Shocking Inside DC Scandal Rumor: A Media Ethics Dilemma

So I was down in DC this past weekend and happened to run into a well-connected media person, who told me flatly, unequivocally that “everyone knows” The LA Times was sitting on a story, all wrapped up and ready to go about what is a potentially devastating sexual scandal involving a leading Presidential candidate. “Everyone knows” meaning everyone in the DC mainstream media political reporting world. “Sitting on it” because the paper couldn’t decide the complex ethics of whether and when to run it. The way I heard it they’d had it for a while but don’t know what to do. The person who told me )not an LAT person) knows I write and didn’t say “don’t write about this”.


If it’s true, I don’t envy the LAT. I respect their hesitation, their dilemma, deciding to run or not to run it raises a lot of difficult journalism ethics questions and they’re likely to be attacked, when it comes out–the story or their suppression of the story–whatever they do.

I’ve been sensing hints that something’s going on, something’s going unspoken in certain insider coverage of the campaign (and by the way this rumor the LA Times is supposedly sitting on is one I never heard in this specific form before. By the way, t’s not the Edwards rumor, it’s something else.

And when my source said “everyone in Washington”, knows about it he means everyone in the elite Mainstream media, not just the LA Times, but everyone regularly writing about the Presdidential campaign knows about it and doesn’t know what to do with it. And I must admit it really is was juicy if true. But I don’t know if it’s true and I can’t decide if I think it’s relevant. But the fact that “everyone” in the elite media knew about it and was keeping silent about it, is, itself, news. But you can’t report the “news” without reporting the thing itself. Troubling!

It raises all sorts of ethical questions. What about private sexual behavior is relevant? What about a marriage belongs in the coverage of a presidential campaign? Does it go to the judgment of the candidate in question? Didn’t we all have a national nervous breakdown over these questions nearly a decade ago?


Now, as I say it’s a rumor; I haven’t seen the supporting evidence. But the person who told me said it offhandedly as if everyone in his world knew about it. And if you look close enough you can find hints of something impending, something potentially derailing to this candidate in the reporting of the campaign. Which could mean that something unspoken, unwritten about is influencing what is written, what we read.

Why are well wired media elite keeping silent about it? Because they think we can’t handle the truth? Because they think it’s substantively irrelevant? What standards of judgment are they using? Are they afraid that to print it will bring on opprobrium. Are they afraid not printing it will bring on opprobrium? Or both?

But alas if it leaks out from less “responsible” sources. then all their contextual protectiveness of us will have been wasted.

And what about timing? They, meaning the DC elite media, must know if it comes out before the parties select their primary winners and eventual nominees, voters would have the ability to decide how important they felt it to the narrative of the candidate in question. Aren’t they, in delaying and not letting the pieces fall where they potentially may, not refusing to act but acting in a different way–taking it upon themselves to decide the Presidential election by their silence?

If they waited until the nominees were chosen wouldn’t that be unfair because, arguably, it could sink the candidacy of one of the potential nominees after the nomination was finalized? And doesn’t the fact that they “all” know something’s there but can’t say affect their campaign coverage in a subterranean, subconscious way that their readers are excluded from?


I just don’t know the answer. I’m glad in a situation like this, if there is in fact truth to it, that I wouldn’t have to be the “decider”. I wouldn’t want to be in a position of having to make that choice. But it’s a choice that may well decide a crucial turning point in history. Or maybe not: Maybe voters will decide they don’t think it’s important, however juicy. But should it be their choice or the choice of the media elites? It illustrates the fact that there are still two cultures at war within our political culture, insiders and outsiders. As a relative outsider I have to admit I was shocked not just by this but by several other things “everyone” down there knows.

There seem to be two conflicting imperatives here. The new media, Web 2.0 anti-elitist preference for transparency and immediacy and the traditional elitist preference for reflection, judgment and standards–their reflection, their small-group judgment and standards. Their civic duty to “protect” us from knowing too much.

I feel a little uneasy reporting this. No matter how well “nailed” they think they have it, it may turn out to be untrue. What I’m really reporting on is the unreported persistence of a schism between the DC media elites and their inside knowlede and the public that is kept in the dark. For their own good? Maybe they’d dismiss it as irrelevant, but shouldn’t they know?


I don’t know.

Update. For further thoughts on this subject and the reaction to it see the post dated Nov. 2 above.


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