Thursday, May 27, 2010

This, too, shall pass

Do I give a tinker's damn about the outcome of the GOP's South Carolina gubernatorial primary? I do not. Matter of fact, the only reason it's even on my radar is because I can't resist dropping in on a daily basis to see what The Other McCain is talking about.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Stacy's a Peckerwood Populist who rolls around on the floor of the Augean stable of irredentist Confedero-sentimentalism and neo-Dixecratism instead of getting with the cleanup, but by gum he's never boring.

And what he's talking about a lot right now is a blogger/political consultant's claim to have had an "inappropriate physical relationship" with GOP candidate Nikki Haley.

What's interesting to me about McCain's writing on the topic is that he's looking at it as a case study in how the blogosphere has changed political journalism and the dynamic of campaigns, and he's doing so from the perspective of someone who, as he puts it, has "been on both sides of the Old Media/New Media divide."

I'm a little bit, but not much, younger than Robert Stacy McCain. I've never been an editor at the Washington Times, but I've been doing "real journalism" on and off for more than 30 years, since I was 12 (I started off writing local beekeeper club meeting reports for my town's daily newspaper; sneer if you want, but I knew what a five-point lede was by the time I started on my junior high school newspaper, and had been published in a print magazine with a worldwide subscribership by the time I got my driver's license), and what he says rings true:

[W]hen I worked at The Washington Times, there were people whose job it was to say, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't publish that." ... Wes Pruden’s motto was always, "Get it first and get it right." The Lewinksy scandal was a case where we weren't first because to have published a thinly-source[d] article about such a major scandal would have been short of the "get it right" standard.

Over the course of the decade and change since the Lewinsky scandal broke, the blogosphere has completely pranged the "get it right" standard both on the Internet and, bleeding over, in the "mainstream media." Tabloid TV was already eroding the standard, but the blogosphere was its death.

These days, the "get it first and get it right" standard in the MSM has been replaced by the "get it first and cover it as an 'if these allegations are true' story instead of a 'we have learned and can truthfully tell you' story; that way if it's wrong, most of the mud flies clear of us" standard.

I don't think that's going to last, though.


Because this kind of journalism has accomplished that which we once believed impossible: It's made sex, marital infidelity, etc. boring.

Every other week, some politician trots out to do the obligatory "I betrayed my family" press conference, after which he/she either exits the political stage or dons an electric chastity belt, hands out remote activators to the assembled press (really -- every MSM reporter carries a keychain full of'em) and limps valiantly forward to face defeat or redemption at the next election.


Hell, the only reason the Nikki Haley story has legs is that she's still denying it. If she'd called a press conference, admitted it, maybe flashed her rack for the cameras, everyone outside of South Carolina (and most people in South Carolina) would have already forgotten her name, not to mention the name of the blogger/consultant who claimed to have got him summathat, by now. Which, as a side note, makes me think that she's probably telling the truth.

At one time, the sex scandal story was a guaranteed way to move papers off newsstands. That's because no journalist would put his name on such a story unless he had the used condom and lab results on the DNA therein. If that particular kind of thing was reported, you could bet money that it was true.

Now that it's "anything goes as long as we can deny we outright lied," it's been overdone. It's the same story over and over, with the names (usually) changed. And face it, nobody really wants to think about Eliot Spitzer or Mark Sanford or John Ensign or John Edwards in bed with anyone or anything. I mean, eeewwwww. It's creepy, and it's unimportant.

At some point, this kind of "news" will stop driving newsstand sales and web site traffic, and then it will become a curious historical artifact. As far as I'm concerned, that moment can't come too soon.

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