Friday, August 8, 2008

Explaining Media Hypocrisy in the Edwards Sex Scandal

I did just one post previously on John Edwards' sexual allegations, "Media Hypocrisy on John Edwards Love Child Shocker."

The reaction of many on the left was, "How dare you trust the National Enquirer?" But the tabloid had the goods, it turns out, as the former presidential candidated has copped
to both the affair and his deception during this year's primaries.

I'm sure some will say that media hypocrisy rubs both ways, that Republicans also get a pass when sleazy allegations surface around a major political figure. Perhaps,
although Mike's America laid down some pretty sweet stats on comparative media bias against John McCain, who was alleged to have had a compromising sexual dalliance with a lobbyist.

The Edwards story will be one of the bigger black-eyes on the press this campaign season.
Byron York offers his explanation as to why the MSM dropped the ball:

I spent part of Thursday corresponding with people at major news organizations that have not reported the John Edwards “love child” story. Why haven’t they mentioned the scandal? Are they doing their own investigating of the National Enquirer’s allegations? Are they under management directives not to report it?

Most of the conversations — all of the revealing ones — were off the record; like anyone else, people in the press aren’t particularly eager to speak publicly about topics that make them uncomfortable. But from the exchanges, it’s possible to piece together some of the rationales journalists are using to continue not to report the Edwards story — and to see how the whole strange episode will end. So without quoting anyone or betraying any confidences, here is what appears to be going on:

First, the journalists don’t believe that news organizations should just uncritically pass on the reporting of the Enquirer. They have a point; the Enquirer has been quite accurate on some stories and inaccurate on others. One could argue that the tabloid’s reporting on this particular story contains a wealth of detail that remains un-denied by Edwards or anyone else. Still, there’s nothing wrong with news organizations being skeptical of the source.

But the question is not whether the news organizations should simply repeat the Enquirer’s reporting. It’s whether they are actively pursuing the story, doing their own reporting in an effort to confirm the basic allegations that Edwards had an affair with campaign staffer Rielle Hunter, and then had a baby with her, and is now covering it up. And here it appears — from this completely unscientific survey — that there is not a lot of independent reporting going on.

Instead, some big-time journalists seem to believe the Enquirer has nailed the story, and they are waiting for the tabloid to release the full results of its reporting. In the meantime, they are staying away from the story because it appeared in the Enquirer. In other words, they’re waiting for the Enquirer to fully report a story that they wouldn’t otherwise report… because it’s in the Enquirer.

That could have changed by this point. If news organizations had thrown a lot of resources at the story in an attempt to confirm (or disprove) the Enquirer’s allegations, it’s likely some of them would have come up with something in the two and a half weeks since the Enquirer reported the story on July 22. Instead, there has been nothing.

Is that the result of a group sentiment among journalists? Or have they been under explicit orders not to mention the story? We’ve heard about one such directive, at the Los Angeles Times website. But there are probably others out there. In today’s news environment, executives have to take more explicit steps than in the past if they want to rein in stories. Journalists have multiple platforms; they might mention a story in a newspaper article, a web piece, in a blog, on video, on television, or on radio. For news executives to make sure the Edwards story does not appear on any of an organization’s several platforms, they have to make sure that tight controls are in place. The Edwards story is not invisible by accident.
Nope, it's no accident. York's being diplomatic, but he does ask the right questions.

The New York Times did a hatchet job with the Vicki Iseman allegations, while in the Edwards case the major national dailies ignored the story, or in the case of the Los Angeles Times, put the chill on Edwards-related reporting,
even among bloggers.

There's a double-standard a work, as I suggested in my orignal post.

See also, "Jack Shafer, "
Why the Press Is Ignoring the Edwards 'Love Child' Story."