Why are Florida's news media engaged in a conspiracy of silence concerning a core issue in the upcoming election: the truthfulness and honesty of the Republican front runner for governor, Charlie Crist?
For those who haven't heard, the situation is this: Multiple sources have come forward alleging first-hand knowledge that Crist is gay and/or has had homosexual affairs. Crist has been asked about it in public, generally by reporters from the alternative media, by constituents at meetings, and by talk show hosts, and has adamantly and repeatedly denied it. And the mainstream media have not reported a word of any of this to Florida voters.
Full disclosure: As a gay person living in an era where gay issues often dominate politics, I think that a candidate's sexual orientation is as relevant to his campaign as things like his marital status or religion or how many kids he has - sometimes even more so. For example, Crist opposes adoption by gay couples and favors a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. If I were a Florida voter, these facts would raise a host of moral, ethical and even psychological questions if Crist himself is a gay man.
But even if you don't care whether or not Crist is gay, his strenuous denials raise serious and legitimate questions about his truthfulness and credibility, just like Gary Hart's denials of extramarital affairs raised questions about his. And just like with Gary Hart, those denials cry out for serious media examination.
After all, the traditional solution for gay politicians who want to remain in the closet, retain their integrity, and avoid media scrutiny, is to simply refuse to answer questions about their sexuality. Even the odious Mark Foley never denied he was gay. He just attacked the question as irrelevant and the questioners as intrusive.
But Crist's denials are absolute. He has, in effect, dared the media to prove him a liar.
And how has Florida's mainstream media responded, in the wake of their complete silence on Mark Foley?
With more complete silence.
Although Crist's alleged homosexual activity is the whispered talk of Florida, although it has been impressively detailed in the alternative Broward Palm Beach New Times, although it is being openly discussed by Crist's old friend and current Reform Party opponent Max Linn, and dissected on a zillion web sites, you would not know any of this from reading the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post or any of the other mainstream media outlets in the state.
You get the impression that the Florida media feel that because the allegations were sometimes - though certainly not always - couched as political "smears" by Crist's right wing primary opponent, they are off limits to respectable reporters.
But it bears repeating that the fundamental issue for journalists is not Charlie Crist's alleged homosexuality. It's his honesty and integrity.
For him to choose to maintain a dignified silence in the face of such allegations would be one thing. But for him to actively deny the allegations raises the Gary Hart Question: Is this candidate honest, or a blatant liar and hypocrite?
So Memo to Florida Editors and Reporters:
You have a professional obligation to report on stories that have a bearing on the truthfulness, integrity and ethics of those running for the highest offices in your state. If politicians make claims about their lives and backgrounds that you have reason to believe may be false, you have a duty to report that, to investigate it, and lay the results before the voters.
If you don't do that, you're simply not doing your job.