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Scandal is a perfect news storm

Nothing like a good, old-fashioned gotcha to get reporters going.

March 13, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

They may be a journalist's five favorite words: Governor linked to prostitution ring. Now that's a TV crawl promising a very good week for everyone (except, of course, for the governor's family). The politician and the call girl. It's like a Broadway musical starring Nathan Lane -- everyone's talking about it.

So when the news broke in the New York Times on Monday that Gov. Eliot Spitzer had been caught ordering out from Emperors' Club VIP escort services, that sound you heard was the collective chortling of every reporter in America.

From morning to night, anchors and pundits filled MSNBC, CNN, Fox News and even the networks, barely able to keep a straight face while solemnly reporting that Spitzer, the self-described Mr. Clean who made a name for himself taking on corruption, was really Client 9, caught in a high-priced call-girl sting.

Oh, the joy of seeing his blank-faced, prim-mouthed apology -- while the buzz of his cellphone, set on vibrate because, you know, he was going on TV, all but drowned out his words. (Who was calling, do you think? His mother? Charlie Sheen?)

On Wednesday, there he was resigning, possibly in the same suit, with the same strange lack of emotion and nary a glance for his wife, though apparently he left the phone backstage.

No worries about Spitzer just being a regular guy who had made a mistake -- suddenly he was Central Casting for Unscrupulous Politician.

As details emerged -- the payment amounts, the problematic money transfer, the possibly "not safe" nature of the services Spitzer requested, the description of his escort, that she went to D.C. from New York (What? There are no hookers in Washington? When did that happen?) -- the excitement turned to glee.

As Spitzer announced his resignation, it became the perfect news storm. No untimely death, no one mewling about alcohol or painkiller-addiction issues, no need to worry about any talk of gender double-standards. (She was a prostitute! Just doin' her job!)

Just a good, old-fashioned gotcha, with the opportunity to talk about sex and still look professional. What exactly does 5 1/2 Gs get you these days? How often does a political reporter get to look into such things? Not often enough, I can tell you.

Suddenly TV was on Spitzer alert. All the late-night hosts had a field day, and Heidi Fleiss showed up with bed hair on "Nightline," offering wisdom and shilling for the Bunny Ranch, which was disturbing to say the least.

Oh, some bleeding hearts and daytime talk-show hosts tried to soften up the story with the philandering angle. (Really, it is like the scandal was invented by Joy Behar and the gals at "The View," isn't it?)

And it's true, poor old Silda had to assume the position -- standing stony-faced beside an American flag as her rotten skunk of a husband apologized and then resigned. (Why do those poor women always have to stand beside a flag? Is it supposed to make them feel patriotic somehow, like they're providing some service for the country?) But philandering politicians are a dime a dozen -- hey, we've got one as mayor! -- and those stories too often involve messy things like emotions and real people.

This one's so much more clear-cut, so much more businesslike, so much more, well, hilarious. Here's a governor who ran wiretaps getting caught . . . on a wiretap. (And mere moments after the finale of "The Wire," in which such a thing would totally happen. Coincidence?)

So Spitzer's not only a degenerate, he's a stupid degenerate. Will these guys never learn? At this point, I think we are safe in assuming that every politician cheats; otherwise why would these men think they're going to get away with it?

Still, he is the governor of New York, so you'd think he'd at least remember the lessons of "The Godfather: Part II." "The last thing I remember, she was laughing," says a dazed politico as he is led away from a dead prostitute and into lifelong debt to Michael Corleone.

You see how much fun this is, and no one has to feel guilty, or even partisan. Forget Sen. Barack Obama and his message of hope; nothing unites the nation like a good, clean political scandal. Oh, and Spitzer was a superdelegate! Just when CNN was trying to explain who those people are. See, it just keeps getting better and better. . . .


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