NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Keep Your Pants Zipped

Way back when I was a mere news puppy, wise old editors counseled us on all the news that was — and, specifically, wasn’t — fit to print. “Remember that our subscribers read the paper over breakfast,” they’d caution. “The kids are at the table, too.” Those were the words we lived by.

Today’s edition of our local daily newspaper demonstrated just how wise those elder geezers really were. I popped the paper out of its little orange plastic tube and knew, for sure, that my toast and coffee were doomed.

Page 1: “Lt. Gov. Wrigley: ‘I acknowledged that I had been unfaithful.” The banner headline was accompanied by a 60-square-inch photo and a long story about how the North Dakota political front-runner and his widely known, well-respected wife are working to salvage their marriage after persistent rumors of his affair finally surfaced in a throw-away comment in Jim Fuglie’s Prairie Blog. (Read it here on unheralded.fish). Oh, and by the way, he still would like to be your governor.

Page C-1, Metro-State cover: “Minnesota lawmakers deny police report of ‘making out.’” Two state legislators — both married (not to each other), both well-known moralists with an R behind their names — were cited by a deputy for “making out” while illegally parked in Lebanon Hills Regional Park. They say they’re shocked, shocked, by the “lies” he wrote about them on their ticket for being a public nuisance.

Page C-1, continued: “Judge orders subpoena of girl’s school records in junior hockey sex tape case.” The daily dessert for those with a taste for endless disgust! It’s the distressing story that just keeps on giving.

Why, oh why, are our breakfasts being tainted by this garbage? On Tuesday, when the story about the lieutenant governor enlivened the daily demonstration of bad temper and faulty logic better-known as talk radio, I was awestruck by the focus of many opinionators. Usually the least forgiving of men (yes, mostly men), countless callers seemed to focus on one kinder, gentler bit of biblical advice …

… “let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”

Well, yes. There’s a good deal more in that book, too, including many sermons’ worth of dire admonitions on adultery … but it’s great, at any rate, that they’ve finally gotten to the forgiveness part.

Why indeed. In a time in which the celebrity-saturated news is crammed with infidelities and divorce, such unsavory hints and rumors seem to be the pièce de resistance atop the daily menu. No wonder, then, that the once-serious media cover politics with the same zest for scandal as Hollywood gossip. Who could expect more?

But there’s much more to this airing of prominent people’s dirtiest laundry than “kick ’em when they’re up, kick ’em when they’re down.” (Thanks, Don Henley.) In this case, we need to ask: Just who was it in the first place who turned politics and public policy into a morality play?

Instead of talking of issues of real substance — the climate, the vanishing middle class, the crumbling infrastructure, the endless drums of war — our newsmakers have devolved into scolds focused on high-sounding “family values,” exclusively defined as personal topics that originate below the belt.

When political candidates and their avid camps vie to determine who can most harshly condemn and punish their chosen “sinners,” their private conduct absolutely does qualify as legitimate news. If they believe that violating others’ privacy is fair game to decry and legislate, so is their own. If they condemn those they aspire to govern for violating the “deeply held religious convictions” they personally choose to promote celebrate, they give tacit permission for others to judge them based on their own.

In the days when the breakfast-time news was strictly rated G, respect for newsmakers’ privacy was the universal rule. It ran both ways and applied equally to all. That’s why modern biographies of leaders of the past seem to feature so many shocks and shattered shibboleths: Selfish, callous personal sexual behavior was once routinely confined to hints and rumors.

Now, not so much. Tasteful restrictions on what can decently be called “news” have fallen away.

Let’s not be so quick to blame the messengers — those who report the news — even when it’s nasty and makes us squirm. The burden of this distasteful, frankly horrible trend belongs squarely on the pious shoulders of those who insist on dragging the once-personal into the realm of endless, unyielding public debate: The hypocritical moralizers whose feet of clay seem inevitably to turn to dust.

If you don’t want your sanctimonious heroes to be dragged through the dirt of public opinion, teach them to keep their pants zipped.

3 thoughts on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Keep Your Pants Zipped”

  • JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — President Clinton, Gov. Stenehjem | UNHERALDED.FISH September 2, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    […] NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Keep Your Pants Zipped […]

  • Larry Gauper September 2, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Excellent take on this subject and “subjects,” Nancy! As Forest Gump wisely said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” I mean, if, as you point out in this day and age of 24-hour media, if one is just thinking about advancing a public career, it might be smart to resist temptation. Alas, exercising “zipper control” is too often ignored, from Presidential candidates and Army generals to, it appears, local politicians.

  • Barbara La Valleur September 6, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Spoken like a true Cal Olson-trained journalist! Great job, Nanc.


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