The Gary Bauer Scandal
7. Everyallegation is a political fact. Horse-race journalism ignores whether charges are true and focuses instead on whether they're damaging. The first question to Bauer Wednesday was, "Don't you just give this story more momentum by doing this?" Another reporter asked, "How do you think your supporters are going to respond to all this?" The Post, too scrupulous to say whether Bauer had done anything wrong or even whether the perception that he might have done so would hurt him politically, found one political scientist who "warned that Bauer could be fatally wounded, in political terms, by the dispute" and another who "said Bauer could help himself by saying, 'I wish I wouldn't have put myself in this kind of situation, I'm sorry and I apologize.' " Whether the "situation" was a misdeed or a perception was left unexplained. The Los Angeles Times told readers that "the real news was the wall-to-wall press throng" at the news conference.
8. Bauershowed bad judgment by letting the allegations of an appearance of impropriety become a political problem. A Salon reporter told Bauer, "A lot of us have heard this rumor. But to be quite honest, I think most people in this room are never going to mention it and probably didn't take it very seriously. But you've now elevated it to a point that it will be on the evening news. And a lot of Americans, when they are first introduced to you ... it will be for that--for denying an affair. What does that say about your political judgment?" Within hours, Salon published the reporter's derisive story about the press conference, titled "Bauer: I am not a slut!"
The problem isn't that the media are malicious or are out to get Bauer. I know and like at least two of the reporters who asked some of the most loaded questions at the press conference. The problem is that they can't resist a hot story. A sex scandal on the religious right, no matter how flimsy, seems too good to pass up. Reporters think they have to ask the killer question or advance the story, never mind which way it's going. The campaign is in overdrive, their prey stands before them, and the heat of the moment carries them away. They wonder whether Gary Bauer is strong enough to resist the urge. They should ask the same question of themselves.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Gary Bauer on the Slate Table of Contents by Mark Davitt/Reuters.