Sent to you by Sean McBride via Google Reader: Dissecting Cindy
McCain's private world via Salon: Glenn Greenwald by Glenn Greenwald on
The New York Times today has a very strange, lengthy front-page story
on Cindy McCain -- by Jodi Kantor and David Halbfinger -- dredging up
some unpleasant epsiodes in the distant past of her private life
without adding any new information, sprinkling some innuendo about the
McCains' long-distance marriage, analyzing her personality and health
mostly with pure speculation, and just generally dissecting her private
and emotional sphere for no apparent reason beyond idle voyeurism. Some
of the facts discussed are, I suppose, arguably relevant (her
connection to the Keating Five scandal and how Washington scorned her
as a result of McCain's ugly treatment of his first wife), but the vast
bulk of the article, while quite invasive, seems indistinguishable from
ugly, rank gossip.

The article isn't even arguably an issue of political bias, as the NYT
has long been obsessed with the Clintons' marriage and sex lives (one
of the worst, though by no means only, examples being this 2006 sleazy,
highly detailed front-page gossip item from Patrick Healy --
entitled "For Clintons, Delicate Dance of Married and Public Lives"
-- "reporting" that "Mr. Clinton is rarely without company in public,
yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife" and that "Bill and
Hillary Clinton have built largely separate lives" while chronicling
the number of nights they've spent together). But this Cindy McCain
article does seem to suggest that there are no longer any standards
governing when "political journalists" dig into the private and sex
lives of political figures -- and now their family members -- even when
doing so lacks even a purported connection to some matter of public

Even as recently as the Bill Clinton sex witch hunt of the 1990s,
examinations of a political figure's private life generally required at
least some pretense of justification. Disclosure of private lives for
its own sake wasn't really the prevailing standard, at least not
overtly. The bottomless fixation in establishment journalism with Bill
Clinton's specific sex acts and even his penile spots was "justified"
by the claim that those facts were relevant to the perjury allegations.
Those justifications were tenuous at best -- more accurately: absurdly
false excuses for media wallowing in their lives -- but at least the
rationale had to be proffered.

Similarly, reporting on Mark Foley's sex scandal was justified by the
involvement of under-aged pages and the abuse of power angle. The
reporting on the sexual escapades of David Vitter, Larry Craig and
Eliot Spitzer were at least accompanied -- to varying degrees -- by the
criminality and hypocrisy angles, given that (in the case of the GOP
Senators) they had built their careers around claims of superior sexual
morality and (in the case of all three) using the force of law to
punish people for their private choices. The current case of Rep. Tim
Mahoney's multiple affairs potentially involves abuse of power and
illegal use of campaign and other public funds.

But the media explosion over John Edwards' extramarital affairs in
early August -- long after he was done seeking office, and involving no
whiff of illegality or "wrongdoing" beyond the adultery itself --
seemed to signal that anything and everything that happens in the
private lives of political figures is now fair game for reporting,
intrinsically a matter of legitimate inquiry, and that purported
connections to the public interest were no longer required. The NYT
article picking apart Cindy McCain's private world seems to be an
extension of the degradation.

Who cares how many nights John and Cindy have spent together over the
past couple of decades, or how affectionate they are with one another
when sitting at home, or that -- 15 years ago -- she "was caught
stealing drugs from her nonprofit organization to feed her addiction to
painkillers," or whether her 2004 separation from McCain was due (as
she claimed) to a stroke, or whether their marriage is a union of
convenience and business rather than true love, or whether she actually
crossed into Rwanda from Zaire during a 1994 trip to help refugees, or
how often his friends in DC interact with her socially? How is there a
public interest in knowing any of that?

Way worse, the NYT's Kantor trolled Facebook and found adolescent
classmates of Bridget McCain and -- at least in one case -- sent an
email that said this:

I’m a reporter at the New York Times, writing a profile of Cindy
McCain, and we are trying to get a sense of what she is like as a
mother. So I’m reaching out to fellow parents at her kids’ schools.

Is investigating Cindy McCain's fitness as a mother actually a
legitimate function for the political reporters at the NYT? Doesn't
that question answer itself?

It's true that the Right -- which made a cottage industry that persists
to this day out of sleazily digging into every facet of the Clinton's
private lives, and became voracious fans of National Enquirer during
the Edwards scandal -- has very little standing to complain here, since
they helped spawn these invasions. And none of this has anything to do
specifically with Cindy McCain, since the treatment to which she's
subjected here is, by now, anything but unique (though remarkably
little interest was displayed when it came to digging into what were,
by all accounts, the ample hedonism of George W. Bush's pre-born-again

But it seems rather obvious that there are now basically no
journalistic standards left for determining when a political figure's
private life (or even that of their spouse) is "relevant" --
apparently, it's all relevant now, down to the last tawdry detail. That
inevitably has to lead to an even further erosion (if that's possible)
of our political class, a further narrowing of the people willing to
enter politics. And the vast disparity between the media resources and
attention devoted to sleazy gossip like this versus actual
investigation of true government corruption and crime seems to be
growing by the day, such that behavior like this will further decay our
already quite decadent journalistic class as well.

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