Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

October 29, 2007

Shocking Inside DC Scandal Rumor: A Media Ethics Dilemma

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 11:42 pm

So I was down in DC this past weekend and happened to run into a well-connected media person, who told me flatly, unequivocally that “everyone knows” The LA Times was sitting on a story, all wrapped up and ready to go about what is a potentially devastating sexual scandal involving a leading Presidential candidate. “Everyone knows” meaning everyone in the DC mainstream media political reporting world. “Sitting on it” because the paper couldn’t decide the complex ethics of whether and when to run it. The way I heard it they’d had it for a while but don’t know what to do. The person who told me )not an LAT person) knows I write and didn’t say “don’t write about this”.

If it’s true, I don’t envy the LAT. I respect their hesitation, their dilemma, deciding to run or not to run it raises a lot of difficult journalism ethics questions and they’re likely to be attacked, when it comes out–the story or their suppression of the story–whatever they do.

I’ve been sensing hints that something’s going on, something’s going unspoken in certain insider coverage of the campaign (and by the way this rumor the LA Times is supposedly sitting on is one I never heard in this specific form before. By the way, t’s not the Edwards rumor, it’s something else.

And when my source said “everyone in Washington”, knows about it he means everyone in the elite Mainstream media, not just the LA Times, but everyone regularly writing about the Presdidential campaign knows about it and doesn’t know what to do with it. And I must admit it really is was juicy if true. But I don’t know if it’s true and I can’t decide if I think it’s relevant. But the fact that “everyone” in the elite media knew about it and was keeping silent about it, is, itself, news. But you can’t report the “news” without reporting the thing itself. Troubling!

It raises all sorts of ethical questions. What about private sexual behavior is relevant? What about a marriage belongs in the coverage of a presidential campaign? Does it go to the judgment of the candidate in question? Didn’t we all have a national nervous breakdown over these questions nearly a decade ago?

Now, as I say it’s a rumor; I haven’t seen the supporting evidence. But the person who told me said it offhandedly as if everyone in his world knew about it. And if you look close enough you can find hints of something impending, something potentially derailing to this candidate in the reporting of the campaign. Which could mean that something unspoken, unwritten about is influencing what is written, what we read.

Why are well wired media elite keeping silent about it? Because they think we can’t handle the truth? Because they think it’s substantively irrelevant? What standards of judgment are they using? Are they afraid that to print it will bring on opprobrium. Are they afraid not printing it will bring on opprobrium? Or both?

But alas if it leaks out from less “responsible” sources. then all their contextual protectiveness of us will have been wasted.

And what about timing? They, meaning the DC elite media, must know if it comes out before the parties select their primary winners and eventual nominees, voters would have the ability to decide how important they felt it to the narrative of the candidate in question. Aren’t they, in delaying and not letting the pieces fall where they potentially may, not refusing to act but acting in a different way–taking it upon themselves to decide the Presidential election by their silence?

If they waited until the nominees were chosen wouldn’t that be unfair because, arguably, it could sink the candidacy of one of the potential nominees after the nomination was finalized? And doesn’t the fact that they “all” know something’s there but can’t say affect their campaign coverage in a subterranean, subconscious way that their readers are excluded from?

I just don’t know the answer. I’m glad in a situation like this, if there is in fact truth to it, that I wouldn’t have to be the “decider”. I wouldn’t want to be in a position of having to make that choice. But it’s a choice that may well decide a crucial turning point in history. Or maybe not: Maybe voters will decide they don’t think it’s important, however juicy. But should it be their choice or the choice of the media elites? It illustrates the fact that there are still two cultures at war within our political culture, insiders and outsiders. As a relative outsider I have to admit I was shocked not just by this but by several other things “everyone” down there knows.

There seem to be two conflicting imperatives here. The new media, Web 2.0 anti-elitist preference for transparency and immediacy and the traditional elitist preference for reflection, judgment and standards–their reflection, their small-group judgment and standards. Their civic duty to “protect” us from knowing too much.

I feel a little uneasy reporting this. No matter how well “nailed” they think they have it, it may turn out to be untrue. What I’m really reporting on is the unreported persistence of a schism between the DC media elites and their inside knowlede and the public that is kept in the dark. For their own good? Maybe they’d dismiss it as irrelevant, but shouldn’t they know?

I don’t know.

Update. For further thoughts on this subject and the reaction to it see the post dated Nov. 2 above.



  1. Silky Pony?

    I understand your curiosity. But first of all the Edwards rumor has already surfaced in the MSM and I’m talking about something that hasn’t. I don’t want to set up a guessing game; the point I wanted to make is that when you read elite DC political reporters writing about the campaign it may well be that they’re writing from a perspective affected by something they’re not telling you about. I don’t know the answer, I’m asking questions. I don’t know if the purported scandal story should be printed or is accurate, just that my source, a very well connected political journalist, makes it seem everyone in his trade knows it and that it may be a hidden factor in coverage..

    Comment by R.W. Rasband — October 30, 2007 @ 5:51 am | Reply

  2. With the endless blogs and comment threads out there and the ability to comment anonymously (like I am!), I am always surprised stuff like this doesn’t leak out, unless it really doesn’t pass the “sniff test” and is just fun salacious gossip that nobody takes seriously enough to leak.

    Comment by Anonymous Coward — October 30, 2007 @ 8:10 pm | Reply

  3. Please hint. Is it a Republican or Democratt?

    Again, I understand the curiosity, but my point was that, right or wrong, well connected DC journalists may be acting/writing under the assumption that they know a truth they’re not sharing with us, but which nonetheless may subtly influence their coverage. I’m not sure myself what the right thing to do is. I’m reporting, I guess on what it felt like to me, as a relative outsider, to hear such offhand talk. It’s the “two cultures” issue in journalism that harkens back tothe days when insider journalists “protected” JFK, so they could remain part of the club. Or were they doing the right thing in protecting his private life? At what point does the private behavior become a public “character” issue?

    Comment by Patrick — October 30, 2007 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

  4. “Publish and be damned.”

    – The Duke of Wellington

    Where is courage like that today?

    Comment by Letalis Maximus, Esq. — October 30, 2007 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  5. The reason why the MSM is sitting on it is because it involves a Democrat. The reason we know it involves a Democrat is because they’re sitting on it.

    Ask yourself, seriously – would they sit on a major scandal involving a Republican? Of course not.

    Comment by Sydney Carton — October 30, 2007 @ 8:46 pm | Reply

  6. Well, one thing I suspect is that it is in the Democrat camp, because if it was a Republican, there would be no need for all this introspection. The answer would be PUBLISH IT!!! PRONTO!!!

    Comment by MathMom — October 30, 2007 @ 8:50 pm | Reply

  7. Hey, is this a “guess the scandal” contest, here in the comments? OK, here’s my entry, complete with bonus liberal-media-bias explanation of the reluctance of news people to report it:

    Rudy had a homosexual affair between marriages. The media are hushing it up until after the conventions, in the hope that he wins the nomination.

    Well I was hoping it wouldn’t turn into that kind of contest.

    Comment by Jay — October 30, 2007 @ 9:05 pm | Reply

  8. My guess, and even though I plan to vote GOP, I hope it is untrue, is Obama. We don’t need the acrimony that will come from the MSM attacking the African-American candidate.

    Comment by Pete — October 30, 2007 @ 9:05 pm | Reply

  9. The LA Times is sitting on a story until they sort out the ethics? That proves that it’s about a Democrat. I don’t recall that the LAT pondered the ethics or even the accuracy of Arnold Schwarzenegger scandal stories before the 2003 California gubernatorial recall and election.

    Comment by Michael — October 30, 2007 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  10. I s it Janet Reno and Hillary? Is Janet still alive? Was she ever alive? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Comment by Ardmoor Oakes — October 30, 2007 @ 9:25 pm | Reply

  11. If “everyone” knows, then they should make sure that EVERYONE knows. That blue dress would still be in the closet (uncleaned) if the media had had their way.

    Comment by Hey — October 30, 2007 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

  12. Such over-wrought hand wringing. If the media is sitting on substantiated facts due to their partisan bias, shame on them. On the other hand, if they are simply pushing rumors.. to hell with them.

    Publish or perish you rat bastards.

    Comment by Bob — October 30, 2007 @ 9:38 pm | Reply

  13. Hmm..if your source told you the narrative, and he/she knew full well your were a writer (as you stated he didn’t tell you not to write about what he was telling you) aren’t you doing the same thing that the “elite” media is doing by sitting on the story?

    I understand your hesitation in running it. You probably haven’t sourced it; you don’t want to be accused of libeling someone; you don’t want to feel like you’ve been used to disseminate something ugly.

    And yet, if the revelation is as significant as you seem to believe it is (with the potential to end a frontrunners campaign) at what point do you take responsibility for failing to disclose?

    Heck..the Drudge/Lewinsky stuff was essentially a story about a spiked story. This sounds much the same.

    I’m glad you understand my hesitation, I think all the reasons you mention are valid reasons for hesitation. And remember Drudge didn’t hesitate and I’d rather err on the other side.

    Comment by Jack M. — October 30, 2007 @ 9:44 pm | Reply

  14. seem to be saying it’s about a spouse? That would be Bill, more than likely.

    About a candidate? Could be Hillary, or Obama. LAT wouldn’t want to hurt Hillary, or be seen as hurting her opponent, the first SERIOUS black American candidate.

    I somehow doubt LAT would sit on a story about a Republican, unless it was to wait until after the nomination.

    Anyway, better to run it now while the public can decide before the primary. Seems unfair to the party of the candidate in question if they nominate him/her as their candidate only to have him/her scuttled before the election.

    Comment by cletus — October 30, 2007 @ 9:48 pm | Reply

  15. Ask yourself, seriously – would they sit on a major scandal involving a Republican? Of course not.

    Assuming, arguendo, that the MSM is carrying water for the Dems, why not hold onto it until, say, Rudy, Mitt, Fred, etc. secures the nomination and then run the story the week before the convention. This destroys the chosen candidate and beefs up Hillary, Obama, etc.

    Comment by Wm. G. Black — October 30, 2007 @ 9:52 pm | Reply

  16. Whether the allegation should be published depends on whether it is credible and whether it would be in the public interest to do so. Its credibility depends on what evidence the LAT actually has. Because it involves a candidate for public office, the allegation is a matter of legitimate public interest if it has the potential to change how a reasonable person would rate the candidate’s character and/or judgement.

    It’s hard to see how any sex scandal could fail to meet that standard, so if the LAT has any evidence it should publish the story immediately. Sex scandals say as much about the culprit’s judgement as his or her character, because they often reveal a failure to realistically assess risks and consequences. So even if the American public isn’t outraged by whatever the candidate is supposed to have done they might still conclude that he or she is not qualified to be President.

    Comment by Andrew Zalotocky — October 30, 2007 @ 10:02 pm | Reply

  17. “The person who told me )not an LAT person) knows I write and didn’t say “don’t write about this”.”

    Do you suppose that your acquaintance assumed you would write about it, or that you wouldn’t?

    It’s a valid question and I can’t be certain, but I didn’t get the feeling there was calculation behind it; it came up casually in the course of a meandering discussion with two others present, not as if it was designed to achieve an objective.

    Comment by Nuke — October 30, 2007 @ 10:05 pm | Reply

  18. it may well be that they’re writing from a perspective affected by something they’re not telling you about.

    When was this not the case? Does anyone doubt that there’s at least one each Congressperson and Undersecretary of Something that has a drinking or drug problem “everybody” knows about, but that’s never seen print?

    It goes beyond what the press know about elected and appointed officials, though, to what they know about each other – although I shouldn’t be, any more, I’m still surprised by just how often I learn that yet another bigshot media figure is married to or dating another major media figure or government official. Not to mention the in-laws, the college roommates, and so forth.

    As to this particular issue, it sounds like “everyone” thinks that it would affect how people vote if it were made public. Assuming that, I don’t see how there’s any ethical question more complex than whether or not it’s true (and the information wasn’t acquired through unethical means).

    If it’s true, why would it be unethical to print it? Because it’s a sexual matter? Information about candidates’ sexual behavior will change how people vote; who decided that sharing that information with voters is any more or less ethical than sharing other personal information about candidates rather than their platforms – where they went to school, their hobbies, what they did before running for office? What other information have these people decided are inappropriate for people to use when deciding how to vote, and unethical to share when available? Can we see the list? Does it include drinking habits, medical information (JFK again, FDR, Reagan)?

    Comment by Kevin — October 30, 2007 @ 10:17 pm | Reply

  19. Okay, I can pass on knowing the who/what/how many… but how about an interview with a well-connected media person on this phenomenon of “..everybody knows it, but nobody will publish it…’. Put aside this particular salacious rumor; address the issue of media people as gatekeepers.

    For myself, I really don’t believe there is any fire behind this smoke; it sounds more like “I know something Joe Schmo doesn’t know… therefor I am an important, plugged in person” kind of situation. If “everybody” knows, then the opposition candidate’s staff know… and word would get out very soon, very wide.

    But the allegation that the well-connected media person sees no problem with the Press hiding something that is sourced and validated… THAT is interesting.

    Well, I don’t thing I made the allegation that he saw NO problem. I think he recognized there could be legitmate problems, as do I. Some questions don;t have easy answers as your comment and others here illustrate.

    Comment by Mr. Michael — October 30, 2007 @ 10:19 pm | Reply

  20. Perhaps it’s as simple as waiting until you have a second source before publishing. Isn’t that still the standard in respectable journalism?

    I think the implication was that the LAT had it well sourced, but that they were not sure whether it was relevant and germane.

    Comment by exit56 — October 30, 2007 @ 10:20 pm | Reply

  21. Whatever it is, I assume that the decision of the media elites is ethically wrong.

    This would be consistent with all previous experience.

    Comment by Evil Pundit — October 30, 2007 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  22. Was it appropriate to publish the Gary Hart story and photo twenty years ago? If so, is this situation different? At the time the story first broke, Hart was at 65% in the Iowa Poll and Dukakis was at 3%. Link:

    Comment by Monkey Business — October 30, 2007 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

  23. I know you don’t want us to guess, but I’m guessing Bill. I’ve heard rumors on the internet that there is a story waiting to explode about Bill. If so, they should just get the damn thing out there and be done with it. It isn’t like we will be shocked or anything. I think everyone is expecting it to happen.

    Comment by Sue — October 30, 2007 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

  24. I’m a Republican, but I got a feeling it is Rudy. The time he lived with his gay buddies…who knows what happened. Maybe I’m really off base, but if I’m right, then the LAT will sit on it until after the GOP convention. Why would they announce it now? To soon.


    Comment by Mark — October 30, 2007 @ 10:46 pm | Reply

  25. And when has the elite media EVER had these kind of qualms about a mainstream Republican? This alone makes me confident we’re talking Democrat candidate.

    Comment by jum1801 — October 30, 2007 @ 10:48 pm | Reply

  26. The very fact that the existence of this story is becoming well-known will probably force the LAT to publish it. If they wait, someone else will find their source(s), or it will leak, or the candidate will make a pre-emptive admission. It’s now a case of use it or lose it.

    Comment by Andrew Zalotocky — October 30, 2007 @ 10:48 pm | Reply

  27. There have been somewhat under the radar Hillary lesbianism whispers for years, going back to Clinton 1.0…A short while back an interviewer from a gay magazine, the Advocate, frankly asked H if she were gay and it got ZIP media play. Odd given that it is a rather bold question to ask a former first lady, noted “victim” of male philandering and Presidential asperant, no?

    Comment by dceminator — October 30, 2007 @ 10:50 pm | Reply


    Comment by DON — October 30, 2007 @ 10:51 pm | Reply

  29. Hillary, Al Gore, and Tipper regularly engaged in threesomes a decade back.

    How’s that for a rumor! Course, I just started it.

    The satirical (I think) point you make is a good one., and I’m beginning to feel uneaasy about posting one repetetive rumor after another. Maybe at this point people should direct their questions/theories tothe LAT

    Comment by Sam Iam — October 30, 2007 @ 10:59 pm | Reply

  30. Give it to the New Republic. Wrong, irrelevant and not germane seem to be their stock in trade these days.

    Comment by sulla — October 30, 2007 @ 11:12 pm | Reply

  31. Wm. G. Black wrote: “run the story the week before the convention. This destroys the chosen candidate and beefs up Hillary, Obama, etc.”

    Or if it reallly is about a Republican, wait till the week before the election, like Dan Rather did.

    To quote Indiana Jones, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

    Comment by Jim C. — October 30, 2007 @ 11:17 pm | Reply

  32. forgive me a bit of descent into paranoia, but given what we know about the worldview of the elite media in DC/NY/LA, my spider sense tells me that the story involves a Democrat.

    if it involved a Republican, the story would already be out and the outrage meter in the national dailies and network TV news shows would be pegged at 11. No sense waiting until said Republican gets close enough to the WH to perhaps survive the disclosure.

    No, my hunch, as a card carrying acolyte of New Media 2.0,
    i will be extremely surprised if the subject of this as-yet-unbroken story involves a Democratic contender.

    One last foray into the briny deep: It wouldnt involve the Philanderer in chief caught with his pants down again, would it?

    Comment by mike d — October 30, 2007 @ 11:21 pm | Reply

  33. Does anyone think the LATimes (or any MSM outlet for that matter) would be sitting on this story if the person was a Republican?

    Didn’t think so.

    Comment by gabriel — October 30, 2007 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

  34. This whole thing sounds like a trap to get right wing groups to report whatever terrible allegations against a Dem with only second hand rumors to back it up, hoping the blogs and talk radio will echo and get egg on there face like the drudge Kerry affair turned out to be. Don’t bite. Let the LAT report or not.


    Well, if it helps clarify, I don’t have a tricky hidden agenda. I was blogging an unexpectedly interesting conversation that seemed to illustrate what media insiders think they know and how they don’t disclose it to readers tho it may influence their coverage.

    Comment by Kamakazi — October 30, 2007 @ 11:24 pm | Reply

  35. The only emotion strong enough to stay the hand of the LAT is fear. The only candidate sufficiently fearsome is Hillary. If it’s true and damaging, or if it’s false and damaging, be afraid. Be very afraid.

    Comment by brad — October 30, 2007 @ 11:36 pm | Reply

  36. Who can forget John Carroll’s I “hesitation, their dilemma, deciding to run or not to run it raises a lot of difficult journalism ethics questions” about Arnold? The LAT only hesitates when it’s someone they like.

    Comment by Kate — October 30, 2007 @ 11:42 pm | Reply

  37. “Was it appropriate to publish the Gary Hart story and photo twenty years ago?”

    Yes. Gary challenged the media to follow him. Plus posing like that shows zero judgment.

    Mr. Rosenbaum:

    Would someone like Richardson be considered a “major” candidate?

    Again I understand the curiosity, but would rather not turn this into a guessing game when I don’t know the details, solidity of the sourcing first hand.

    Comment by Karl — October 30, 2007 @ 11:46 pm | Reply

  38. If it’s well-sourced, and they think it might be relevant, I think they should run with it. I can see why someone might disagree, though.

    As to timing, I would say that not only is waiting for the nominees to be finalized an issue, it also strikes me as unfair to wait until right before an election, whether it’s the primaries or the general. I think the public deserves a few weeks to reflect on the story and decide whether or not it’s relevant.

    If we hear something the weekend before the Iowa caucuses, I’ll assume the timing was politically motivated.

    Comment by Steven Jens — October 30, 2007 @ 11:51 pm | Reply

  39. I can’t wait until the next time I get to vote on which media outlets I want to run the country. There’s no way they can defend their terrible track record… oh, wait.

    Comment by sherlock — October 31, 2007 @ 12:04 am | Reply

  40. I hope this isn’t the Fred Thompson is gay rumor. That’s been on the web (google it) and I’ve heard it from friends in LA. And I got the same confident assurance that “everyone knows about it.” Contrary to other posts, the reason journalists would sit on this is not partisan. It is because there is no persuasive evidence. The dilemma in this case is not whether to publish but whether to devote any resources to following up on these type of rumors. What’s the justification? Does it impact their job? Is the candidate reckless in his/her personal life? Does the private conduct conflict with public policy positions? And finally how do you propose getting to the truth?

    Comment by Dave — October 31, 2007 @ 12:12 am | Reply

  41. It would have to be extremely shocking to be so relevant and germane as to swing an election. After the public was repulsed by the GOP overreach with Bill, I think the goalposts subconsciously moved on sex issues. Even the Craig fiasco has become a faint echo, despite his decision not to resign. Unless it was sex with a terrorist, or even worse, between a Dem candidate and Rep candidate, will it really have that much impact?

    My guess is it will be published eventually; the timing is the tricky thing. It’s kind of like my wife trying not to tell everyone what she got them for Christmas; just the fact that she knows a secret ensures that she must tell it.

    Comment by El Kabong — October 31, 2007 @ 12:12 am | Reply

  42. How about reporting the news and letting the public decide the value of the information…?

    Comment by Raven — October 31, 2007 @ 12:50 am | Reply

  43. I fear it is Rudy; all the coverage about him seems to indicate that some scandal is about to explode. And it’s not subtle or subterrean.

    Too bad, I was looking forward to a comical Presidency, or at least campaign.

    Comment by ARCADIA — October 31, 2007 @ 1:33 am | Reply

  44. Reading the tea leaves:

    Ron refers to a “leading presidential candidate.” So: HRC, Obama, Guiliani, and Romney are the most obvious choices, followed by Edwards and Thompson and, perhaps, Huckabee. No one else can be considered, and the first four are most likely to fit the description. We know it isn’t Edwards. (Relax Mickey: it’s not Richardson.)

    Ron suggests the story is coloring recent coverage.

    Which one of the big 4 has had odd coverage lately. Two, in my view: Thompson and Obama. Thompson’s coverage might not be as odd as his campaign is, what with the refusal to do what’s expected. Obama, on the other hand, has had lots of “what’s wrong with Obama” stories lately. And, interestingly, the big leftwing bloggers, all of whom prefer Obama to Clinton, are all moving to Clinton. What are they discussing with mainstream reporters in their nonpublic email chats? I’m guessing they’re discussing this story.

    Comment by Thomas — October 31, 2007 @ 1:50 am | Reply

  45. I think a strong message here is to badger the LA Times — they are about to loose an exclusive.

    CW – they WILL forsake an exclusive.

    To protect who? Why?

    Comment by The Cramps — October 31, 2007 @ 2:19 am | Reply

  46. There are only two people that the MSM care about enough to agonize over– Bill Clinton and Barak Obama. Take your pick, but I guarantee you that it involves one of them.

    My guess- Obama had an affair some time in the past, and his ex-f/buddy has decided it was time to become famous. The LAT probably has pretty substantial evidence supporting the story, but they don’t want to be the one to pull the trigger. So… they’re gonna let Matt Drudge do it. Again. Probably trying to make sure there are no fingerprints on the package they’re mailing him, even as we speak.

    Comment by godfodder — October 31, 2007 @ 4:02 am | Reply

  47. Okay, no theories on who, just theorizing on why…the LAT holds it. There are several good ones:

    1.) Not wanting to unneccesarily slander someone, sense of ethics and responsibility, with great power comes great responsibility…wait, it’s the MSM. Nice theory, maybe even true.

    2.) If it’s a Republican:
    LA Times is on the horns of a dilemma because:

    a.) The Arnold Factor: LA Times already got in trouble a few years back when–convienently–the harassment story only was ready to go a week before the recall election. Hey–maybe it wasn’t ready to go before then, but a lot of people thought otherwise. Which leads into…

    b.) The boy who cried wolf factor: You know, when you blow your credibility by subtly biasing minor little issues like S-Chip, and major issues like Iraq–who is going to believe you when the big bad Republican wolf really does come? Or put it this way: why couldn’t the media really explore the Iraq War runup issue in 2003? Because they were screaming “quagmire” in Afghanistan about the time the Taliban folded.

    c.) Hillary. If you get a Republican scalp, and then go soft on Hillary on anything, once again, your paper becomes viewed as the New New York Times. Not only that, but it doesn’t work–any innuendo about Hillary automatically becomes viewed as a truth suppressed by the MSM. So, if they get a Republican, they perhaps get Hillary also from the secondaries.

    d.) Hillary Redux: doesn’t matter if a scandal kills the Republican, just making “sex scandal” a campaign issue is going to remind folks of a certain former occupant of the White House, and not in a good way. This doesn’t help the Great Lib Hope.

    e.) Gotterdammerung: it’s not like the LA Times is doing that great financially. Killing a Republican candidate from the same “neutral” paper whose mistakes all somehow seem to favor a certain side of the aisle isn’t going to help with the revenue. Nor is accidentally killing Hillary in the process.

    3.) If it is a Democrat.

    a.) If it is Bill. this makes less sense, because I think the effect is a wash. Hillary gets the sympathy vote from many women, which at least equals the disgust vote. So I don’t think its Bill.

    b.) Anybody else but Obama. Doubtful–why bother spiking it? To preserve the ability of Kuchinich and Richardson to be the crucial voices in the saving of the American Republic that they have been? Huh? Edwards? No. His career is already over, except for whatever administration position he may get.

    c.) Obama–same reason as given in other posts–the first serious African-American candidate. But it seems to me that the way his campaign is going, a reluctance by the LA Times to publish something like this because they think it is going to “set back” race relations says more about their views of the rest of America than it does about America.

    Comment by Scott Wallace — October 31, 2007 @ 4:02 am | Reply

  48. I understand the curiosity, but would rather not turn this into a guessing game

    Of course you wouldn’t! And I am the evil queen of Transylvania, come to suck your blood on Halloween! Ha!

    I can’t comment authoritatively on whether you’re a Queen, but I can say flatly you’re wrong about my motives. If you read the piece it’s clear the issue for me is not who it is, but the fact that an elite group of media savants are writing stories that may be influenced by information on a crucial issue–the next President–they won’t share with their readers Maybe they and the LAT are right in this case, maybe not–it was the subject of a national debate during the Clinton impeachment and still worth serious discussion. I’m afraid you’re projecting your own prurient focus on it. And if you’re so big on names why hide your own?

    Comment by Laughing At You — October 31, 2007 @ 5:43 am | Reply

  49. First of all, you’re a good writer Ron, and I see that you are only typing about the journalistic issue — but this is a salacious tease.

    You’re not writing in hypotheticals, you’re referring to a specific, potential, incident — and all you have to go on is hearsay that it might be well-sourced, and that “everyone” knows about it. But you don’t — or didn’t.

    Here’s my journalistic test, if you sub out “DC” with “High School” and replace whatever this rumor is with “Sally is a slut,” do you sound like a cheerleader with a grudge? If yes, then odds are you should likely hold until better proof of slutitude comes out.

    Secondly, all these “It must be a Democrat, because if it was a Republican, they’d publish it” comments.

    Seriously, it’s fun to play that game. On Liberal blogs it’s referred to as “It’s OK if you’re a Republican.” Get over it. LA Times isn’t going to sit on a real, sourcable scandal for political purposes any more than the New York Post, and the Post actively takes political sides.

    Money trumps all… and there’s money to be had if a story is true, provable, and newsworthy.

    The other major scandals of the last couple years have, for the most part been “news.” Prove me wrong, I won’t mind, but most consentual, non-criminal of-age, consentual sex scandals lately have been tied to a “news” event. A guilty plea. A press conference denial. Even rumors about public figures who publically condemn others’ sexual activities usually stay below the surface, and I’d say that’s fair news too.

    The ones that don’t pretty much stay a joke on the Supermarket tabloids or hang out with Drudge (and that wannabe Kaus). (Bush! With Condi! And Edwards! With Elvis!)

    And it’s not Rudy. Rudy’s history is such that a universal rumor would be enough to pass the New York news test. Same with the Clintons.

    We’ll see how it pans out, but I don’t feel there’s any there there. The only real bias among DC journalists is to themselves. No one would sit on something that could bring down a campaign if there was a wisp of fact to back it up. Information is too valuable a commodity, esp. given how powerful uncovering a scandal can be to a blog’s traffic, a journalist’s career, or a paper’s readership.

    Thank you for the opening compliment. I should point out that I didn’t say “eveeryone knows”, my source did. I didn’t know, I still donn’t know for sure, the point of the post was that there are a group of people who can influence the outcome of an election who think”everyone knows” among their peers, thus influencing the way they cover it.

    The problem with the high school analogy is that the stakes here are history-changing. But I agree with you about standards of proof and I wasn’t necessarily arguing for publication without those standards being met. i was observing that DC journalists who may not know what the LAT has or hasn’t, nonetheless make assumptions that can influence what they write.

    And I think you’re wrong to say nobody sits on a story: For decades journalists sat on sensational stories about Presidents and their private lives. There’s an argument to be made that in some cases that’s the right decision when it has nothing to do, as you say, with a crime, or with policy, but what about the gray area of “character”? As I said I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s worth discussing the questions so that some kind of standards might be arrived at.

    Comment by Eric — October 31, 2007 @ 6:31 am | Reply

  50. I don’t suspect it is a very large leap to assume that there is yet a smaller group of even more elite journalists who know and are sitting on still more information.

    After all, wasn’t Woodward the first to know about Plame and the last to be outed?

    Comment by Eric M — October 31, 2007 @ 8:52 am | Reply

  51. If this is the old Hillary-Kuchinch-Rosie threesome rumor, forget it.

    Comment by Banjo — October 31, 2007 @ 10:06 am | Reply

  52. Sounds like the Clinton smear machine at work

    Comment by Wade — October 31, 2007 @ 10:11 am | Reply

  53. It’s really safe to say that it involves a Democrat otherwise the mainstream media would have already put it out there.

    Comment by Bo — October 31, 2007 @ 10:24 am | Reply

  54. I must laugh at the very idea that anyone in the MSM is wrangling with ethics…at least the way most of us in flyover country understand ethics. No, the thing they are wrangling over is the timing to give maximum coverage for maximum revenue. But the LA Times doesn’t have to report it. I’ll just read about it on Drudge in 5…4…3…2…1…

    Comment by macdaddy — October 31, 2007 @ 11:32 am | Reply

  55. Sounds like the media concern here isn’t so much whether the story is true, but whether it’s relevant. To me, the answer is affected somewhat by who it is. For example, if it’s Obama or Edwards, well, the MSM has written some pretty glowing stories on those marriages, which certainly paint them in a flattering light that will make most voters more inclined to support (or at least like) those candidates. If the MSM has evidence that those marriages are not the wonderful bliss that it has portrayed, seems to me it has an obligation to report the indiscretion to correct/supplement the inaccurate picture it has created. I mean, how much ink has been spilled on how wonderful John and Elizabeth Edwards’ marriage is, what a great team they are, how she fights so passionately for him, and how they bravely and lovingly tackle her cancer together? If Edwards is cheating on her through all this, isn’t that relevant to the story? Otherwise, seems to me we have a wildly inaccurate picture of the man’s character and family life — an issue the media chose to cover about in the first place.

    If it’s, for example, Fred Thompson instead, well, the media hasn’t exactly done him any favors with it’s coverage of his family life, so I don’t think it’s as important that the story be reported. However, since I think character is an important issue, if the story is well-sourced, I would still come down on the side of letting the public know.

    Comment by Ronin — October 31, 2007 @ 11:41 am | Reply

  56. It is an interesting dilemma. A couple of decades back, I was dating a man whose ex was having an affair with a married man who was murdered by yet another man who was having an affair with man #2’s wife. It was a national soap-opera story, and I was close friends with a reporter for a major newspaper following the story. I decided that tho the murdered man was being portrayed as angel by the media, letting people know that he, too, was having an affair, however juicy, was irrelevant, especially as children were involved.

    So what if it were Hillary? I don’t think she and Bill have been exactly intimate for some time. She’s still a young woman. Having someone to share her bed and comfort her after a stressful day wouldn’t be so awful. It might also be harder for the press to out a woman for it.
    Sexist? Maybe. But it wouldn’t be like some high-ranking preacher out shouting “family values” while getting some nookie on the side.

    Comment by Laurie — October 31, 2007 @ 11:54 am | Reply

  57. That the “elites” are wracked by ethical angst over whether to publish or not is laughable.

    For them it’s simple.

    If it’s a Republican, sit on it until the general election and destroy the bastard.

    If it’s a Democrat, sit on it.

    Comment by Woody — October 31, 2007 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  58. Good Lord. When did journalism get so coy and dainty? Is this a campaign or a tea party?

    Comment by Renee — October 31, 2007 @ 11:56 am | Reply

  59. The two most likely scenarios that would cause such hand-wringing at the LA Times?

    1. There is a gay angle.
    2. There is a racial aspect.

    Reporting a sex scandal with a gay angle will be seen as an indication of media hypocrisy. How many straight politicians have benefitted from the media turning the other way to their extramarital liaisons? And with hypocrisy being the eighth deadly sin these days I think any MSM outlet would hesitate.

    Reporting a story with a racial aspect would invite the same accusations of hypocrisy as above. In addition, the spectre of reinforcing a hackneyed stereotype would also give pause.

    Or not.

    Comment by dave1billion — October 31, 2007 @ 11:57 am | Reply

  60. This reminds me of two things. The beginning of perhaps an Urban Legend that begins and makes the rounds of the internet and e-mails.

    As it spreads it is like the game of gossip, no one knows the truth.

    If, whatever this is, is serious enough to be withheld until before the General Election. The Justice Department should step in and declare the election null and void.

    We don’t need the media playing games with our votes by withholding information and creating speculation based on no facts.

    Comment by Malinda — October 31, 2007 @ 11:58 am | Reply

  61. The only ethical issue(s) I can think that could pose a challenge are that it involves a spouse or harder still, involves a minor. For example: say it was discovered a pro-life candidate’s minor had an abortion.

    Comment by David — October 31, 2007 @ 12:16 pm | Reply

  62. You know, Ron, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, there are few things more irritating than people who say “I know something juicy but I’m not going to tell you because I have … a dilemma.”

    Either join the rest of us in rejecting sexual innuendo or spit it out.

    I guess life must be much easier for you not having any dilemmas and all. I envy you that. But so self righteous! It’s a blog, which can be many things but in my case is a kind of public record of personal experiences, often first impressions, thinking out loud etc. Starting a conversation. I’m sincerely sorry you feel irritated.Possibly because you feel left out of the loop? Well that’s exactly how I still feel. I don’t know what the LAT has in terms of proof and therefore don’t wish to go beyond what I did. My point was that many journalists, and what they tell their readers, may be influenced by something they don’t really know enough about. Is it really that difficult to figure this out from what I wrote? Many other readers seem to be able to get it.

    Comment by Bill Bradley — October 31, 2007 @ 1:01 pm | Reply

  63. A few friends of mine belong to the media elite and they tell me that the sexual “scandal” involves Bill Clinton cheating on Hilary, with the ethical problems being:

    1. Everyone already knows he is a cheater, and;

    2. He is not the candidate.

    It could be that the media would have run with this aleady if it were a Republican, but I think the ethical problems are valid.

    I’m glad you agree the ethical problems are valid. i’ve taken a position of not confirming or denying any of the guesses and I think afte this I’m just no longer going to post “guessing game” type comments.

    I would like to take this opportunity–since I’ve been accused of being pro Clinton (“part of the Clinton smear machine’ and anti Clinton (a “wingnut”), that I have endorsed Hillary for President, that I’m a liberal and that neither has anything to do with the ethical dilemmas I’m writing about.

    Comment by Jon — October 31, 2007 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

  64. I think it’s quite clear that given the “juiciness” of the story and the amount of people that are supposed to know about it, that it is extremely likely to come out sometime anyway – even if it’s about a Democrat. That’s just the information age…

    Therefore, isn’t it best to put it out NOW and let the chips fall where they may, rather than wait until the public has chosen a nominee and risk it coming out when nothing can be done other than watch the ruination of an important election cycle?

    It will get out anyway. So put it out now so the public can make up their mind whether it matters or not in the nomination process. That’s he only thing to do here.

    again I can see the argument, but it’s for the LATimes to decide, it’s their story, they’ve done the reporting. I think your argument should be addressed to them>

    Comment by Dunn — October 31, 2007 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

  65. You are a professional and pondering what you perceive to be a professional dilemna or phenomenon involving journalistic theories and questions. Professionals do this all the time and query others in thier field and on occassion close friends. But what you have done is irresponsible.

    Either print the story or don’t. The internet is not the place ruminate on the “duality” or, rather, ponder whether there is a duality or “influence” by using an actual case and titilating the public. If you were not comfortable writing the actual story then you should not have posted anything about it at all. Aside from maybe illuminating how thoughtful you are individually, you have accomplished nothing more than fanning the flames of gossip and creating more problems for the press and the candidates.

    What your thoughts do point out is that the media elite, if there is something out there, are excising discretion. Someone’s sex life is not news, unless it is demonstrative of hypocrisy in the politics a political official supports. This is why “family values” toting Republicans involved in sex scandals are news. If a Democrat had an affair why would it be news? Democrats are not the ones carry around the moral barometers. So for you to characterize what LAT is doing as “sitting” on a story does not seem like impartial writing. May be they are trying to determine whether it actually is news.

    You are an accomplished writer and people do respect you. However, after reading your blog and the comments and responses thereafter, it does not seem that your decision to post the issue was well-thought out. Hindsight, of course, is twenty-twenty and usually used after foresight’s coffee break.

    Thank you for your comments(and for the non-hysterical tone of your final sentence, so unlike so many commenters). However much we disagree, your thoughts are presented intelligently. First of all you say “print the story or don’t”. But you must have not read what i wrote very carefully:it’s not my story. It’s an LA Times story, not mine. I only learned of its existence (which has been confirmed by another journalist) a few days ago. They know how much they do or don’t have. They did the reporting. It’s their decision. My point is that media insiders think they know of an impending scandal and this affects the way they report on the current campaign (without their readers knowing). And my other point is that even a decade after the Clinton impeachment we still don’t have any agreed on guidelines on what is or isn’t a scandal. I agree with you that the hypocrisy issue is important, but then there’s the gray area of character and judgment. It’s a subject worth discussing. I’m not as sure of the answers as you are, but I believe the question is an important one.

    Comment by Chet — October 31, 2007 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  66. I’ll confirm it. It’s true. I slept with all of them. And I feel so let down by their performances that I’m selling my Viagra stock.

    Comment by Kevin Hayden — October 31, 2007 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  67. Thanks for the response. I want to agree that yes, in the past, the media decision to hold some things, and outright withhold others was pretty egregious. Kay Graham’s autobi recounts a remarkable case of that with the DC pools, and everyone knows about media culpability hiding FDR legs, Kennedy’s horndoggedness (and to a lesser extent Nixon’s bigotry and LBJ’s angst.) You can’t imagine such things would stay hidden today.

    Really, on a Presidential scale, didn’t that level of filter died out the day Gary Hart said “I dare you” (or something to that effect)? The campaign process now is all about that level of vetting — frankly, these rumors almost always come out in the election cycle, and I can’t imagine any real candidate for national office would expect differently.

    (And Eric M’s point about Woodward and Plame is almost the exception that proves the rule — since a) that information got out anyway, and b) we know Woodward had it, and his decision to keep it — and much of the info from his books — from the WaPo was, largely, to advance said books.)

    I do see what you’re saying about not judging whether it should be printed, I’m sorry if I misunderstood you — and I agree that this is a teachable moment. But I can’t concur with the influence concern — I think to the Illinois Senate Race and Ryan’s sex-life questions. Before the specifics came out — the potential of scandal in the divorce filings was huge, and dominated discussion. In fact, the scandal scuttled the campaign.

    But there were rumors about him for the entire length of the primary too — but it rarely made the papers (and, if my memory serves, it was with similar questions of journalistic propriety). But since Ryan won the primary, obviously it didn’t seep through coverage enough to affect the election.

    Surely anecdotal, but isn’t that all we’ve got here?

    P.S. Hasn’t Vitter and Craig made sex scandals meaningless? It’s a game-changing issue, sure, but not necessarily an automatic out. Unless it’s current, or involves Edwards, Clinton or Rudy (since marriage is a large part of their “character” and history) who cares? With America’s indifference to Clinton’s, Rudy’s, Gingrich’s etc. history of adultery — maybe it’s lost its sting.

    This is very long, I apoligize, and don’t expect it to be posted. But I couldn’t let the conversation go. I wish I still taught — this is a compelling controversy.

    I don’t mind the length of the comment if it’s intelligent and well argued as this one is.

    I should say that I don’t, however feel compelled to publish anonymous abusive comments which contain racist or bigoted remarks..

    Comment by Eric — October 31, 2007 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  68. Ethics?

    The one thing that, to my mind, is clearly unethical is for the media to try to time its stories in an effort to influence the outcome. If the press is there to give us the facts, just the facts, m’am, they ought to put them out there and let the chips fall where they may.

    If they get into the business of trying to inflence elections by the timing of their reporting, they’re getting way outside their mandate.

    Comment by AMcA — October 31, 2007 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

  69. Since when has the LAT had moral and ethical standards? It’s right there behind NYT in biased “leftist
    tripe” when reporting what it considers news/slander! The only good things are the sports pages and the coupons on Sunday!

    Comment by Tim Girvan — October 31, 2007 @ 3:29 pm | Reply

  70. Hello Ron:

    “So I was down in DC this past weekend and happened to run into a
    well-connected media person, who told me flatly, unequivocally that “everyone knows” The LA Times was sitting on a story, all wrapped up and ready to go about what is a potentially devastating sexual scandal involving a leading Presidential candidate.”

    Such behavior goes to the character of any person and, in this day and age, is fair game for public consumption, especially when the person is seeking what is arguably the most powerful public office in the world.


    “‘Sitting on it’ because the paper couldn’t decide the complex ethics of whether and when to run it.”

    Utter nonsense. The paper is probably struggling mightily with the impact such news will make. But in this way, it is exceeding the scope of its responsibility to the public. The Times cannot and should not influence, either deliberately or unintentionally, a Presidential Race by deciding if and when to release potentially damaging information about a candidate. If it is credible and well sourced, then it should be reported. Let the chips fall where they may.


    “What about a marriage belongs in the coverage of a presidential campaign? Does it go to the judgment of the candidate in question?”

    In short, YES. If a person is a leading Presidential candidate, but is reckless (or disturbed) enough to engage in a sexual scandal, then that person has exhibited a trait that should be made public.


    “Maybe voters will decide they don’t think it’s important, however juicy. But should it be their choice or the choice of the media elites?”

    Let the public decide.


    “I feel a little uneasy reporting

    You shouldn’t. The Presidential candidate, on the other hand, should be very uneasy about the potential impact of a major scandal.


    “No matter how well ‘nailed’ they think they have it, it may turn out to be untrue.”

    This is true of many well sourced stories. But that doesn’t always prevent the media from reporting them.

    Good luck.

    Comment by Cynical Negro — October 31, 2007 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

  71. Having read both the column and all the comments, I think that-aside from reps whining about dems getting preference, and dems whining about how reps all get a pass-this story might not be as well known as you might think. Why? Because, while I have only been back in the US since 1998(after spending most of the last 30 years out of the country) I have been forced, due to stays in various hospitals, to watch what passes for news coverage these days. So, here goes. 1) If it is a dem,and as well known as as you seem to think, then FNS opinion shows would be all over it 24/7, as would several programs on MSNBC and CNN. Talk radio, especially the local program hosts would not be able to resist a story that would give them a national scoop. 2) if a rep. then there are a few news outlets(very few) who would run with this. I don’t think that Drudge would report it,as his sympathies run more to the right, and as we all know, the main networks,being so lazy, go to Drudge to see if he has it out. So, either the story is not an “everyone knows” or it might be just a rumor, but I don’t believe that any TV news program would hold back on this because Nov sweeps start tomorrow(maybe they would hold it back until then) even FNS might have Smith report on it just to get ratings. What I have discovered over these last 9 years is that the vast majority of the MSM; TV, print, radio, are owned by corporations, and corporations are, for the most part, unless owned by an ideologue, totally amoral. Whatever is good for the bottom line will be printed. And always remember 2 things with reguard to the US MSM. 1-sex sells, and 2-a sex scandal(esp. one with a presidential candidate) sells even better. Not that I am cynical or anything, but if the LAT knows,and is sitting on it, then other news organizations know, and no reporter would sit on a scoop this big.-When I lived in Europe, this would not even be a story because no one would care. The US however, remains a puritan culture

    Comment by timr — October 31, 2007 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

  72. Were the posters suggesting that the MSM wouldn’t cover a Democratic sex scandal alive during either the Gary Hart or Bill Clinton scandals?

    Comment by ohiomeister — October 31, 2007 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

  73. We are in a transitional period where sexual promiscuity moves from being a disqualifier to being a non-issue. As does being gay.

    Thus the dilemma. 40 years ago being divorced was a disqualifier for President. Reagan broke that taboo. Clinton broke the ‘no adultery’ rule.

    Conventional sexual morality is not agreed to by vast segments of the voting public, and probably by a large majority of Democratic voters.

    Thus it is hard to imagine a sex scandal for a Dem. Certainly Bill having another affair will have zero effect on Hill’s primary run.

    Most of the downside to sex scandals is for Republicans, due to their ‘family values’ positioning and popularity with the remaining zones of traditional Christian morality.

    Personally I think it depends on the editors views. For a Kansas newspaper, it would make sense to run the story. For the LA Times, well they should have had an editorial meeting a long time ago and decided: we will not cover alleghations or facts concerning sex between candidates and other consenting adults. That is, we are going to adhere to the rules of our community (L.A.) which is sex is not part of the character issues as we understand it.

    Having made this decision and discussed the corner cases it would have been smart to explain it in the editorial section, in the abstract.

    They have allowed themselves to be backed into a corner and will end up tarred, like Newsweek in Lewinsky, no matter what they do.

    Comment by RW — October 31, 2007 @ 4:38 pm | Reply

  74. Heres my vote…..

    Main stream journalists floating a “juicy story” hoping it catches fire and spreads all over the internet.

    Why you ask?

    Because the main stream media is getting pummeled by bloggers taking a narrative written by a reporter and exposing all the information that was withheld. They also are getting outworked by bloggers uncovering news worthy stories, or uncovering the real story behind a story. Bloggers have made it possible to challenge every story, every fact, and every font being pumped out by the mass media machine. Since this has been the case, the media has been caught time and time again providing bloggers with material proving their point.

    It is so easy to say, and usually true, that the main stream media would sit on a story if it involves a democrat. There is a track record to support this. But, alas if the main stream media is a particularly dastardly lot as many, as well as I, suspect then waiting till a Republican has been nominated and then using the story to affect the election is not out of the question as well.

    The worried about “ethics” angle dog just don’t hunt. Once again a history has been established that this is rarely a concern for the main stream media and I hardly think they have all found religion at the exact same time.

    No my bet is they are trying to get this story in the news loop via blog first. I also think Mr. Rosenbaum may have the exact same feeling and is hesitant to comply.

    Why this is the case is the real question.

    Comment by Mikkins — November 1, 2007 @ 8:16 am | Reply

  75. We’ve had close experience of this in Oregon. For something like 17 years, “everybody” knew that Bob Packwood had been periodically groping women, including journalists, across the country. No one told until, coincidentally, a Democratic challenger had been groomed and was ready to take him on. The Washington Post broke the story, and for a long time I saw bumper stickers that said, “If it’s important to Oregon, you’ll read about it in the Washington Post” (a turn on an Oregonian slogan).

    More recently, “everybody” knew that Gov. Neil Goldschmidt had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl. But for some reason it was never newsworthy until 30 years later.

    It seems like a club — in both senses of a private association and a weapon to be wielded at the right time — and the media’s ethical issues are — surprise, surprise — directly related to their trust issues.

    Yes! The “club” issue was what I was trying to write about, although after it was picked up it turned into a giant guessing game. I hadn’t anticipated I’d get literally hundreds of comments and that I’d spent a entire day reading and responding to the first batch, so I’m way behind, which I regret.

    And so let me take this opportunity apologize to those I haven’t read and/or responded to, but, you know, I’m self-employed, I have editors expecting me to meet deadlines, I can’t spend day upon day doing blog coment responses, so I’ve had to institute a kind of triage. I’m not posting any more “guessing game” comments, for one thing. And for another, many of you who are reading this blog for the first time, understandably haven’t seen my repeated posts about my comments policy: I generally do not like–or feel any obligation–to post anonymous comments on the principle that if I put my name behind my opinions you should n’t be afraid to either.

    In addition I don’t post–anonymous or not–comments that are abusive,contain racist or bigoted or obscene material (youd be surprized how many contain all three) or give evidence of either not having actually read my post. I just don’t have the time to endlessly correct mischaracterizations.

    And inthis case to make it possible to respond to more posts I won’t necessarily post coments that endlessly repeat previous posts. The media hates Dems, the media hates Republicans etc.

    Finally since I’ve been accused of being pro and anti Clinton, part of the left wing smear machine, part of the right wing smear machine, I think it makes sense for me to disclose what I’ve published here and elsewhere, my own political orientation.

    I consider myself a liberal and I’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton (in The New York Observer almost a year ago).

    But my story is not designed to “smear” anyone, left or right. It’s about journalistic insiderism. I wrote it carefully, saying that the very existence of an LATimes story was only a rumor, and I had no way of knowing the truth of the subject of the rumored story, only that DC insider journalist types were talking about it as if they knew the LAT had it and it was true. The one thing I regret is that in some of my responses to the comments I went from describing a purported, talked-about LAT story–thus accurately describing in the original post the limits of my knowledge of the story I had been told about–to carelessly dropping the “purported” type formulations. Two well connected sources have said they thought the story was “in the can”as one of them put it, but that’s more than I know for sure. I only know that’s what many DC insiders in “the club” think. And what DC insiders think they know and don’t share with their readers can skew coverage in an important way and thus, I believe, is worth sharing with my readers.

    I would have posted this long comment response in a separate post but I wanted readers looking for their comment to this post to see it.

    Comment by Jan Bear — November 1, 2007 @ 9:36 am | Reply

  76. Sorry this is so long, but I found your blog to be thought-provoking.
    I am wondering about the “ethical dilemma” aspect that you mention. Are you actually concerned that those journalists who are in-the-know about the story, assuming it has been proven to be true, may be influenced by that knowledge in the way they write about the candidate now? Call me naive—I honestly fail to see what seems to be so obvious to you. All I can think of is that they may feel a need to either (1) compensate for the candidate’s failings by unwarranted boosting of his/her character on another front, or (2) subtly disparage the candidate because of moral disgust. Both of these reactions would depend, of course, on the writer’s own biases, political and otherwise. This is nothing new. Reporters/journalists continually decide how and when to unfold a story, what to emphasize, what to withhold, what vocabulary to use in order to shade its presentation in a certain way, whom to quote, and whose opinions to highlight via “analysts say” (their own?).
    Reporting has changed a lot. It used to be “who, what, why, when, where, and how;” then leave it to the reader to draw conclusions. Now, readers are expected to start with the writer’s own assumptions, read only what the writer thinks is relevant (given his/her preordained conclusions), and be grateful for the generous assistance from their betters. I have the vague impression that you may be just a little bothered by the power and influence exerted by those who would espouse this approach—yes, the Elitists. I did notice a little back-peddling when you were confronted by your peers about your questioning of journalistic practices/ethics, but not too much. Alas, you may now be forever consigned to being not-in-the-know. I say, consider it a badge of honor.
    As for the (seemingly) generally accepted notion that doing something wrong is newsworthy only if the wrongdoer has ever professed to have any moral standards—I think you know the answer to this one. Keep thinking and wondering aloud (blogging). You might pique the brains of many who badly need to question their assumptions.

    Your question (about whether I believe insider knowledge of a scandal can affect coverage is a good one, a key one, the reason i wrote the post. Yes. I do believe it and I could point to notable examples of stories that triggered my suspicion, except that this would then point to a specific candidate, something I prefer not to do because I have no evidence that the scandal rumor is true, only that there are well connected DC media insiders who believe it. But thank you for getting to the heart of the matter.

    Comment by Catherine — November 1, 2007 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

  77. It’s completely relevant. What one does when he/she thinks nobody is looking is called character. It can go either way.

    Comment by Allen — November 1, 2007 @ 7:05 pm | Reply

  78. I like your “club” double entendre. And I’m also glad that you are disturbed by this event. Typically people who share the general journalist outlook tend to fail to see the “we know best” attitude as a basic moral and system problem.

    When the journalists exercise their judgement to protect us from information, it’s easy to not get upset if you like the results.

    I suspect that the LAT wouldn’t have nearly as many ethics staff meetings if the prominent person were Britney or Brad, either. Some cuckold story subjects are more news worthy than others.

    Its own practitioners are the last group that believes journalists are particularly fair, balanced, ethical, or even competent.

    And their belief that they are somehow specially qualified (as opposed to specially able) to decide what’s important for us to know is particularly anti-American as well as factually wrong.

    I like your work!

    Comment by staghounds — November 1, 2007 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

  79. Is this about Dennis Kucinich getting the anal probe when he saw the alien UFO spaceship? Because, if it is, I don’t want to know about it. I just don’t want to know.

    Comment by Sanitized for your protection — November 1, 2007 @ 9:54 pm | Reply

  80. I read these comments and I’m struck by the power of the idea. Take Mr. Rosenbaum. We don’t know if he asked, asked not to be told or had it simply blurted out to him. But the moment he “possessed” that news, his life changed just a little. Now he was in a very similar position to the LAT. He was forced to make many of the same decisions. Not because he wanted to. But the news forced him to decide how he was going to handle it. Now that he possessed it, the one thing he couldn’t decide was not to know it any longer.

    I think all the issues you raise are serious and important ones. And yet, isn’t your response to Chet just a little disingenuous? Now that you’ve blogged about it, and shepherded it through nearly 100 comments, how can you say it’s not your story? Because you didn’t tell the WHOLE story? You wrote the headline? SCANDAL ROCKS PREZ CAMPAIGN. You just left out which campaign. Are you claiming you actually wrote “about” the story? I don’t think so. Of course it’s your story. You told it. Your story. You’re no longer able to lay it off on someone else. You could have chosen not to write about it. But you didn’t. You may feel justified in not revealing the details. I’m not questioning that aspect. But I’m beginning to understand better some of the frustration in earlier comments, that I didn’t understand at the time.

    I completely believe your intent was very different, and you wrote about it to raise very different issues. But once this story, told by you, on your blog, became the context for those ideas . . . I don’t think you can claim distance any longer. Moreover, you must have anticipated this response, at least to some degree. You must have known you would have readers desperate to pump you for the details. You’re not a man/writer who doesn’t think things through.

    This isn’t an attack. It’s a disagreement. More and more on blogs I find that a critical distinction. I’m also not badgering you for the news. It might not have read so well, but if you wanted to raise these issues, couldn’t you have presented them in a hypothetical situation? It wouldn’t have had the impact. But you also wouldn’t have had to fend off 100 people clamoring for the top gossip in the land.

    Have you noticed that nobody has written about your main point? (If a few did and I missed it, I apologize.) But how many people commented on the way possession of the news may be influencing the news these days? Not many. It’s all about you having the story . . . and not telling us. The power of the idea. Which is also what your blog was about.

    A paper has an obligation to research a story and present it only when strict standards have been met. And yet how many times does that happen and the story still turns out to be false? Or at least, not the whole story? (Ask Dan Rather.) I’m not sure a story can ever be fully researched when its just inside a few editors heads. I believe it eventually has to come out . . . and hold up under greater, broader scrutiny. That’s dangerous, of course. Kerry lost two critical weeks of his campaign when he misjudged how to respond to the Swift Boat attack. But a reporter can’t factor that into the decision whether to print or not.

    The nature of news has changed since Roosevelt took to his chair or Kennedy took to his bed. I don’t believe any news so widely known can be killed these days. It will eventually come out. I also don’t believe it can ever be adequately researched and understood until it does.

    There’s one more moral responsibility at work here. Don’t the folks at the LAT also have to consider this: If they don’t tell the story, what kind of source will it be coming from when the story finally breaks?

    Thanks for writing intelligently. Although you (deliiberately?) misrperesented the headline. There’s a lot to think about in what you say but I’ll stick to one point. YOU get what I was trying to write about, I think, and I think others do too, and yet you’re saying I shouldn’t try to make a point because many people will misinterpret it, get the wrong impression, make the wrong response etc. If a writer has to censor himself because of the way he worries others will misinterpret his words he might as well not write anything. Yes, it’s a delicate subject but I took great pains to make clear I was writing about a rumor circulating in the media elite, and how such rumors affect campaign coverage. I contextualized the hell out of it and I think that more readers than just you and I got what I was trying to say. I think the study of rumors can be quite revealing about the national psyche. As so many of the comments reveal.

    Comment by Ed — November 1, 2007 @ 11:11 pm | Reply

  81. After reading these blogs I have two observations as a Democrat and a former journalist.

    First, the notion that the LAT would sit on a story simply because the candidate was a Republican is indicative of the paranoia conservatives have about journalists. While journalists are, on average, more liberal than the general public — they are essentially cutthroat about getting a story like this. Party affiliation or candidate favoritism would never keep a writer from getting out ahead on a national scandal. It is not in their genes.

    Second, the hint given by your story is that the paper thought it might not be germane. If this was a well-sourced current sex scandal about a major candidate’s current or recent daliances, it would be reported. If your friends are correct, it must be about an event in the candidate’s distant past, or not scandalous at all to decent people, or pertaining to the behavior of a spouse.

    I would not regard someone’s pre-marital, past homosexual or heterosexual behavior as relevant. But I would regard any act that demonstrates hypocracy, poor judgment, or lack of loyalty to a spouse — as highly relevant. Perhaps the LAT is simply decent and circumspect.

    I should mention that one person within the LAT has written to say he knows of no such story. And there may be no “wrapped” up, “in the can” story as the two D.C. insiders insisted. On the other hand others have emailed me further indication that “everyone” in DC (e.g. media insideers) know there is a scandal waiting to happen and have named the same names. It’s this “everyone” (on the inside) mentality I was attempting to write about. Despite the fact that scores of commenters want to turn it into a guessing game, my post was about DC insider mentality, the “everybody knows” (except our reaaders) mentality that can skew coverage readers do get to see. The important thing is that DC insiderss think the LAT is holding a story of this nature. And while such a story may not be “wrapped up”, or may have been pursued and abandoned it’s hard to imagine any major newspaper has ignored it entirely, never made inquiry about the subject. I could point to stories by other major newspapers that indicate an unspoken occluded hint-hint knowledge of it. They may not felt it was provable, relevant, or dignfied, but I’d wager LAT campaign reporters are aware of it. And if it comes out some other way, the timing (before or after nominations) is going to be crucial. Which is why I wanted to call attention to the hard decisions newspapers have to make. As I said in the post I don’t envy them

    Comment by John Adkisson — November 1, 2007 @ 11:25 pm | Reply

  82. Sometimes “everyone knows” and “no one cares”. Jim McGreevy’s sexual orientation was State House gossip for years and believe me, if I knew it, everyone knew it. But it only became an issue when in a massive failure of judgment he made his friend head of homeland security for the state – a position for which he was not even arguably qualified.

    Comment by ronbo — November 2, 2007 @ 10:18 am | Reply

  83. What’s up with all this whining “it must be a Democrat since they’re sitting on it…”

    Republicans have gotten away with murder time after time and the MSM looks the other way (just look at the whole saga of this administration and their gang of thugs). But since this rumor is about a candidate’s sex life, does anyone remember a huge media interest in George 1. and Jennifer Fitzgerald?

    Comment by elluskott — November 2, 2007 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  84. Ron,
    I appreciate your thoughtful tone and your interest in the debate of what are the ethics in this case. I agree with Ed in the comments above, however, that merely participating in a public forum on such a…um…sexy topic is guaranteed to generate hits and publicity. For you. So even though you want a debate on journalistic ethics, which I believe, you have forced the issue one step higher in national consciousness – forcing LAT writers now to defend their position.

    My thought to you is that if you really wanted to generate light rather than traffic, you could have – and still can – called and interviewed members of the MSM about their response and paper’s position on this story. If everyone knows, as claims your source, you should have been able to get people to talk about why they are not writing about it. (Although I am aware that journalists hate to get interviewed about their own work, part of the hypocrisy of the machine, put so be it.)

    So if this is a discussion, let us know what you are hearing from the field and how folks are responding to it.

    Jack Straw

    Appreciate your suggestion, but it seems to me there’s a conflict in what you’re saying: “merely particpating” i.e. writing about the subject is bad, but you want me to write more, intensively, devote all my writing and reporting time to it, but somehow that wouldn’t generate publicity? I’ve followed an informal policy with the blog of writing what strikes me as interesting and may be of interest to others without calculating or being dictated to by what I think people will think. I have strong opinions I’d like people to read but I don’t think I do any posts merely for publicity. Read the blog, I think you’ll find that to be true.

    Comment by Jack Straw — November 2, 2007 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

  85. You did contextualize the hell out of what you wrote. And in a few places I found myself writing things that made me extremely uncomfortable. And that may be where I wasn’t clear enough. If anything, my piece was a plea against censorship of any kind. Not for it. For both moral and pragmatic reasons. I don’t think it works. I don’t think we can save Kerry from himself. Nor should we try. Or Roosevelt. Or Kennedy. Issues of national security? Of course. Sheer human dignity? I would hope so. But it’s the we/they dichotomy that worries me most. I worry about investing that kind of power in a few – any few. This time it’s the LAT making the decision for us. Next time it could be Fox News. Moreover, I fear if the LAT doesn’t write the story, too many people will get it, ultimately, from . . . who knows where . . . or how reliable?

    I wasn’t necessarily recommending you should have censored yourself because of how people reacted. But where I took issue with your original piece is that I thought you were trying to get us a little pregnant. I was uneasy about what I perceived as going only half-way.

    I believe there is a less of a distinction between the position you’re in and that of the LAT’s than you want to believe. Not by a choice you made, but simply because “you know.” That’s the power of the idea. And especially, once you wrote your story. You could have chosen not to. But this just repeats my first comments.

    Were you exercising sound restraint by not blurting out a rumor that you can’t know is true or false? I think so. But I’m uncomfortable with the LAT sitting on a story they believe is valid. Especially when the democratic process could be affected. I think we ought to let democracy rule. Let the chips fall where they may.

    Writing my first comment, I was reminded of the last time I saw All the President’s Men. A new impression I had on this viewing was how often – and how easily – the story and the entire investigation might have been derailed. It made me extremely nervous how much teetered on decisions – being made by smart, reasonable people – that could have gone either way, based on sound, ethical thinking. With the entire story, perhaps, hanging in the balance at each of these crossroads. I get shivers thinking about the possibility.

    Well, at the risk of repeating myself, the point is I don’t know. I only know that certain DC insiders think they know the LAT has a story. I don’t know that it does, or if the putative story is true. I wrote the post because it seemed to me that such unpublished rumored knowledge could well be affecting published coverage and it was worth pointing that out..

    Comment by Ed — November 2, 2007 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

  86. I’ll start off by saying that I am as disgusted as our gracious host is by the inside-the-beltway cliquishness that passes for most D.C. journalism these days. It is a morass of those only interested in their continued access to the corridors of power and precious little comes out of it that would keep a democracy functioning.

    But as someone who used to be a journalist in Flyover Country, let me respond to some of the above commenters by saying you can’t have it both ways.

    Either you want a media that does its level best to vet its facts before it reports a story, or you want unfiltered access to all the information a reporter or editor “knows.”

    And you can get into your tin-foil hat and cry “MSM conspiracy” to the whole internet, but guess what, the MSM is made up of flesh and blood people who have to make decisions when they go into work every day. And just like you, sometimes they make the right ones, and sometimes not. And when not, everybody knows about it, Google never lets that misstep fade from memory, and it’s not like the pay (for a reporter) makes it all worth it.

    One of the first lessons I learned as a cub reporter was that I was always going to know more about the story than I could possibly report. Sometimes, that was due to space and the cost of newsprint (back in the analog days), but more often it was a judgment call on how many sources confirmed the information and what their level of credibility was.

    I would have knock-down-drag-out fights with my editor right up until deadline and the next day or the next week, removed from the heat of the story-chase, I could see the wisdom in his decisions. Because the people the MSM is writing about are flesh-and-blood too, and sometimes, like on the internet, it’s easy to lose sight of that.

    I love the internet for its transparency. But I am also in awe of its power to wreck real, human lives. This is the information age, and information is powerful currency. Maybe giving some thought to how we spend that currency is a good thing.

    Sorry for the long post, but it’s early here and the coffee is strong.

    Comment by Angelle — November 3, 2007 @ 10:32 am | Reply

  87. Okay, we will have to agree to disagree about whether you should have published the LAT “sitting on it” blog. But, buddy, I am sooooooooooooooo grateful that there is one other person in this world who will call out Seinfeld for what he is not, what he did, and how much worse off we are because of it!!!

    Comment by Chet — November 3, 2007 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

  88. […] That big Washington sex scandal that the LA Times was sitting on, (if true) was assumed by most in the blogosphere to be about Hillary and Huma when it first hit the rumor mill last fall. I didn’t realize until now, that there were people at the time surmising that the rumor was about Obama. […]

    Pingback by This Election Season Is Gonna Get Down and DIRTY « Nice Deb — May 19, 2008 @ 10:23 pm | Reply

  89. This is about Obama and Larry Sinclair isn’t it? Many things since last year seem to point to the truthfulness of Sinclair’s allegations. I guess he and Pastor James David Manning are holding a press conference in DC sometime at the end of this month to basically out Obama. Should be interesting.

    Comment by June — May 21, 2008 @ 9:03 am | Reply

  90. […] of you might remember is that this story traces its roots back to blog post on October 29, 2007 by Ron Rosenbaum at Pajamas Media. Here is an excerpt–click link to read it all [emphasis added]… So I was down in DC […]

    Thank you for giving me credit, but in all honesty, the post you link to was not inspired by a tip about the Edwards scandal (as I think I make explicit in a subsequent post), but was about a different candidate’s scandal problem.

    Pingback by John Edwards/Rielle Hunter Update! « Dark Skies Blog — July 27, 2008 @ 11:57 am | Reply

  91. This is not a case of journalism ethics naval gazing.

    The LA Times, which you gave a pass to in your post, has been actively suppressing the Edwards story. When it comes to Republicans though, the LA Times gleefully reported the McCain/Lobbyist alleged affair.

    The Edward’s bastard child story came out last fall when Edwards was actively pursuing the Democrat nomination.

    The media treated it like a hot potato.

    Why would the media (print/cable/nightly news) focus on McCain’s alleged affair and not Edwards?

    Hmmm. Lets think real hard about that one.

    Oh yeah.. lets chalk it up to journalist contemplating ‘ethics’. Yeah, right. Not even close.

    If Edwards now is a ‘private’ citizen and thus not able to be targeted by the media outing his ‘private’ peccadillos — then explain why the LA Times/NY Times/MSM reported with glee the Rush Limbaugh pill scandal — sourced directly from the National Enquirer?

    Rush Limbaugh never ran for president and never held public office but was treated to front page stories about his divorce and ‘doctor shopping’. I guess you forgot about that blatant example of media bias.

    Comment by The Word on Streets — August 8, 2008 @ 7:27 am | Reply

  92. […] that they didn’t know what to do with.  His post denies that it’s the Edwards rumor (link): Shocking Inside DC Scandal Rumor: A Media Ethics Dilemma So I was down in DC this past weekend […]

    Pingback by Target Rich Environment » Blog Archive » Mainstream Media Pads John Edwards’ Soft Landing In Reality? — August 8, 2008 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

  93. August 17th, 2008

    I suddenly realized that the story originally aluded to was likely the Edwards story.

    On another site it is being noted that if the story had been public when the Iowa vote was done that Edwards votes would have likely gone to Clinton.

    No doubt Clinton’s supporters are not happy with the late disclosure.

    Comment by Malinda — August 17, 2008 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

  94. Well,if I had to make an educated guess about who the rumor was about,with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight,I would guess it was either about Barokeydoke smoking pole,or Rodham munching carpet.

    Comment by Robbins Mitchell — January 12, 2010 @ 11:16 am | Reply

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