Lin Wood, the lawyer for presidential candidate Herman Cain, has little respect for the research ethic of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. On her show last night, Maddow used the hypocrisy rationale for justifying media attention to a Fox station’s scoop that Cain allegedly had a 13-year-long extramarital affair. Here’s how Maddow illuminated the ethical green light:
To be fair, I think the reason this latest allegation about Mr. Cain is news is not because this allegation is that he’s done something illegal or even because it’s anyone’s business what any two adults do inside or outside the bounds of their own marriage. Private life is private life, even for public figures. Unless those public figures choose to build their political careers on criticizing other people’s private lives and proclaiming the superiority of their own private life. In the case of Mr. Cain, he has campaigned for office by saying that he will “defend the sacred institution of marriage against liberals who want to destroy it.” Because of that, Mr. Cain now has a sacred-institution glass house problem.
Wood is throwing stones at Maddow’s house, regardless of construction materials. “She’s reaching a conclusion that she wants to reach, and she can find whatever excuse she wants to find to reach that conclusion,” says Wood. “Rachel Maddow, I’m sure, believes that the media has a right to discuss the private lives or marriages of any candidate.”
That may be something of an exaggeration, but the fabric of Maddow’s argument has a stretchy feel to it. The Cain statement cited in her monologue appears to concern marriage as a compact between a man and a woman, period. As in, no gay marriage. It’s far more of an anti-gay plank, accordingly, than it is pro-fidelity. If someone were to come forward with allegations that Cain was gay, in other words, his position on marriage would serve as a far more powerful basis for broadcasting that story.
Wood said that he didn’t get much of a chance to plead his case that the story bore no relevance to Cain’s presidential run. “I never had the opportunity to do so,” he says. “Yesterday afternoon, I got in touch with the Fox reporter and he gave me an overview of what the story was about and informed me it was going to air at 6 p.m.”
Noting that this is “not my first rodeo,” Wood says the Fox station committed a classic journalistic sin in sewing up the story and calling “the target a few short hours before you air it so you can claim you’ve given the person an opportunity. What you’re doing is giving yourself the cover to say I spoke to Mr. Cain,” says Wood.
The reporter, Dale Russell, wouldn’t comment on that or any other aspect of the story. Seeking refuge in one of journalism’s lamest dodges, Russell said the “story speaks for itself.” As the debate between Maddow and Wood makes clear, it does not.