Massa vs. Ensign
Steve Benen is scratching his head over WaPo’s disparate treatment of two political scandals.
According to a Nexis search, the newspaper has run 26 stories that mention Eric Massa since March 1. Some of those articles were Style-section pieces that mentioned Massa in passing, but most are substantive news stories — some on the front page — about his alleged misconduct.
Now, let’s contrast this coverage with the Post’s reporting on Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, who is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation into his humiliating sex-ethics-corruption scandal.
While the paper has run 26 stories that mention Massa since March 1, it’s run 12 stories that mention Ensign since Jan. 1 — and only five deal with his scandal. The Post’s editorial board has only mentioned Ensign once during that time, and that was to praise him for supporting public funding of private schools.
The Post is heavily invested in researching a scandal involving a former House member, but it’s choosing to ignore a scandal involving sitting senator. Massa drew scrutiny from the House ethics committee; Ensign is being investigated by the FBI.
To Steve’s commenters, the answer is obvious: Republicans are held to lower standards by the press, who bend over backwards to prove they’re not guilty of liberal bias.
But that explanation doesn’t hold up very well. Recall that the recent news of Republican officials expensing trips to bondage clubs got plenty of coverage. Or, looking into the not-too-distant past, how much buzz the Mark Foley scandal sustained.
A better explanation may be that one is a better story than the other.
First, Massa’s scandal is more salacious and unusual than Ensign’s. A male politician cheating having an affair with a female staffer just isn’t as shocking as a male politician making numerous unwanted advances on his very young male underlings. This is especially true in the post-Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky era.
Second, Ensign’s scandal is old news. The most shocking revelations came last summer, long before the window Steve surveyed. Comparing breaking news — where more juicy gossip came out on a near-daily basis — with a stale story doesn’t make much sense given the vagaries of the news cycle.
Massa’s story hasn’t had the legs of the Tiger Woods scandal, because he was an obscure Congressman and Woods is an international household name. But they share the features that the media love: Novelty and an ever-expanding storyline. It’s a story that keeps on giving.
Of course, if the FBI decides that Ensign did something worthy of criminal charges, I’d expect WaPo to be all over it. But, until then, it’s just a dog bites man tale.