Politicians and Privacy

Should the news media probe politicians' private lives?


When the alleged marital infidelity of presidential candidate Bill Clinton was spotlighted by the media, the ensuing flap raised more than the immediate issues of adultery and the character of candidates. News professionals found themselves uneasy, divided and confused over the relentless pursuit of such a highly personal story. The fact that the initial source was a supermarket tabloid merely added to their discomfort. Since the late 1960s, in fact, the media have been regularly probing politicians' private lives (as well as their mental and physical health). Like the sex scandal that shattered the presidential candidacy of Gary Hart in 1987, the Clinton episode proves that journalists exercise tremendous power in American politics. But they are still struggling to write their ethical rule book.

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