Larry Craig got busted trying to pick up an undercover cop in an airport men’s room. Why is this (should this be considered) news?
1. It illustrates one of the sad consequences of “family values” homophobia. No real news there; we all knew that.
2. It illustrates what seems like a waste of police resources. Yawn.
3. The conduct involved is inconsistent with Craig’s proclaimed stance on sexual issues. Yawn.
4. Craig had earlier denied rumors about his sexual activities, so this makes him a liar. Yawn. He had a perfect right to lie about something that wasn’t the business of anyone outside Craig’s social circle.
So far, so nothing. And yet the bare fact of the arrest was the only part of the story the New York Times decided to run. Yes, it’s poetic justice that Republicans are getting caught in the Drudgified media atmosphere they helped create during the Clinton years, but it’s still bad for the country. Obviously, the Times didn’t think it could ignore a story once everyone else had it, even if the story had inadequate actual news value to justify giving it scarce space in an ever-shrinking newshole.
As it happens, the story does have an actually newsworthy aspect.
After he was arrested, Craig, who is married, was taken to the Airport Police Operations Center to be interviewed about the lewd conduct incident, according to the police report. At one point during the interview, Craig handed the plainclothes sergeant who arrested him a business card that identified him as a U.S. Senator and said, “What do you think about that?” the report states.
Sen. Craig’s attempt to use his official position to intimidate the officer — it’s hard to put any other construction on his words in that context — is an abuse of power, and ought to be grounds for his expulsion from the Senate. Men’s room pickups aren’t much of a threat to the constitutional order; the arrogance that tells public officials that they’re too important to have to obey the law is such a threat.
And yet the press is all over the prurient aspects of this, while the abuse of power gets ignored. Score another victory for Matt Drudge.
Footnote I’d draw a distinction between this case and the Vitter case. Policy toward prostitution is still a live issue; the Bush Administration, to please the “family values” crowd, is contributing to the HIV epidemic by insisting that NGO’s receiving federal funding not try to help “sex trade workers” keep themselves and their customers from getting infected. Whether to make arrests for attempted men’s-room pickups is not an issue likely to come before the Senate.