'Face the Nation' host Bob Schieffer, in a desperate attempt to prove to Americans that he is over 140 years old, went on a long, unintentionally hilarious rant about Anthony Weiner on Sunday. For starters, Schieffer explained, the Weiner situation "is not funny. It is sickening." It is also, he said, "important" because of the bully pulpit that comes with the job Weiner is running for. "Someone with Anthony Weiner's problems has no business there and should leave the race," Schieffer thundered. He also quoted a "friend-of-a-friend" who mentioned something or other about valuing politics over dignity. It's the dignity aspect that clearly riles Schieffer. He went on to say:
"He is a new-age flasher who has traded the traditional raincoat that can be opened to show his wares, for a digital camera that enables him to expose himself for the world, a dubious technological achievement."
Yes, yes, kids these days. Back in Schieffer's time men sent telegrams to the apples of their eyes.
The reason I bring all this up is that Schieffer's rant reveals a few things about both himself and the media. I was all set to arraign Schieffer for hypocrisy—surely he wouldn't go on a similar rant about a popular figure like Bill Clinton—but then a simple internet search alerted me to this video, in which Schieffer claims that Clinton's affair with Lewinsky "infuriated" him, and that he wanted to take a shower after covering it. Still, he didn't say that Clinton's shortcomings meant he (Clinton) could not serve as an effective president, which is exactly what he is saying about Weiner. I would also be shocked if Schieffer would say the same thing about the sainted JFK, another politician who engaged in behavior—while in the White House—that was much more disgusting than anything Anthony Weiner ever did.
Schieffer also stated, in the Clinton video, "Coming from Texas, I have a natural tendency to be for politicians not from the northeast." Clinton had thus raised Schieffer's hopes before pitilessly crushing them. (As a thought experiment, by the way, imagine a major news anchor saying he had a natural tendency against politicians from the south.) Schieffer would no doubt call himself a man of history (and not only because he has lived through most of it), but he seems intent on forgetting that the close connection between a politician's sex life and his governing abilities is non-existent.
Okay, so Schieffer is a stern moralist on subjects like adultery—this is predictable. The real issue is that big mainstream media personalities have a very odd opinion of what they are allowed to get on their high horses about. News anchors are so scared of being called partisan—note the point above about insulting the South—that they wouldn't dare engage in a similar sermon about, say, torture at Abu Ghraib or the bombing of Cambodia. That sort of lecture is partisan, and tiresome, and negative, and preachy. It says something pathetic about American political discourse that (legal) sexual misbehavior is one of the few things that it is OK to get furious about.
Isaac Chotiner is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him @IChotiner.