Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2003
I have a lot of respect for Josh Marshall. His Talking Points and Atrios' Eschaton are probably the only truly must-read left blogs - maybe the only truly must-read blogs, for that matter.

But even Marshall, as good as he is, can write nonsense. And this explanation of why the media is ignoring the recent conduct of Tom Delay qualifies:

Journalists have given DeLay a wide berth for a distinct but related reason. For most of them, the story reeks of what people in the business call dog-bites-man. In other words, it's just not surprising enough to be news. DeLay is widely-known -- even relishes his reputation -- for hardball, envelope-pushing tactics. The exploits of his money and access machine are both legendary and notorious. So, in a sense, where's the story?

This and the Lott debacle are different in many ways. But in this respect they are similar. At least in the first few days, no one gave the Lott situation much attention because pretty much everyone knew that Lott was fairly unreconstructed on racial issues....

DeLay is reaping a similar advantage because of what people in town already know about him. If it were Tom Daschle, and not Tom DeLay, I guarantee the reaction would be quite different. But it's not simply a partisan or bias issue. It wouldn't be the same with Bill Frist or Denny Hastert either. Some of this -- no doubt -- is due to the lack of a Republican mau-mau to stir up interest and push the press to pursue it. But a lot of it is the prism through which journalists themselves are seeing it.

Does this make sense if you look at it for much more time than it takes to read it? Is that really the standard by which Washington scandals are picked up or ignored?
Pretty obviously, it isn't. This perception never seems to have stopped one Clinton scandal after another from getting airplay. If somebody came up with a new story about Al Gore lying in the 2000 campaign, reporters never seemed to have problems with the fact that they had done similar stories before. And if the story had some other trivial, insignificant problem - if, say, it was a complete fabrication cooked up at the RNC and could be documented as false in five minutes of checking - that was never a good reason not to run with it, either.

You can't really blame Josh Marshall for making these excuses for the media. After all, the reporters who go along with this are his peers. And the editors who make the choices to play up every phony Clinton scandal while burying real GOP misconduct are the people he has to go to for paid work. So be tolerant of Josh's foibles. But remember what it says about the reliability and honesty of the media that even Marshall, who's among the very best, can accept such a transparent excuse for the latest media failure.