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Is The Media Too Tough On Pols?

Following up on Chait's post about media figures and bygone eras, I thought this was an interesting bit in an interview Boston Magazine's James Burnett recently did with Mike Barnicle. Barnicle says:

Something has happened slowly of the course of 25-30 years to diminish the industry, if you will, of politics. It's no longer the profession that it used to be. You'd have to be out of your mind to run for public office today. Say you're 32, 35 years of age. Say you were fortunate, you lucked out, you made a little money, or maybe not, but you have this great interest in public service. You want to be able to get a fire hydrant or a crosswalk, or a little league field in your neighborhood. So you run for City Council or State Rep., you know, but then two or three months over the course of your campaign or maybe after you win, someone like me, or someone like you, is going to come knock at your door, and say "James, we heard you smoked a joint when you were 19 years of age down at Duke University. Can you explain that?" And instead of having the wherewithal to tell people like us, "Hey, go fuck yourself, it's none of your business," you know, these poor people stand there and get hounded by us.

So I've got to assume there are a lot of other people out there with reasonable IQs who say, "I don't want any part of that. I don't want my kids reading about me in the front page of the paper that I smoked a joint when I was at Duke University. What has that got to do with anything?"  

I think this might have been the case, oh, a decade ago, but I don't think it's the case today--certainly not after the election of Obama, whose admission of cocaine use as a teen didn't bring him any grief from reporters (save for one from the NYT, who accused Obama of exaggerating his drug use). Indeed, the private foibles the press seems to hound pols for these days tend to be of the more sexual (and, crucially, recent) variety, whether it's David Vitter's prostitute problem or Larry Craig's foot-tapping; or for failings that are more public than private, such as Blago. All in all, I'd say the press is actually doing a pretty good job these days of hounding politicians for things they should be hounded for.

--Jason Zengerle