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18.7.07

Vitter annoys media by not cooperating with their agenda

If a recent editorial by the Shreveport Times and other offerings are any indication, the media feel the pain of betrayal at the hands of Sen. David Vitter. But it’s a different betrayal than what some in the public may feel about his moral lapse.

Earlier this week Vitter essentially reiterated an apology for a “serious sin” that remained unnamed but highly likely is related to the presence of his phone number on a list provided by s suspected escort service operator. In general this annoyed the liberal media, most of who never have liked the conservative Republican Vitter and would like to see him out of office. They sensed this was a moment of vulnerability for him and his refusal to deal any more with the matter made them keenly aware his possible departure from office was slipping from their grasp. And they are not happy about it.

This reaction also highlights another attitude all too prevalent in today’s media – that the media somehow are the “guardians” of the public trust and for Vitter not to give them information that could help them live up to this self-assumed, erroneous view of themselves (as well as use that information to boost audience and run him out of office) they think cheats them and disserves the American public. Such egotism shows how far out of touch they are with the real world.


Decrying Vitter’s reticence on the matter, they offer up nonsense such as the public “must have more answers,” conflating two very different things, the “public” and the “media.” The public can learn more – if they demand it of Vitter in his next campaign, and they don’t need the media badgering him in what they see as a moral crusade to make him tell more.

Or they advance the simpleton argument that questions won’t go away: “How often did he use this escort service? As a client, were any laws broken? Has he been contacted by police or prosecutors, or by defense attorneys representing the alleged D.C. Madam ….” And what possible relevance does any of this, short of a Profumo-like incident that appears not to be the case anyway here, to governing? The questions will go away; the media just doesn’t want them to by continuing to bring them up.

(A related strategy suggests he answers media questions because it will prove politically impossible not to – a self-fulfilling prophecy enabling the media to keep on the pressure. But Vitter probably knows this is not a credible argument and that if he doesn’t answer their questions his voting record and apparently sincere repentance favor his reelection in 2010.)

Now how would the media like it if they were in such a situation? Would an editor making such an apology then feel it should be his duty to answer such questions on the pages of his publication? Would he print any letters to the editor questioning him along these lines (I can tell you from firsthand experience effective argumentation against positions taken in newspaper editorials almost never is allowed to run in their pages)?

Private lives begin where public concerns stop, and those kinds of questions have nothing to do with his service in office. The only possible ramification comes if laws were broken for which apparently Vitter could not be prosecuted anyway, yet this is not a media concern, but a political concern because the only way Vitter could be punished is by the voters and the political process will bring out these concerns if voters demand them. In the meantime, the media have no “right” to expect that Vitter answer anything like that. If it’s important to the public – regardless of media’s attitudes – he will have to in the future, prompted by the dynamics of political campaigning.

And just how hypocritical is such a media demand – how often does the media betray the public trust? For every high-profile instance where the traditional media have to be led by the nose to air their own dirty laundry (does Jayson Blair ring a bell? Stephen Glass? Dan Rather and memos?) there are countless others they sweep under the rug never to be publicized so as not to take a hit on their already low credibility. Yet they have the audacity to believe that when others aren’t forthcoming to their degree of satisfaction that these objects are somehow acting improperly even as they stonewall and resist in similar situations.

So the motivation behind writing these pieces is a combination of betrayal – that Vitter is not cooperating in advancing the media’s agenda – and anger that Vitter called them out by saying one media motivation that he should answer their questions was to increase audience. Vitter owes the media nothing; what he owes the people is different. Ignoring that again shows nakedly the hypocritical self-righteousness of media elites.

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