Details aside, the underlying message of Howie’s aforementioned piece is that even hyper-respectable White House reporters should think twice about judging Page 6’s Jared Paul Stern, lest they be accused of hypocrisy.

Ever noticed how nothing drives media types crazier than the thought of hypocrisy? Whether the charges are being leveled at one of our own or, more often, a politician, religious figure, or activist type, nothing send reporters into search-and-destroy mode faster than the h-word. Bill Bennet’s affinity for slot-machines, Clinton-impeachment-leader Henry Hyde’s extramarital affair, George W. Bush’s “young and foolish” years--the mere suspicion that a public figure hasn’t practiced what he’s preaching is enough to get him a media whoopin’ of the sort generally reserved for child molesters. (Let me go ahead and plead guilty to this myself, before anyone charges me with, well, you know.)

Since more often than not the targets in question are conservatives, some will be quick to blame the liberal bias of the media--meaning that left-leaning journalists are always on the lookout for ways to bring down values-hawking conservatives. I’ve always suspected the reason was less political and more psychologically tortured. For straight-news journalists in particular, there’s often a hesitance to look as though you’re passing judgment on behaviors that may be morally distasteful but aren’t technically illegal. (Liberal journalists, meanwhile, might be loath to violate the moral relativism often associated with lefty politics.) But if you can bust someone for acting in a way that contradicts their own stated (or implied) beliefs, then you can savage them for being a hypocrite without having to comment one way of the other on the original misbehavior. Since conservatives are the ones who tend to launch moral crusades in the first place, they're obviously the easier targets when it comes to hypocrisy.

A couple of years back, I did a column for tnr posing a related theory for why Democrat/liberal types seem to freak out over hypocrisy more than their conservative counterparts. One key difference: Social conservatives are too busy obsessing over far graver sins to spend too much energy worrying about hypocrisy. Then again, lately I’ve been inundated by emails from the RNC, GOPUSA, etc. shrieking about Democratic hypocrisy regarding the GOP's current ethics troubles. So it may be time to fine tune my theory.

--Michelle

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