Now that the KerrySex rumors seem to be breathing their last hacking, sputtering breath (they were so young once. . . ), it's time for the media worry about them in public. Names have been named, denials have been issued, and at last the same reporters who fretted over whether or not to run with the story can fret about a) the guilt those who did run with it and b) what it all means . Thus the rumors themselves are guaranteed another week of so of life -- a kind of artificial respiration. And there's no man better trained at this kind of CPR than Howie Kurtz. Our inaugural edition of Wringing of Hands Watch kicks off with Kurtz performing in his world-famous one act play, "What Is Happening to Our Glorious Profession?" (costarring Andrew Sullivan as "The Rueful Blogger" and Frank Rich as "The Gray Lady"):
Scene 1: "You Have Brought Shame Upon Our House"
- KURTZ: Andrew Sullivan, you wrote about this on your blog. Any second thoughts, any guilty feelings about furthering the conversation or something that you don't know whether it's true, I don't know whether it's true.
- SULLIVAN: Well, what we do know, a friend of mine called up and said is this going to go mainstream? And my answer was, well, it's on the Drudge Report. There were 15 million visits to the Drudge Report yesterday. I don't know anybody in Washington that isn't aware of this story. So you get into this excruciating dilemma: How do you talk about it? Should you talk about it? I've talked about it from a -- removed, talking about the story as a press story, which is what we're doing now, without mentioning the details of it.
Scene 2: "I Blame the System"
- SULLIVAN : I don't know what -- can you anymore not talk about something that's on the front page of the "Times of London," front page of the Drudge Report, on everybody's minds. There comes a point at which the media has to acknowledge people are talking.
- KURTZ: But on that point, Frank Rich, in the first 24 hours, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh picked this up, the Web sites of the "Wall Street Journal" and "National Review," "Chicago Sun-Times" and "Philadelphia Daily News" did a little bit, and the British press has jumped on this with great glee. What does that tell us about the way the media food chain works when after all, there may not be a story here? What we have is an unsubstantiated rumor.
- RICH: Well, it's an unsubstantiated rumor, and a lot of times these unsubstantiated rumors that go out through the Internet and are occasionally picked up by the mainstream press don't pan out, and then they die. There were certainly a number of examples of that with Clinton, even though obviously a lot of things that were divulged about him on the Web were true.
- But again, I would stress, much as with Vietnam, there is a contextual change here from the Vietnam years. I think our attitudes about this, and particularly about the personal lives of candidates in general has changed. Witness the Schwarzenegger campaign, where a lot of stuff came out. It was in the mainstream media, in the "Los Angeles Times," and a lot of it was obviously true, and it didn't make a bit of difference.
Scene 3: "All's Well That Ends Well"
- KURTZ: Well, what bothers me is that you have some commentators now saying the press is covering this up, when in fact journalists haven't proven anything and there may not be anything to prove so it's ...
- RICH: Well, I think the press was not covering it up, and I think that lots of people, including people who lean towards the right, are going to do everything possible to find out what's there. And my guess is we will find out what's there or not there fairly shortly.