That was nice and simple but then we all got enlightened. It is completely reasonable for the public to forgive the sexual pecadilloes of its politicians. I'm sure a lot of politicans--maybe even most--have them. However, it's another thing entirely for the press to decide what's forgivable and what's not. Larry Craig with a wide stance? Too juicy to pass up. Potential vice presidential candidate or cabinet secretary with an secret, illegitimate daughter and dying wife? Apparently not so juicy. Why?
Here's my take: The old "public's right to know" saw that the press uses when it suits them is pretty much correct. Yes, the public is considerably less enlightened than those august personages of the Fourth Estate, and less likely to forgive various human failings. And there's certainly something nicely human about the press deciding that a dying wife doesn't need to have this piece of dirty laundry aired after her husband chose--in vain--to devote a good chunk of the rest of her life to his political ambitions. But ultimately, it's not for the press to decide what news is good news and what news is bad news. If it's news, they need to run it.
- Hypocrisy. For good or ill (mostly the latter), the disconnect between what politicians say or espouse and how they actually behave is a key datum in how voters decide whether a candidate is trustworthy and otherwise suitable for public office. When you catch 'em acting contrary to something they've made a cornerstone of their public persona, that's news and needs to be reported.
- Criminal behavior. The sex may not be criminal but the cover-up often is. Sorry, guys--I think it was a no-brainer to go after Clinton for perjury.
- Transparency. Politicans keep secrets. Very few of those secrets accrue to the public good. The media have a duty to increase the risk-to-reward ratio of keeping a secret whenever they can. A second reason that the press needs to report this stuff is that a politican with a secret is a politican that can be manipulated. Many years ago, I was told that the CIA didn't care if you were gay but they cared a lot if you were in the closet. An openly gay intelligence officer couldn't be blackmailed; a closeted one could.
- Context. If a sexual incident isn't reported, the public can't figure out what's going on. Ever wonder why Charlie Crist vanished from the list of possible McCain running mates? Think it might have anything to do with this?
Of course, the other problem with the Edwards thing is that the scoop comes from the freakin' National Enquirer. How can the respectable press, after years of turning their noses up at this publication, suddenly use them as a primary source? I'm betting that they just can't quite handle the cognitive dissonance. Once the story is more respectably sourced, I'm sure the press will jump on this.