Covering a Comeuppance

Swept away by sex, psychoanalysis and schadenfreude?

Unsurprisingly, SpitzerGate filled a bit of airtime on the Sunday talking head shows. On the Chris Matthews Show, specifically, the conversation among roundtable journalists went about as one might have expected.

There was the invitation to psychoanalyze, delivered by Matthews: “Eliot Spitzer, a crusading public official who risked and lost it all over sex with prostitutes…. Why?”

And the reporter-shrinks gamely weighed in. Time’s Richard Stengel plugged Time magazine’s article this week about the “risk gene,” “the chemistry of risk.” Michelle Cottle of The New Republic pointed to an article she once wrote about “why Washington politicians cheat” (something about “alpha males” who “think the rules don’t apply” to them). NBC’s Andrea Mitchell added some thoughts on the matter (“pathological,” “double life,” Spitzer wasn’t “contrite.”) While Matthews reminded everyone that “they always said that pickpockets would go to the hanging of pickpockets and be picking pockets while people were being hanged for picking pockets.”

And then, somewhere in that raucous, self-righteous, self-promotional mix, Stengel chimed in again with this:

But I just don’t want you throwing the baby out with the bathwater, in the sense that the guy did a lot of good as attorney general. He did a lot of good as governor. He brought a focus on Wall Street. I mean…we can’t say that the guy’s nefarious in every aspect of his life.

This is something we’ve been talking a bit about around here since the Spitzer scandal broke. It seemed every news outlet had their schadenfreude story last week (typified by this one from Newsweek which reported a “bull market in schadenfreude on Wall Street this afternoon” and that “whoops of joy erupted from the dispirited trading floors today on news [of SpitzerGate].” But there were people - at least one or two — who benefited from Spitzer’s work (as attorney general, at least). When it comes to covering SpitzerGate, has the press and punditocracy been “throwing the baby out with the bathwater?”

Look out for a related post on this in the near future from The Audit’s own Dean Starkman.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.