Faster Scandal

A mostly political weblog.
June 24 2009 7:17 PM

Faster Scandal

Josh Marshall's TPM has been presciently keeping the undernews fires burning on the Sanford scandal , even when the mainstream media (MSM) was buying the story that the governor had been hiking the Appalachian trail. But reading over TPM 's post  "Sanford Press Conference Leaves Unanswered Questions, " I was struck by one thing: How uninteresting all the remaining questions are.** "[W]ould [Sanford] have stuck to the Appalachian story" if he could have gotten away with it? Duh! "[D]id he voluntarily tell the State 's reporter that he had been in Argentina" or did she look at his luggage tags? Did he see his paramour on earlier taxpayer-funded junkets to Latin America? Other analysts wonder if he used taxpayer-funded gas to drive to the airport. Not sure anybody cares.

We have Faster News and Faster Politics and Faster Scandal. It seems likely that in the course of about 48 intriguing hours those who follow the news have basically learned everything important they need to know about the Sanford mess. He was in Buenos Aires. He cheated on his wife. He really seems to have been in love with this Argentinian. He's out of the 2012 presidential race . Things that ten years ago would have dribbled and drabbed out over the course of days or weeks now hit the Web within minutes. What's left?

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Even the story about how scandals happen faster these days has already been done-- by TPM , about 29 minutes ago .

There are some obvious implications to Faster Scandals. For one thing, they lead to Faster Comebacks. (Though that won't happen if, like John Edwards, you successfully prolong the suspense, leaving key details--like paternity--hanging for months and even years.) But there are also unanswered questions! Most importantly, what does Faster Scandal mean to Jerry Skurnik's "second electorate"-- the one that doesn't follow the news and won't find out about the Sanford scandal until either a) they see it briefly on the nightly news or the front page of their MSM paper tomorrow, or b) Sanford runs for national office years from now, if he runs, in which case a significant segment of voters may suddenly discover that he's an adulterer (the way they discovered that Giuliani was an adulterer at an absurdly late date, namely the GOP primaries of 2008).

In general, you'd think Faster Scandal would mean diminished scandal. The rule of thumb for disaster spin has always been to get the whole story out fast--and now it typically gets out fast, whether the pol at the center of the scandal wants it to or not. A weeks-long story is now a one-day shotgun blast . (Edwards may be an exception in part because reporters have been reluctant to cause more pain to his wife and haven't bothered to smoke out all the key facts.) Back when the editor of the LA Times had a motto of "Do It Once, Do It Long, and Do It Right," it was a scandal-killer, in part because it avoided the extended period of uncertainty in which the media's tom toms of doom are beating and wavering sources can be panicked into coming forward. Now the technology of news has conspired to make the LAT 's misguided motto the normal course of events.

But it's also possible that by blunting the initial impact of scandal's like Sanford's--and restricting it largely to Skurnik's first, informed electorate--the increasing speed of scandal means that when the second uninformed electorate finally does learn about it--say, during Sanford's 2016 presidential run--the damage will be all the greater . The news will seem fresher to more of them, because it didn't have sufficient impact back in 2009 to have been processed by everyone. ...

**--Yes, there is still the issue of Maria, who she is, etc. Photos tk. But even that is less interesting now, with so much of the story already out.

P.S.--Was it really about the sex, governor? Do you know anyone who's been to Buenos Aires recently and not wanted to stay there? I know four or five people who returned to California's alleged paradise only reluctantly. ...   5:07 P.M.

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