What’s news about Sen. Craig’s arrest?

Men’s room pick-ups: not news.
Abuse of power: news.
The Drudgified press stresses the prurient over the significant.

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 &#8212 it’s hard to put any other construction on his words in that context &#8212 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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “What’s news about Sen. Craig’s arrest?”

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    From Memeorandum: after reports on Senator Larry Craig's arrest for disorderly conduct toward a man in an airport bathroom, today's New York Times quotes Republican party strategist Scott Reed as follows: “The real question for Republicans in Washing…

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