Sunday, September 2, 2007

But Was It News Before He was Busted?

LONG BEFORE Idaho Senator Larry Craig was accused of soliciting sex in a men's bathroom, rumors that the three-term Republican was gay floated around the state.

Bloggers wrote stories accusing Craig of having homosexual affairs and the Idaho Statesman, the state's largest newspaper, investigated the allegations (but never published any stories).

Similar things happened with former Representative Mark Foley and, before him, former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey.

What is the media's role in this situation?

Should they have outed Craig before he was arrested in June? Should Foley have been investigated by the media before his sexually explicit e-mails to a male Congressional page were discovered? Should McGreevey have been outed by the press before he confessed and announced his resignation?

A person who represents the people is expected to behave in a certain manner and an extramarital affair - with a man or woman - is not acceptable, right? Bill Clinton's affair with a White House intern dominated news for years, and he was nearly impeached because of the scandal.

The media clearly missed the original story with Craig, who resigned on Saturday. His arrest in June was widely unknown until last week when a Washington DC newspaper, Roll Call, disclosed Craig's arrest and guilty plea. A politician getting arrested for anything should have been news immediately.

But what should the media have done with the rumors before the arrest? If it was Lindsay Lohan or Brad Pitt who was accused to be having an affair - gay or straight, it would be, according to the standards of our time, newsworthy, right?

Would prying into a politician's sex life be good investigative journalism or just dirty politics?

UPDATE FROM 9/3: Newsweek assigns two gay journalists to debate whether coverage of the Craig event is a witch hunt or good investigative journalism.

Which raises another question: are gay journalists better judges of the impact of this news story?

ANOTHER UPDATE (FROM THE WASHINGTON POST ON 9/3): Jim McGreevey writes about Larry Craig, "Is it possible that we hold him to a different standard because a same-sex entanglement is involved? If being gay is, as I believe, a natural gift of the creator, what choice does a gay person have in being gay?"


Colleen Reese said...

All things being said, I think that sexuality is a private thing and perhaps something not to be made a fuss over by the media. However, I also believe that when sex acts become inappropriate (while also in the case of Craig and Foley taking place in inappropriate places--places of work, public, etc) is when it becomes the public's interest considering they take place in public--or at least business--areas.
In the case of Craig, the solicitation was executed in a men's bathroom and I think that Craig then gives up his right to privacy by pursuing sex in a public place.
So I don't know if Craig really should have been outed before this scandal because homosexuality is not a crime (aside from violating marital agreements); soliciting sex in a men's bathroom is inappropriate and possibly sexual harassment.

But then again, according to Senator Craig, he was just taking a "wide stance."

Chris said...

I don't think sexuality is a crime, or newsworthy. However I do think that both breaking the law, especially as an elected official, or also exposing a politician's hypocracy are both newsworthy.

Donnie said...

I come back to the title, "but was it news before it was busted?" I mean, unless you have some strong evidence to support accusations like that, you shouldn't be running the story. Further, the sexuality of anybody makes no difference at all. The only time is perhaps when a politician campaigns on sex rights, either for or against, that their own orientation might matter.

However, it is a sad truth that in today's society, homosexuals are generally not well accepted, least of all as politicians. Many people are of the mentality, "I can deal with them in my country, not running it." So, basically, be careful what you print. Stick to the facts. It would be wrong to unjustly injure a person's career because of their sexual orientation. Most of all, confine scandals and rumor to the tabloids, and out of our news media.

John D. said...

I don't care how you swing, just don't swing it near me.
It doesn't matter what sexual orientation the figure is when it comes to their competence in office. If they are good at what they do who cares if they are gay or straight?
Being gay weighs WAY too much on poltition's career now adays if it can force them to resgein from office if they are exposed. Yes, their sexual orientation could be news in just a 'oh, didn't know that' kinda thing, as opposed to a 'grab your torches and pitch forks' kinda thing. In a case like Jim McGreevey's it realy shouldn't matter nearly as much as it did, however, when an official has previously voted agaisnt or opposed homosexuality - or any other action for that matter - and they are found to be hypocritical ( with solid evidence) they should be properly exposed as the hypocrits they are. I don't want someone governing me who doesn't have the guts to take a stand on their own opinion, because how could i expect them to take a stand on mine?

Geo said...

Forget the sex of the alleged sexual partner ... would you dig for a story about an elected official who was rumored to be having an affair?

In the case of Jim McGreevey, the media was investigating an official appointment McGreevey had made. It turned out that he appointed a paramour of his to a high ranking state position.

Should the media have investigated or is digging into that story something an official government agency should do? Should the media police the actions of our public servants? Should the media have that kind of power? Or should they simply wait for the events to run their course and then report the facts?

- George (the teacher)

Donnie said...

Clearly no. The reason that the media is called the fourth estate is because it can serve as a check on the government. I'll be honest and say I DO believe in the power of the individual to affect the masses through the media. There are many issues in government that would go unchecked without the media. Let's be honest, "I'll look away now, you look away later" has become a terrible but prevalent mentality in politics. We definitely need to dig and get the stories. Make sure our politicians are staying honest. I do feel its gotten to the point that if the media does nothing no one will.

gail austin said...

I believe that politician’s sexual lives are private matters and it is not the business of the press to report on such issues unless they have an effect on said person's career. Any illegal activity conducted by someone of power and/or influence should be reported. This behavior helps to depict what sort of a person the politician is both morally and ethically. These facts are of importance because voters and supporters need to know who to support based on shared beliefs and must decide what credentials they have for a person meant to administer and uphold law. Since Senator Craig's actions were a breech of the law, journalists should have reported the story immediately upon his arrest, but not before. I believe that journaists did well be leaving the rumors be. Craig's previous actions were his own private matters and at the time had no serious importance untill they could be confirmed and he broke the law. It is also an issue of importance because his actions contradict many of the political campaigns for which he spoke and supported. Because his actions both broke the law and oppose his campaign beliefs, Craig’s actions are important to report.

Maria Zankey said...

I think most of it's already been said, but I'll throw in my two cents.

If an average citizen were to engage in sexual activities in public, it would not be making front page news, and it would most likely not be 'CNN' worthy. But because Craig was an elected official, the people have a right to know that someone THEY voted for into office was doing something illegal.

That said, I think the present media is blowing the fact that he was engaging in 'homosexual relations'. The real news lies with a senator breaking the law, not with who he was breaking the law with.

I mean, who he prefers to sleep with really has nothing to do with his performance in office, does it?

Stacy said...

I don't think people should be upset that he was involved in homosexual activities, so much as the fact that he was strong advocate of the gay=wrong outlook and the whole time was in the closet. What does it say about government if our representatives are hypocritical liars. If there was a reason why he should have been forced to resign, it would be that, not his sexual preferences, which are nobody's business but his own. And also, the fact that he would solicit somebody in a public bathroom says something about his intelligence, the lack-there-of also a problem in our government.

Victoria H. said...

Former Senator Craig was soliciting sex in a public bathroom, it's against the law and he was arrested like he should be, regardless if he wanted a quickie from a man or woman. When the Senator decided to step his sex life into anything illegal, I think it is the right of a journalist to find out that information and share it for the public to decide how they feel on this elected man's actions.

Any journalist should cover this story, their sexuality should not be given a special preference. I don't think the Daily News employs young, Black men to debate exclusively on the ongoing murders of mostly young Black men youth in this city. But I do think it is interesting if the debate spoke about the hidden homosexuality in mainstream politics and mainstream America.

Abby said...

Almost everything I wanted to say has already been said as well. However, I too feel the need to throw my opinion into the mix.
To me a person’s sexual orientation is a private issue and to be honest, it shouldn’t be a reason to vote for or against anyone running for office. However, Craig was arrested for soliciting for sex in a public restroom which is illegal and that should ultimately be the headlines in the newspapers, not the fact that he is gay. But because being gay in politics is taboo and offers more interesting headlines is why the media has gone with the headlines they have. Also, Craig was a strong advocate early on for the sanctity of marriage and has supported a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
I also believe that the media did drop the ball so to speak on this issue. Craig was arrested in June I believe which went widely unnoticed. But as soon as word got out about what the arrest was for, it made headlines overnight. It all stems back to the main issue of his sexual orientation, which should not be the dominant issue of this story.

Melodie Carter said...

I believe that a person's sexual orientation whether in the spotlight or not is their personal business. Although in Craig's case he has been arrested on charges of soliciting sex in a public restroom and as a public figure that is a hard hitting headline. Being gay shouldn't be the principal concern, disobeying the law should.

abby said...

this is a little bit of a random thing, but i just saw a re-run of part of anderson cooper today. they showed footage of the police interigation of craig and now i'm not entirely convinced that he is guilty. has anyone else seen the footage?

Leila said...

Just because some of us believe that sexual orientation should be a private matter, doesn't really make it one. Senator Craig voted against same-sex marriage, and for him to be found in such a compromising position, makes this story a big deal. I heard about the scandal way back when it first came out, but even if it wasn't publicized much, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. No matter when it occurred, the public has a right to know what kind of person is holding office in Congress. The media has the right and the obligation to pass on any piece of information they have.