Dirty, Sexy Journalism Cheapens the Real Thing

    With good reason, people in Washington are a little weirded out by Patrick Kennedy at the moment. The Rhode Island congressman kind of went off the handle yesterday. And by kind of, I mean a lot.

    In a fit of rage, Kennedy berated the press for failing to cover an important House discussion on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He shouted until his face turned red, waved his arms like a wild man and effectively called the media a bunch of scandal-mongering assclowns. We haven’t seen that kind of behavior on the House floor since, well, probably last week or something.

    But while it’s not uncommon to witness politicians behaving like angry children in front of the CSPAN cameras, Kennedy’s outburst carries with it a particular weight. Though he expressed his anger in a truly unfortunate manner, his sentiment is undeniably justified. His frustration is the same kind we all begin to feel after the same tired gossip of Tiger Wood’s mistress collection makes the news for weeks on end, the sort of rage that brews when relentless discussion of shock and scandal eclipses issues of real national concern.

    For the last several days, a significant portion of the media has been fixated on the alleged extramarital perversions of flash-in-the-pan New York congressman Eric Massa. Massa — who is the spitting image of Joe Pesci in “Home Alone 2” after his hair got set on fire — has been chugging steadily along on the denial train since he was pinned with accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct with a male staffer last week. With evidence mounting against him, Massa began swinging wildly. After resigning his post, he claimed to have been repeatedly harassed in a Congressional shower by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. He accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of fueling rumors of his misconduct in a plot to force him out of Congress and eliminate his opposition to the health care reform bill. He even went on Glenn Beck.

    The story is bizarre, enticing and scandalous as hell — exactly the kind of thing for which we media hounds tend to go batshit crazy. Stories like that drive up readership, boost ratings and rake in the dough. Scandal is America’s lifeblood — a controlled addiction fed steadily by periodic bouts of sex-driven political idiocy and blurry photos of exotic vacations with exotic mistresses and exotic intrigue.

    After a while, however, you start to realize that batshit stinks. While Massa — like Patterson, Edwards, Blagojevich and every other washed-up politician before them — fumbles his way through his sex-tinged 15 minutes of weirdo fame, important things go unnoticed. Important things like automobile safety hearings, corporate earmark restrictions and filibuster reform proposals. Wait, those sound super boring. Oh, OK, I get it now.

    But that doesn’t mean it’s OK. Kennedy was dead-on. The media has its priorities in all the wrong places. Driven largely by the need to turn some sort of profit, news outlets place an alarming premium on the type of shock-and-awe crap that keeps us coming back for more. Is Massa really the perv his detractors are claiming him to be? How often did that California legislator frequent his favorite gay bars while consistently voting against gay rights? How many different types of facial hair has New York Gov. David Patterson sported in the last three years? Could I too pull off a mustache like that?

    At the same time, however, the media has a deep and vastly important responsibility to the public. We’re here to provide people with information that makes them better citizens, better people, better voters. A sex scandal is always going to be more interesting than a lengthy discussion on the Senate’s budget reconciliation procedures — but that’s just a cop out. It’s too easy. It’s too fleeting. It doesn’t mean anything in the long run.

    Heed Kennedy’s words. We’d all be better off with a little less scandal and a lot more news.

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