Fall scandals secrete the scent of politics

Posted: Oct 04, 2003 12:00 AM

Sex, sports, sabotage. You want a scandal, have we got a scandal for you.

We've got one with a capital "S" at the White House, involving a possible leak, an investigation, the FBI and the CIA. Throw in a navy Gap dress and we'll be ducky through next spring.

If you're unfamiliar with the story, you probably should skip to the comics, but here's the short version.

Several months ago, syndicated columnist Robert Novak named a CIA undercover agent in a column about Niger's alleged sale of "yellowcake" to Iraq. He said he got the agent's name from two senior administration officials.

But by naming the woman, Novak delivered a weapon of mass destruction to Democrats, who are deliriously dusting off a law prohibiting the naming of covert agents.

Lethal, malicious leak or casual name-drop? Dum-de-dum-dum.

Over at the National Enquirer, Rush Limbaugh is alleged to have been popping prescription pain pills procured through his former maid. Exactly so, Watson, the maid hid them under the mattress in the master bedroom.

That headline stepped on the heels of Limbaugh's sudden resignation as an ESPN commentator for daring to suggest that race might be a factor in the media's treatment of certain sports figures. Ah-ha, a pill-popper and a racist.

So gleefully, I mean dolefully, received was this news that Democratic presidential candidates Howard Dean and retired Gen. Wesley Clark felt compelled to write ESPN letters urging Limbaugh's removal.

What was Limbaugh's effrontery? He commented that Philadelphia Eagles star Donovan McNabb was getting an easy ride because the media want a black quarterback to do well. "He got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve," said Limbaugh.

I have no idea whether that statement is true, but it doesn't seem racist. It seems to me - admittedly without benefit of an agenda - that Limbaugh was questioning the media's attitude toward race in its sports coverage, which of course is a horse of a diff - oh, never mind.

Regardless, it's an opinion from a guy who opines for a living. One may disagree, but surely ESPN didn't hire Limbaugh for his well-known sensitive commentary. If sensitivity is required of people in the opinion business, we may as well fold America's oped pages and shut down the blogosphere.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times has come out with a litany of sexual complaints against Arnold Schwarzenegger just in time to undermine his thus-far (and inexplicably) successful campaign to "give the state of California back to the people."

According to the story, several women anonymously recalled uninvited, sexually aggressive behavior from the gubernatorial candidate, some as recently as 2000. On one of his campaign stops Thursday, Schwarzenegger admitted to some offensive behavior on movie sets and apologized.

Obviously the three scandals are of decreasing importance as listed here, but they otherwise have much in common. First, they're all political - presented and cycled through the media mill as proverbial back-breaking straws.

If someone in the White House did leak the name of a CIA undercover agent as alleged, then President Bush's credibility is further damaged. At this point, however, it appears that there was no intentional, malicious leak.

If Limbaugh, whom Democrats consider a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, can be discredited as an illegal drug abuser, the Democratic Party will erupt in bacchanalian ecstasy. As for The Humiliator, suffice it to say that certain parties would handle snakes and speak in tongues if it would keep a Republican superstar from taking over California.

Second, all three scandals are to some degree speculative or of dubious merit. None of the women accusing Schwarzenegger came forward at the time of the incidents, but rather spoke anonymously when approached by the newspaper. Yes, Schwarzenegger's behavior was despicable, but the timing of these women's moral outrage somewhat weakens their victim status. (And, yes, I said the same thing about Clinton's accusers.)

Limbaugh's pill-popping allegation is without factual basis at this point. The White House "leak" is speculation heaped on allegation. Who done what, we don't yet know.

Finally, all three scandals underscore the corrupt co-dependency of politics and media. Somebody circulates an anonymous rumor; TV invites "experts" to speculate; pundits opine, indict, condemn, spin and recycle until no one remembers or cares what did or didn't happen.

Under the circumstances, a cynic might be tempted to consider the possibility of a vast left-wing conspiracy. But then everybody knows, only the right creates conspiracies, and only the left believes in them.