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Media and Politics in an Age of Scandal
Larry J. Sabato; Mark Stencel and Robert S. Lichter
The line dividing public life and private behavior in American politics is more blurred than ever. When it comes to questions about sex, substance abuse and family life, anything goes on the political desk in many newsrooms, including uncorroborated hearsay disguised as news. But some stories still never make it into print or on the air. What are the rules for politicians and journalists in the aftermath of WashingtonOs biggest sex scandal? Peepshow looks behind the scenes at news coverage of political scandals, analyzing what gets reported, what doesnOt, and why. The authors talk with top news editors to get a fix on what will make the evening news and what weOre likely to read about in the next campaign season. The costs of todayOs politics-by-scandal are mounting, with disaffected voters, discouraged candidates, and a news corps distracted from policy issues and substantive debate. But the forces driving Oattack journalismO have as much to do with voters and candidates as they do with what the press is organized to report. Peepshow offers an alternative view of the prurient side of election coverage, helping newsroom decision-makers and campaign managers see through the inevitable scandals of election year 2000 and gain insight into presenting a politics of public trust. CASE STUDIES include: _ South Carolina Governor David BeasleyOs denial of an unsubstantiated extramarital affair; _ Georgia gubernatorial candidate Mike Bowers' admitted affair with his secretary; _ Reporting on rumors sparked by Texas Governor George W. BushOs admission that he was once Oyoung and irresponsible;O _ Congressional affairs involving Representatives Barr, Burton, Chenoweth, Hyde and Livingston; _ The divorces of Bob Dole and John McCain; _ The outing of Arizona Rep. Jim KolbeOs and the sexuality of other members of Congress and candidates; _ Mississippi Governor Kirk FordiceOs off-again, on-again divorce; _ Coverage of Colorado Governor Roy RomerOs OaffectionateO relationship with a top aide and adviser. _ Speaker Newt GingrichOs relationship with a Hill committee aide; _ Coverage of once and possible first ladies and the children of political figures, including Chelsea Clinton and Sarah Gore; _ Reporting on unfounded rumors about Representative Bill PaxonOs retirement.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
978-0-7425-0011-2 • Paperback • July 2001 •
978-1-4616-6595-3 • eBook • July 2001 •
Social Science / Media Studies
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Larry J. Sabato is director of the Center for Governmental Studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and author of numerous books including Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics. Mark Stencel is politics editor for washingtonpost.com and coauthor with CNN's Larry King of On the Line: The New Road to the White House. S. Robert Lichter is president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and editor of the online magazine Newswatch. His books include The Media Elite and Good Intentions Make Bad News.
Chapter 1 The Scene of the Crime
Chapter 2 Precedent
Chapter 3 Motive
Chapter 4 Unindicted Coconspirators
Chapter 5 Out of Order
Chapter 6 The Verdict
Chapter 7 The Muck Stops Here
Chapter 8 Exhibit A: Case Studies
Chapter 9 Exhibit B: In Their Own Defense
Sabato, Stencel, and Lichter aren't calling for a return to a bewigged, courtly gentility that never quite existed anyway. They well understand the demands placed upon editors and reporters anxious not to be scooped by the competition, as well as the greater fecundity of information tidbits expected in modern times by the reading and viewing public. Instead, they would have us all—especially professional journalists and all who inform or form opinion—step back and reflect upon the effects, political and otherwise, of recent spates of systematic scandal journalism, and in so doing they offer ways to raise editorial standards, increase journalistic credibility, and provide reasonable protections to those who seek public office.
The Weekly Standard
Treading carefully through complex terrain, Stencel, Lichter and Sabato manage to illuminate workable guidelines for navigating the line betwen public and private.
At a time when people are becoming more skeptical of a brand of journalism that focuses on the personal lives of those in public service—sometimes at the expense of substantive debate—the authors of
have done a great service by outlining the new journalistic rules. Acknowledging that personal character is important in politics as in other fields, they make clear what's at stake in the emerging debate about where to draw the lines.
Senator Paul Wellstone
is a fascinating study of the ever-changing boundaries separating public life from private—a remarkably useful reminder to the press of right and wrong in their profession.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Lieutenant Governor of Maryland
The authors' proposed ‘fairness doctrine' is a considerable contribution to the debate over how the media should cover candidates' sexual, medical, legal, and financial histories. There isn't a newsroom in America that couldn't benefit from the authors' wisdom.
Stephen Hess, The Brookings Institution
More than a peep at the show of politics,
is a serious study of how scandal coverage has corrupted political coverage. The authors deserve credit for criticizing not just the journalists, but the candidates and voters too for degrading our politics.
Marvin Kalb, Harvard professor emeritus; now senior adviser to Pulitzer Center; former network correspondent
Three of America's best political analysts have brilliantly tackled a grisly truth: sex and scandal have been institutionalized in American politics, with 'oppo' researchers digging not just through an adversary's old speeches and voting records, but divorce papers and the garbage. A must-read (and weep).
An insightful, troubling, and—for a journalist—embarassing account of the impact on American public life of the news media's propensity to personalize and attack in covering politics. The authors lay down prudent guidelines that should be must-reading in every newsroom.
Robert Novak, CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields"
In lucid, illuminating prose that invites the reader to breeze through the entertaining book in one sitting (a book of this nature could easily be overly pedantic), the authors provide context to the recent sea change in media attitudes. . . . Too many of the recent quickie books in the post-Monica era have been either cobbled-together accounts of the sequence of events or ideological rants from Clinton haters or apologists. University of Virginia professor Sabato, Washingtonpost.com scribe Stencel, and Center for Media and Public Affairs president Lichter offer a bias-free analysis that is insightful and a sheer pleasure to read. Considering the public fatigue with the subject matter, the authors' achievement in this regard cannot be underestimated.
Warnings well worth heeding!
The book is an easy read, and the authors' premise is straightforward, humane and control-sensical. Their guidelines are worthy goals to consider.
The Dallas Morning News
We are now all well acquainted with the fallout of scandal-driven political journalism, but most of us have little sense of where it comes from, and even less of a notion of what to do about it. In
, Sabato and Lichter—two leading critics of media conduct in the political science academy—have teamed with Mark Stencel, politics editor for Washingtonpost.com, to pull back the curtain on the machinery of scandal, stressing the central role of campaign operatives in slinging the muck of 'character'.
The book offers several practical guidelines to aid journalists in deciding when personal failings deserve a public airing.
should be applauded for its accessible examination of the editorial decisions behind news stories on the private lives of politicians between 1996 and 2000.
—Lays out "The Rules" for journalists covering potentially scandalous campaign stories
—Includes case studies on candidates and elections at the state, local, and national levels
—Reports interviews with candidates, their staffsand consultants, as well as news editors, pollsters, and commentators
—Grades the efforts of news organizations in fairly reporting on campaign scandals
Peepshow has its own website: www.peepshowbook.com (Don't forget the "book.")
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