December 02, 2007
Statesman hits low with Craig muck
Posted by: Chris
Leave it to the Idaho Statesman, which already wasted months passing around photos of Larry Craig in D.C. toilets, to set a new journalistic low in its coverage of the senator's ongoing saga. This time around, the paper is publishing in graphic detail -- along with audio interviews for the truly voyeuristic -- the claims of four men to have had sex with Craig, who has denied being gay.
That denial is the supposed justification for the story, though we know the Statesman's editors have said in the past that it's newsworthy enough that any of the conservative state's politicians might be gay to root around in private lives. So the prejudices of the citizenry overrule the reasonable expectation of privacy that those in public office deserve.
What's truly depressing about the new Statesman article is the very low bar set for credibility to be included in the story:
As with the Statesman's August report, the new evidence is not definitive. There are no videos, no love letters, no voice messages. Like last August, they are he-said, he-said allegations about a man seeking discreet sex from partners whom he counted on to never tell.
But the Statesman's investigation, which included reviews of travel and property records and background checks on all five men, found nothing to disprove the five new accounts.
In other words, in the Orwellian mindset of the Statesman and its crackerjack gay sex reporter, Dan Popkey, an allegation of private sexual conduct is true unless proven otherwise. So without any actual corroboration, much less the level required by good journalists before invading the privacy of public figures, Popkey and the Statesman roll the presses.
Sadly, the media is sinking to the level of bloggers and some of their readers. Our own little online poll has shown that the mere allegation of sexual misconduct, made on the blogs, leads a third of folks to assume it's true until proven otherwise. Another quarter assume it's false until proven otherwise, and 43 percent (a disappointingly small number) pay no attention absent evidence.
Two of the four accounts relayed in the Statesman are remarkably weak. Neither David Phillips -- who recently made headlines by protesting the removal of his "POOFTER" license plate by the state of Virginia, and Mike Jones -- the prostitute who brought down Ted Haggard -- actually got Larry Craig's name. And Phillips changed the year of his alleged encounter when Craig's staff pointed out he lived on a yacht in 1986, not a Capitol Hill townhome as Phillips claims.
So how does Phillips know it was Craig he had sex with two decades ago? He recognizes his "formal voice." That's it. Both Phillips and Jones come off as desperately seeking to extend their 15 minutes of infamy. And Jones claims he recognized Craig, though Craig is if anything remarkably nondescript physically.
A third man claimed Craig stared at his penis and gave him his phone number way back in 1981, a quarter century ago. A fourth simply claimed Craig was "unusually attentive" in a personal conversation. A fifth man, who refused to allow his name to be used, claimed Craig put his hand under the stall of a Denver airport restroom stall, like in his famous Minneapolis encounter with an undercover cop.
The point isn't whether some or all of these allegations are true, although all of them are remarkable weak. The point is they are not newsworthy and don't come close to meeting the minimum standard the media should set before publishing alleged details of even a public figure's sex life.
At this point, the Statesman appears so desperate to justify its investment of resources and reputation on its investigation of Craig that almost anything goes. To that extent, the Statesman is the media version of the "independent counsels" of the Clinton years, given unlimited resources to investigate Bill and Hillary and anyone else who might arguably connect with the original assignment. After so much time and money, the pressure to find something -- anything -- is overwhelming.
Fortunately our government has scrapped the independent counsel -- more like personal prosecutor -- statute. Embarrassing accounts like today's Statesman story will hopefully have the same reverse effect in the media.
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