldn’t be any of my business. I’ve never had the same thought watching John Edwards confess his sins. Athletes and actors don’t work for us directly; they’re entrusted with great wealth and fame, but not great power. But the private peccadilloes of politicians tend to interfere with, and corrupt, their commission of their public duties.
This has been the pattern in nearly every recent sex scandal, from Mark Sanford’s dereliction of duty to Nevada Senator John Ensign’s alleged payoffs to his mistress to Eliot Spitzer’s prostitution habit. (It’s worth noting, as a precedent for the Enquirer’s Pulitzer bid, that The Times won a prize last year for its coverage of the Spitzer story.) And it was the pattern 50 years ago as well. Anyone who waxes nostalgic for the days when the press corps winked and nodded at John F. Kennedy’s adulteries, for instance, should acknowledge that they’re pining for a time when the president of the United States probably shared a mistress with a mobster without the public knowing anything about it.
Not all affairs produce corruption, and we don’t have to know every sin that our politicians commit. Bill Clinton wasn’t on the ballot in 2008, and maybe the public didn’t need a substantial investigation into his post-presidential sex life. (Though one imagines that Democratic primary voters trying to decide whether to let him back inside the White House might have wanted to hear a little more about the issue.)
But the Democratic Party’s narrow escape from the nightmare of an Edwards candidacy suggests that there’s a case for erring on the side of prurience. Some private acts should be publicly disqualifying, and the media need to be willing to go digging for them. Pulitzer or no, we can’t always count on The National Enquirer to tell us what we need to know. Ω
[Ross Douthat joined The New York Times as an Op-Ed columnist in April 2009. Previously, he was a senior editor at the Atlantic and a blogger for theatlantic.com. He is the author of Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class (2005) and the co-author, with Reihan Salam, of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (2008). He is the film critic for National Review. Douthat graduated from Harvard University and, while there, he contributed to The Harvard Crimson and edited the Harvard Salient.]
Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company
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Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves