No one's going to ignore the National Enquirer's reporting on political sex scandals. It is at the height of its prestige now, having been talked about as a serious Pulitzer Prize contender for its coverage of the John Edwards scandal.
The tabloid has cred. And some conservatives
and anti-Obama liberals are complaining about the media's refusal to "cover" the Enquirer's web splashes about then-Senate candidate Obama's alleged extramarital affair with a finance staffer, Vera Baker. The lede reads: "PRESIDENT OBAMA in a shocking cheating scandal after being caught in a D.C. hotel with a former campaign aide." Is the media covering for Obama? Are they too afraid to ask the question, fearing ridicule from their peers?
Whatever collective motivations may be operating on this story, there is a simpler explanation for the lack of coverage: the story has no legs. It doesn't even have thighs. It is, really, as Slate's John Dickerson put it to me today, an "investigation about an alleged rumor," but we don't know who is doing the investigating and what precisely ought to be investigated.
Also, when this rumor came up during the campaign, mainstream news organizations did investigate, and found that there was no evidence to support the charge. (I did my own noodling around, interviewing even disaffected Obama staffers from the time period and found nothing.) Through his campaign, Obama denied any affair. Vera Baker has also publicly denied any affair. There are no new developments to speak of, and the Enquirer has already revised its claim about "an alleged surveillance tape." Says the Enquirer: "Now, the investigators are searching for a hotel surveillance videotape [my emphasis]."
Investigators? That implies something criminal. No, no. We learn that these investigators are "top anti-Obama operatives" who are offering a million dollars for solid evidence.
It's appropriate to ask the "So what?" question. So what if Obama did have an affair six years ago? Well, it's gossip. It has no bearing on his job as president, but it would tell us something about his life at a critical juncture. Part of Obama's mainstream appeal, which is code for saying that Obama doesn't scare working class white voters, is that his family is picture perfect. He does not represent a stereotype. But Obama didn't falsely create this image. Whatever happened or did not happen six years ago, his family life is extremely solid today. All of this discussion is moot, though, because there's absolutely no evidence to suggest that there was an affair.
Baker was a good PAC fundraiser, having worked with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Jon Corzine. Why was she in Washington with Obama? Because PACs are headquartered in Washington.
If there were criminal allegations, more pursuit might be warranted, even in the absence of evidence. There are no such charges involved here.
This "affair" is destined to become a white whale for fringe groups who have no other impulse than to bring down a president they "know" in their hearts is illegitimate. It's the birth certificate, all over again.
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Marc Ambinder is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.