Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- Floating crosses, love babies and hag photos. We're all tabloid now.

Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, politics has gotten not just ugly but unseemly and cruel. If the human appetite for scandal and schadenfreude is satiable, the media haven't gotten the word.

Besides, in a dangerous world of war and terrorism, it's far easier to speculate on sex lives and sensationalize religious belief than it is to evaluate whether jihad is coming to El Paso.

This isn't to blame American voters, but rather the media. Human beings will always look at a roadside accident, but that doesn't mean they want the accident to occur. We're a curious lot and most will look at what's in front of us (the proof is in the porn stats).

Thus, who puts the thing up for observation is the proper target of our attentions. Calling Katie Couric.

Wednesday night, "CBS Evening News" anchor Couric asked the leading 2008 presidential candidates whether voters should trust an adulterer. Why not just ask for a show of hands: How many of you have messed around on your spouse?

Couric's inquisition closely shadowed the tabloid gossip item that John Edwards has a "love baby" with a former campaign worker. Edwards has denied the accusation, as has the mother-to-be, who has named the person she says is the real father. But no matter.

Splash! It's out there. The suggestion, the innuendo, the lingering question. Just as "someone" hoped, no doubt.

Not so long ago, no reputable news organization would touch a tabloid headline. Now, thanks to the Internet, what's out is out and the source seems not to matter. Mainstream media now feel compelled to report what's being reported. (Response to pot-kettle monitors: Cultural commentary requires cultural commentary.)

A few days before Edwards made news, Mike Huckabee's "floating cross" was all the talk. One of Huckabee's ads shows him in front of a bookcase. The intersection of two shelves creates four contiguous right angles, suggestive of a cross, as intersecting shelves are wont to do.

Whether the positioning was intentional or just a divine coincidence is anyone's guess. But the debate, far longer than warranted, was the stuff of alien-seeking tabloids. Is it just me, or was that the Virgin Mary's face imprinted in the wood grain?

Gratuitously cruel was a photograph of a tired-looking Hillary Clinton posted on the Drudge Report and elaborated on by Rush Limbaugh. The photograph was apropos of nothing -- no story was linked -- and merely ran with the caption: "The Toll of a Campaign."

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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