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The Rule of Three

[Guest post by Michelle Cottle]

First Helen Thomas shot herself in the foot with her ramblings about the Middle East. Then Dave Weigel was ousted from the WaPo when his ungenerous, off-the-record emails about right-wingers became public. Now CNN has canned 20-year veteran Octavia Nasr for a Hezbollah-themed tweet deemed overly generous.

By the laws of USA Today, three cases make a trend (and I'm sure there are others I've missed).

We could sit here all day and debate the relative gravity of each journalist's sins and/or stupidity. But, really, what's the point in piling on?

Besides, I find the particulars of these falls less illuminating than the broader trend underpinning them. Putting aside whatever opinions or missteps were involved, the new media landscape has turned the tables on journalists in a way that public figures--and especially politicians--should love.

Pols have long lived with the risk of having their entire career derailed with a stupid remark. (Trent Lott's birthday tribute to Strom Thurmond?) And much has been made about how the age of YouTube and flip phones has only increased that danger. (Macaca!)

But, increasingly, the Fourth Estate faces the same minefield. Just like pols, journalists are policed (often most viciously by one another) for impolitic comments. And, as with pols, the odds that journalists will wind up flossing with their own shoelaces rises along with the pressure to become brand-name personalities sharing a constant stream of off-the-cuff insights on blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Whether you regard this as a bad or a good development, you have to wonder: Will it make the media more sympathetic toward its political subjects? Or will all parties involved become ever more bitter, vicious, and vengeful?

Yeah. I'm betting on Option B as well.