Enquiring Minds

John Edwards’s affair. Bristol Palin’s baby. They tempt one to believe that the only moral consistency to be found in politics is hypocrisy, and same goes for the way each was covered. On the WSJ’s Op-Ed page today, David Perel, Editor in Chief of the National Enquirer, retells the oft-told story about the mainstream media’s snubbing the former story, then salivating over the latter. But the stories themselves, he smirks, make this “the greatest tabloid presidential election in modern times.”

It was, of course, the National Enquirer that exposed Edwards’s dalliances while the MSM slept through the howling of the blogosphere. Tabloids, Perel argues, occupy a position somewhere between the (ideally) scrupulous fact-checking of the mainstream media and the (sometimes quite accurate) irresponsible rumor-mongering of the blogosphere, liberal or conservative. Scandal has no bias; sensationalism has no party. Ignominy coaches Little League games in the Blue States and has some gay friends in the Red States.

In the end, that’s what this election is about.

And it serves the tabloids well, if not America, because neither the old nor the new media is completely at home in the territory of verifiable scandal. Perel explains:

While John Edwards and Sarah Palin have served as lightning rods for the debatable issue of how personal controversy affects public worthiness for leadership, the mainstream media vacillates between ignoring and rushing into these types of stories. New media, with its raucous pursuit of every salacious rumor, feels no such restraint. Inchoate ideas and suppositions find purchase on blogs from both sides of the political spectrum.

Tabloids, meanwhile, romp joyfully through the minefield between the two. Perel concludes:

… With apologies to John Edwards, Sarah Palin and untold other Democrats and Republicans, the tabloid media gladly accepts its role of covering the scandals, relying on the American public to decide if that information is relevant to job performance.

There’s some consistency, at least.

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Kathy Gilsinan is the associate editor at World Politics Review