All the news that’s fit to gossip about

It’s taken a week or so to set in but some in the media are now starting to wonder just why The New York Times chose to go the tabloid route on the state of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s marriage.

Writes Chuck Todd in The National Journal:

The gossip mongers in us couldn’t put the article down. And the cynics in us know "if not the Times, then someone else," so it’s better that a responsible news outlet handles this sensitive storyline. But the citizens in us got depressed.

Why now? Why ever? Didn’t the voters decide a long time ago that the state of the Clinton marriage wasn’t a factor? Or if it was a factor, it’s been, well, factored into their vote? The statistical analysis of their weekend time together was meaningless because there was no comparison to the 99 other senators’ personal travel schedules.

Why even allude to the name of a rumored Bill "friend"? All the Times did was give carte blanche to every other media outlet in the country to pursue this woman and any rumor of a woman and Bill sharing a private moment (even if that moment is sharing an escalator).

What truly made the story depressing for us though was the lack of shock and outrage about the story uttered in the Washington political community. There was some partisan outrage among folks we either read or talked to, with the left thinking the Times went over the line and the right fearing the story could only help Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., play the victim card to get into the White House.

But when the dean of all political reporters, the Washington Post‘s David Broder, just matter-of-factly acknowledged the significance of the Times‘ story without expressing even the slightest bit of regret or remorse for the very idea of running it, that’s when we knew that we were going to be very lonely in expressing our disappointment. While not trying to read Broder’s mind, it’s likely he sees coverage like this as inevitable and that, frankly, we would be naïve if we pretended it’s not there. But is this really how we’re going to elect out next president; based on how many weekends a month partners of a dual-income marriage spend together? There are a number of prospective ’08 candidates who have been married more than once — should we expect the dirty details of every divorce? Apparently so, the Times has deemed.

Joe Conason of The New York Observer is even more blunt:

Of all possible explanations for the mainstream media’s preoccupation with the Clinton marriage, the most innocuous is nostalgia for a better time, when we were able to worry less about war, corruption, catastrophe and incompetence, and more about sex. Bad news only intensifies the urge to ignore reality and focus on triviality—a predilection seemingly shared by several of America’s most important journalists, as well as a legion of mindless tabloid hacks.
In other words, with the imprimatur of the paper of record, all the usual leering and clucking on cable television and talk radio proceeded in an atmosphere of intellectual elevation. This wasn’t just the usual cheap sniggering. This was serious gossip.
Not that the Times story itself displayed any great depth, despite reporter Patrick Healy’s claim to have conducted interviews with “some 50 people” on the subject. Stuck on numbers, he sought to measure the marital status of the Clintons by counting how many days (or nights) they’ve spent together since the beginning of last year. According to his calculations, the average is about 14 days per month.
If only the investigative ace were a bit sharper, he might have tried to compare that figure with similar data for other Senators and members of Congress, many of whose marriages have been ruined by the demands and temptations of their jobs. The sad examples are plentiful, notably in the Republican class of 1994, which has experienced an explosion of infidelity and divorce over the past decade.
Ultimately, this episode reveals less about the Clintons than about the decaying culture of Washington journalism. Like the Bourbons, the Washington press corps forgets nothing, forgives nothing and learns nothing. They remain utterly oblivious to their own mean-spirited hypocrisy.