Watching the Mark Foley story unfold over the past week has been fascinating, obviously — it's got all the ingredients: Sex, politics, corruption, cover-up, infighting, and the added angle of the Internet, pushing these stories forward and providing more column inches to fill up about how the Internet is pushing these stories forward. But just as noteworthy is what has been ceded to those juicy extra column inches, and what stories are being all but under-covered in the stampede to cover every angle of the top story tonight.
ETP noted earlier this week that the Foley scandal — characterized as being devastating to the GOP earlier this week and already being spun as "crisis averted" — presented a silver lining for Republicans in terms of what it was distracting from: Iraq, Afghanistan, Bob Woodward's "State of Denial" and the allegations of Condi Rice shrugging off a pre-September 11th al Qaeda briefing by George Tenet, the revised interpretation of habeas corpus rights for detainees. Big stuff — but this week, lost in the shuffle.
It happened last week as well, thanks to the headline-grabbing Bill Clinton-Chris Wallace interview (maybe you heard of it?). The news of the contentious interview broke late in the day on Friday, September 22nd...the same late-afternoon as this news: that the military death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan had officially surpassed the deaths on 9/11. Released late in the day on Friday, this was big news, anticipated with dread. Yet it made few waves, dwarfed as it was by the Clinton-Wallace showdown. It's hard to imagine that without that showdown such a piece of news would have gone so unremarked on (Iraq fatigue notwithstanding).
Writers, reporters, networks, bloggers — we only have so much time and resources to devote to the story, and frankly, it's not like the mess in Iraq isn't gonna be there tomorrow — so why not tag along with the Zeitgeist on Foley, Clinton, Shiloh, Suri, Katie and JonBenet Ramsey today? No reason, of course, except for the public interest — even if it doesn't always hold the public's interest. It's the tightrope that all news organizations and outlets, from CBS News to the New York Times to Crooks & Liars to personal blogs like Penguins On The Equator to us here at ETP must walk: What to cover, what we have the resources to cover, what we want to cover, what our readership wants us to cover, what we ought to cover. It would be great if it all dovetailed perfectly. Unfortunately, it doesn't .
Whose job is it to bring all the news that isn't Mark Foley to the forefront? It would be easy to say "everyone's" but it's more complicated than that (right, Newsweek?). What's easy is recognizing that when it's not anyone's responsibility, it's no-one's responsibility. What's harder is figuring out how to fix that.
*"Page" pun not only unintended, but more obvious puns scrupulously avoided once discovered.
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