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Fri., Oct. 3, 2008

Politics, scandal go hand in hand

Have you read what the Richmond Recorder wrote about one of the presidential candidates?

We probably shouldn’t be passing this along, but another newspaper printed it, so what the heck.

According to the Recorder, it is “well known” in Washington that this candidate has fathered several illegitimate children. With his housekeeper.

Outrageous! Wait, though. It gets worse.

The New England Courant reported if this candidate is elected, “murder, robbery, rape and adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced.”

Sounds kind of extreme. But they printed it, so it must have some truth to it, right?

So which candidate are we talking about?

Thomas Jefferson. Vote for him at your peril, America. (Pssst: We hear he never wore a flag lapel pin, either.)

With five weeks remaining until the election, we have officially, as a nation, become certifiably insane. Everyone these days seems to be upset about something, and if we aren’t upset about something, give us a minute with the Drudge Report, Us Weekly or Access Hollywood, and we’ll come up with something.

For example: Are you upset about the Us Weekly cover of Sept. 2, the one with “Babies, Lies and Scandal” plastered under the photo of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin?

Are you infuriated by the story in the Globe, the supermarket tabloid, headlined “Obama Diary Scandal,” in which unnamed “insiders” speculate about revelations in a secret diary that Sen. Barack Obama’s mother supposedly wrote decades ago?

Does your brain explode every time you pass a newsstand and see Sen. John McCain’s family sharing the cover of People magazine with Britney and Beyonce? Or Barack and Michelle Obama smiling on the cover of Us, right next to the Hulk Hogan family?

Do yourself a favor. Stop, take a breath, and repeat this mantra: It was ever thus.

Actually, it used to be worse. Much worse.

In her entertaining and useful book, “Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity and American Politics,” New York Times writer Gail Collins reminds us that before movies and TV came along, politicians were the original American celebrities.

Even then, celebrity did not come free: You pay a price for it, and that price is gossip and invasion of privacy.

Collins recounts some of the most scurrilous stories in presidential history – ranging from the rumor floated during the first presidential election that George Washington had an illegitimate child all the way to the story about Hillary Clinton throwing a lamp at Bill Clinton after he was inaugurated in 1993.

The only thing that has changed since Washington’s time is the speed of the news cycle. Gossip once took months to circulate, and years to prove or refute – or, in the case of the rumors about Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemings, centuries.

Now gossip zips through its entire life cycle like a mayfly, going from birth to death in one 24-hour period.

That may come as a small comfort to the candidates, who have to keep swatting at new mayflies, all the while pleading with the media to look at the issues and their platforms.

Speaking of platforms: We are happy to report that so far, no media outlet has claimed that either candidate’s education platform calls for the teaching of murder, robbery, rape and adultery and incest. Though we hear that the National Enquirer is digging into that one.

Joanna Connors is a reporter for the Plain Dealer, of Cleveland. Her address is

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