The Media’s On-and-Off Corruption/Stupidity Narratives

The media’s disinterest in Colorado State Rep. Joe Salazar, the latest politician to opine about rape and the proper options for women in response to the threat, illustrates a great deal about the recurring narratives in our political media, such as a “culture of corruption” or a “war on women.”

On Saturday, the Washington Post had separate page A1 stories about the scandals engulfing former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Throw in the accusations against Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts, the U.S. House Committee on Ethics’ investigation of a Taiwan trip by Rep. Bill Owens of New York, the committee investigation and fees paid for the Scotland trip of Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey, and the dispute as to whether Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts really lives in the district he represents...

..and you can see that if the Post or any other mainstream media institution could easily write up a story or a series of stories about the Democratic Party’s sudden ethical morass and the “culture of corruption.”

But the scandals of Jackson Jr. & Menendez – and the scandal of other Democrats – are rarely if ever deemed “symbolic” of any problems for the party as a whole. They’re just some stuff that happened.

But when Republicans are caught in scandals, coverage often suggests a “broader meaning” or “deeper context” or “powerful symbolism.”

There are currently 274 Democrats in the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, or governors mansions (I’m counting independents who caucus with the Democrats in this mix). There are currently 307 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, or governors mansions.

At any given moment, at least a handful in each group are going to be in some sort of scandal or ethical hot water, or making embarrassing gaffes, or saying something stupid.

Then you throw in every lieutenant governor, state treasurer, and state legislator, not to mention members of the cabinet and members of the previous administration.

Permit me to paraphrase a profane rant from the site,  in an article about how to spot “B.S Political Stories,” urging wariness about any article that has the word ‘lawmaker’ in the headline:

In every single group of human beings, you have a certain percentage of crazy [poop-heads]. Find me an organization of a million charity workers who have devoted their lives to saving homeless golden retrievers, and I’ll bet my life that within that group I can find a faction of crazy [poop-heads]. Hell, I’ll bet I can find at least one in any group of a dozen people. Liberals, conservatives, moderates, weed advocates, anti-drug advocates, cupcake bakers, window washers. They all — all — have their crazy [poop-heads] that can be pointed out. I bet I can find at least one in your family.

Therefore, their existence proves nothing about the group as a whole. And, therefore, it is always wrong to dismiss a political movement by simply pointing at their craziest [poop-heads] and saying, “See! That is what (insert group here) is REALLY thinking.” It’s a cheap shot, anybody can do it and it’s an outright lie.

In other words, “lawmaker” is a signal that the article is about a politician you’ve never heard about before. If you knew who this person was, they would have used the name in the headline.

So does Colorado State Rep. Joe Salazar deserve national attention for his comment, suggesting that women shouldn’t be allowed to carry a gun to protect themselves from rape because whistles and call boxes are sufficient? Perhaps, perhaps not. But the mainstream media institutions have already established the rules of the game – any lawmaker at any level can be considered a spokesman for the party if the statement is outlandish or damaging enough.

If the press wants to treat comments like Salazar’s as a state-level news story at most, that means they can’t use every yammering yokel as easy fodder for cable news segments and columns about how awful the GOP is. Next time, perhaps it will warrant the headline, ’Lawmaker You Never Heard Of Speaks Off Cuff, Says Something Stupid.’

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