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?"
10 months ago