Wednesday, June 24, 2009

But hey, that would be going into details

Well, this is interesting:

Below are excerpts of e-mails, obtained by The State newspaper in December, between Gov. Mark Sanford's personal e-mail account and Maria, a woman in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Let's see. Sumer is no longer icumen in, it is ysitting on the deck ydrinking our Beere. December would be, um, six months ago? So this is a story now ... why?

Oh. Because the governor of Carolina the Lesser hasn't just been out of pocket,* he's been yholden press conferences to explain that he was actually violating old No. 7, rather than innocently yhiking the Appalachian Trail!

Sanford's office Wednesday did not dispute the authenticity of the emails.

Does that mean Wednesday was the first day we asked the governor's office about the e-mails? In that case, we're into some really interesting territory, and not just the tracts of land the governor refers to in the e-mails. That would suggest** that the state capital daily has known for six months that Gov. Sanford was having it off with his Argentine friend and didn't do anything about it.

Which is potentially ... remarkably mature for an American newspaper, isn't it?*** It knew something scandalous, salacious and vastly entertaining but decided not to print it, on grounds that a consensual frolic or eight between adults might imply that the governor is a loathsome toad but doesn't have a thing to do with public policy and governance?

That'd be a brave and difficult call, particularly in an era in which technology makes it unlikely that your decision would have any long-term impact on what people know and when. It isn't unprecedented. One of the Observer's claims to fame back in its Pulitzer days was that it knew about Jim Bakker's sexual dalliance long before it broke its PTL stories but didn't run anything -- it was interested in fraud, which is a crime, rather than sex, which isn't. If that's how The State made The Decision, it's earned a respectful hearing and probably some applause, though it probably owes its readers an explanation along the way.

That being the case, though, is there some point in running the e-mails today? (Or to be more precise, promising "the full e-mail exchange" tomorrow?) Sanford has made clear that he's a weasel; is there a point in running

I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night’s light - but hey, that would be going into sexual details.

... other than to turn your back on any ethical process that led you to sit on the stories for six months in the first place?

I don't mean to suggest that there's an easy answer, or a conclusive answer, to the questions this story raises. If "journalism ethics" was easy, we wouldn't have much of a case for offering three-hour courses in it. But I do think The State ought to get off The Fence. Either stick with the hard call you made or admit that you're going to fold at the first chance to say "two magnificent parts of yourself."

What do you say, gentle readers? Should the governor's steamy prose have been a story six months ago, or should it still be a not-story today? Thoughts and arguments are welcome.****

* Producing what might be the stupidest sidebar in the history of the Associated Press, which is going some.
** The State seems to have a bad case of The Coys about this. A timeline of what-did-they-know-and-when-did-they-know it would be a lot more useful than a breathless account of the past few days.
*** As well as giving the lie to the likes of Sean Hannity, which is always a bonus even if it isn't much of a challenge.
**** We would be remiss not to point out the truly inept construction of this paragraph:
McClatchy special correspondent Angeles Mase visited the 14-story apartment building in Buenos Aires Wednesday where the woman lives, according to the emails, which included her address. The woman at the address answered to the name in the emails and, at first, agreed to speak to a visitor, but she declined after the visitor identified herself as a reporter.

Have at it, diagramming fans



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