To the extent that journalists are storytellers as much as they are purveyors of information, this focus on drama and conflict makes perfect sense: journalism’s audiences aren’t just Citizens Of A Democratic Society Who Rely On Rigorous Reporting To Make Informed Decisions About That Society. We’re also, simply, consumers who love a juicy scandal. All the drama keeps us emotionally engaged in our politics. Broccoli, like most things, tastes better with cheese.
And yet. There comes a point, of course, when tastiness and goodness stop being one and the same—when the incentive of added flavor begins to compromise nutritional value. And many—most—of the scandals we’ve seen in the 2008 primary season have crossed that line.
Yet some Gates do have legs—see Bitter-gate, Wright-gate, NAFTA-gate, etc. And most of those have deserved their scandalous classification not just ipso facto, but because they force us into discussions of topics—race, gender, class, what it really means to be “patriotic”—that are in need of frank discussion. Wright-gate, after all, isn’t really about Jeremiah Wright; it is about the relationship of patriotism to dissent, the line between race and religion. Arugula-gate isn’t really about spicy greens; it is about elitism, and the complex (and often hypocritical) ideas and assumptions wrapped up in that word. Dramatizing our scandals isn’t always a mere gambit for ears and eyeballs; sometimes the shorthand of scandal provides a helpful vehicle for the discussion of otherwise awkward topics. In that sense, our teapot-tempests can be blessings in the guise of melodrama. Not all Gates are created equal.
As we move into the general election, here’s hoping that our Gate-ed community gets a little less crowded, and that we find more important things to get all worked up about. Toward that end, in the coming days CJR.org will publish a series called The Turning Point, which will spotlight fertile and important terrain for the press to plow in the months leading up to November. From Supreme Court appointees to immigration to energy, there are substantial differences between the policies John McCain supports and those supported by Barack Obama, and voters need the press to parse and explain those differences and what they mean for the nation and the world. After a Democratic primary between two candidates whose policy positions differed very little—leaving the press to manufacture drama and run with it—it’s time to tuck in.
But before moving on to the work at hand, and inspired by New York magazine’s Approval Matrix, we give you our 2008 Primary Season’s Gate-rix: your one-stop guide to the Scandals That Were—and the Scandals That Shouldn’t Have Been—during the primary phase of the presidential election. Enjoy.
[click here for a larger version]
Part One: Scandal! Oh, Nevermind
Part Two:Let’s get serious
Part Three:The Supreme Court