Today, Spillman and Ford debate the role of blogs and mainstream media in the Mirthala Salinas story. Yesterday, they discussed the distinction between credentialed and non-credentialed media. Later this week, they'll discuss the function of breaking news and more.
I died for your sins By Luke Ford
As a blogger, I am despised and rejected of journalists, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
I gave my back to the smiters, and hid not my face from shame and spitting. I have borne your griefs and carried your sorrows. I was wounded for your transgressions, bruised for your iniquities, and with my stripes you are healed.
It seemed like just an ordinary January day in 1999, when, in the course of doing my journalistic due diligence, I came across topless porn actress Nancy Vee walking in a garden. With no thought for my own dignity, I selflessly and immediately threw my hands over her chest to preserve her honor (this is forever immortalized on certain JPEGs floating around the Internet).
Similarly, Eric, by breaking the Antonio Villaraigosa story, I covered up your journalistic nakedness. I took the shame of writing about the mayor's sex life onto myself so that you and your peers could follow up with the mayor: "Tony, we hate to ask you this, but there's this darn blog..."
Reporting is now a profession. It goes by the fancy name of "journalism." It's a major in dozens of universities, and you can even go to graduate school to study it. Journalism has this ponderous code of ethics, and its practitioners at the big-city level are overwhelmingly bourgeois. They don't want to write, unbidden, about somebody's sex life because they are above such things (also, journalists are overwhelmingly secular, and they don't want to be outed when they screw around).
It sounds noble to eschew penetrating a politician's private life. But if you argue that the mayor's sex life is not important, then you must also argue that the mayor as a person is not important. It's one thing if you want to devote your news organization solely to covering the issues, but once you start covering personalities, you can't always avoid sex, particularly if it violates communal norms. What if a politician is committing incest? Would you ignore that so long as it does not affect his work? What if he has a taste for rough trade and shows up to news conferences with bruises?
Nobody writes about Meryl Streep's sex life, or Jimmy Carter's, because they carry themselves in this respect with dignity. The mayor, however, is a reckless philanderer. Angelenos deserve to know whom he's banging after all, it's the person you most consistently have sex with who usually has the most influence over you.
Affairs make a public figure susceptible to blackmail and to conflicts of interest, not to mention lawsuits and bribery. I know I'd be willing to devote my blog to any subject a particular hottie reporter desired if she'd only have dinner with me.
There are many problems with reporting on somebody's sex life. It's difficult to prove since the action usually goes on behind closed doors. Still, it is possible to ascertain who the mayor is spending his quality time with. Maybe they're just studying Shakespeare?
Luke Ford of lukeford.net has earned his living from blogging for a decade. He's the author of five books, four of them self-published.
A stroke of genius By Eric Spillman
Calm down, Luke, no need to nail yourself to a cross. Reporters in this town ought to repent on their own. The media didn't press very hard at all after the mayor announced that he was separating from his wife. And we should have. Anyone have a hair shirt?
It was clear at the mayor's first news conference that there were many unanswered questions. When asked if he was having an affair, Villaraigosa wouldn't comment. Then, a few days later, his wife filed for divorce. Clearly, she was angry about something. By that time, most of the blogs already knew what the "something" was: The mayor had been carrying on with Telemundo's Mirthala Salinas.
Why didn't mainstream media reporters, particularly those on the City Hall beat, report this scandal? Surely they must have heard the rumors. Many of them may have known about the relationship for as long as a year beforehand.
Luke, you think it's because big-city journalists are squeamish about sex. I hope you're wrong. I think it has more to do with a failure to really analyze why the story mattered.
During the election campaign, the mayor carefully tried to maintain an image of himself as a "devoted family man." His wife appeared with him at fundraisers. His own name which combines his surname with his wife's called attention to his marriage. Even after he took office, Villaraigosa wanted PR promoting himself as a father and husband. A year ago, his aides arranged for one of our KTLA reporters, Lynette Romero, to visit him and his family at Getty House, the mayor's mansion. Corina Villaraigosa granted us an exclusive interview about her role as the mayor's wife. Our photographers took pictures of the mayor, his wife and kids sitting around the dinner table.
So the breakup of the mayor's marriage was most definitely a news story. He'd made his marriage "newsworthy" a long time ago.
Reporters should have challenged him when he exhorted them to "respect his family's privacy." What gave him the right to draw that line? You don't get privacy when you're the mayor of the country's second-largest city who used his marriage to try to win votes.
I think the traditional media outlets slowly came around to this position as the blogs began to broadcast all the rumors. But Luke, as you rightly point out, reporting on somebody's sex life is not easy, especially when both parties don't want to talk about it.
Kudos are due, I think, to Daily News reporter Beth Barrett, who tracked down the mayor's 88-year-old mother-in-law. As any married man knows, your wife's mother probably never thought you were good enough anyway. Of course, the mother-in-law would give you the scoop. And, of course, she did. Once the Daily News had her comments, the mayor was forced to admit he was having an affair. Finding her was a stroke of genius!