Putting the Sid Back in Inside Baseball--A Timeline:
Nov. 15--Sidney Blumenthal joins Clinton campaign.
Nov. 17--Columnist Robert Novak writes that
Agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent for the party's presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, but has decided not to use.
It can't be that simple. Right? ...
Update: Excitable Joe Klein is outraged! I mean, more than usual! And he's outraged at Novak. ....
Is Klein's point that if agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the word that she has scandalaous information about Obama, that this is not worth Novak reporting? Wouldn't it tell you something about Hillary? ... [But you can't report that without reporting the alleged scandalous information-ed Novak didn't report the alleged scandalous information. You can't report it without suggesting that there is a scandalous allegation of some sort-ed That's true. There are two models, I guess.
Model One is Klein's:
Journalists are continually bombarded with rumors, often scurrilous. They are not news. Rumors only become news when they are confirmed, cross-checked and responded to by the target of the attack.
In this bi-modal model, there is "news." And there is "not news"--a black sump of information that the public does not get to learn (though journalists eagerly talk about it amongst themselves). One problem that when Klein's gatekeepers vigilantly protect the borders of "news", they consign a lot of relevant and verified information (e.g. who is spreading what about what) to the black hole of non-news. Some journalists are so frustrated by their inability to convey the real story under Model One that they write thinly veiled campaign novels!
Why not a tri-modal model? In this Model Two there are a) Klein's confirmed and cross-checked news; b) unconfirmed, mainly Web-borne unverified scuttlebutt that everyone also gets to learn about; and c) things the public never knows about, perhaps because they are unchecked, highly damaging, and once loosed can never be completely recalled (i.e. unverified rumors of wife-beating or child porn, etc.) or because reporters only learn of them on an "I won't report this" basis.
The main objection to Model Two is the fear the public won't be able to handle category (b)--the unverified scuttlebutt. But over the past few cycles, haven't the voters put these fears to rest? They rallied around Bill Clinton despite all sorts of public rumors. They elected Arnold Schwarzenegger despite scandalous groping stories. Most recently, they've continued to support John Edwards despite the National Enquirer'sreport of a cheating scandal (and his on-the-record denial). The electorate seems reasonably capable of i) considering the source ii) supporting a candidate while holding in their minds the possibility that a scandalous rumor might be confirmed; and iii) putting the confirmed scandalous rumors into perspective.
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