Ignoring Clinton-Era Scandals and Reporting on Cain

Are Politico's reporters guilty of hypocrisy? Nope. Their critics are forgetting something -- and you'll kick yourself if you don't guess what it is 

Herman and Gloria Cain - AP Photo:David Goldman - banner.jpg

Herman Cain gives Americans no reason to think he'd be even adequate at shaping foreign policy, crafting domestic policy, or making appointments, so I tend to agree that the sexual harassment allegations against him are irrelevant. I wish we'd ignored the sex lives of Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner and Bill Clinton, if only because scrutiny of politicians' personal lives is now so intense that a majority of Americans think their own pasts preclude them from seeking election. That distortion is a high price to pay given the quality of politicians we get in return.

But the divergent reactions to the story is fascinating.

Among non-conservatives the conventional wisdom is as follows: a) it is unsurprising that Politico would run a news story exposing a sexual harassment settlement -- the folks who run that publication would kill for a similar scoop on any prominent candidate in any presidential primary; b) it's impossible to know the truth in cases like this, which is too bad; c) the most likely impetus for this story was one of Cain's rivals in the GOP primary; d) who cares anyway, surely this guy won't win. In contrast, here's the conventional wisdom among movement conservatives. a) "the left" is targeting Cain b) this is "a high-tech lynching" motivated by the racism of liberals c) the people doing it are hypocrites because look at how they defended Bill Clinton.

Since others have pointed out that the left and Politico aren't synonymous, and I presume that no one earnestly believes "high-tech lynching" is an apt metaphor for what's going on here, I'd just like to point out that it's been 13 years since the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, and it was years prior that the first allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled at the former president. For guys like Andy McCarthy, Rush Limbaugh and Brent Bozell, whose comments are at linked above, maybe it seems like all the people in the media are the same, and hypocrisy is a coherent charge.

Being a 31-year-old, it occurs to me that I was 13 when Bill Clinton was elected and 18 when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke -- and quickly checking up the four people who wrote the Politico story, I see that Jonathan Martin, the lead writer, graduated from college in 1999; Anna Palmer is even younger, having graduated college in 2004; Kenneth P. Vogel was 17 when Bill Clinton was elected; and Maggie Haberman was 19. If they ignored candidate Clinton's scandals and reported on the Cain settlement perhaps it was for a reason other than ideologically motivated hypocrisy!

Very few journalists are in the same roles that they were back during the Clinton era, even among my esteemed elders. Of course, there must be someone who was covering national politics back then, and is doing the same thing now. Oh, I thought of someone whose Clinton coverage I remember.

I wonder how he's covering Cain.

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Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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