Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Kind of Void?

What generated the Anthony Weiner scandal?

Nick Beaudrot argues that it’s a supply-side problem. Because Congress and the president are gridlocked, no one expects real policy changes or major legislation to emerge from the 112th Congress, and so the media has to invent news stories.

I disagree. The recent showdown on current-year spending and the continuing showdown over the debt limit are major congressional stories, and are being treated as such. Unemployment and other economic news are also significant and newsworthy. Meanwhile, United States troops are engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and the rest of the world is generating what must be historically above-average levels of news.

No, what I think is driving this one is demand-side. Three cable nets, something resembling 24 hours a day: they need stuff to talk about. Anthony Weiner isn't taking up space that would otherwise go to legislation; he's filling a hole that would otherwise go to murders, or perhaps weather events. And the overkill on coverage is similar to the overkill on coverage of murders, or runaway brides, or the balloon kid. Indeed, it's demand-side in two ways: they have all that time to fill up (cable net demand for stories), and there's an audience out there that apparently craves this sort of thing.

The other side of it is that this sure seems to me to be a highly entertaining story. No, it doesn't pass Paul Waldman's "important" test, and as I said earlier the overkill sort of ruins it, but really -- wacky behavior by politicians is good fun to watch. It's not important, it doesn't matter, but so what?


  1. "...he's filling a hole."


    Anyway, I think your explanation does part of the job, but this stuff would be news if we excised a couple of cable news networks. And the fact that this scandal is explicitly 21st-century helps. Old scandal + new technology = big story. In part because it helps establish the ethical ground rules for the new technology. Not that we can't usually guess them.

    I think the brazenness of most of it is a big deal, too. Politicians lie in very subtle ways very often, but it still feels pretty rare that they lie so obviously and confess so quickly afterwards, in ways that can't be spun. So there are quite a few things, I think, that made this such a big story.

  2. These are all great points, but I think we may be over-thinking this a little:

    A congressman named WEINER tweeted (TWEETED!) pictures of his penis. This is almost as good as Larry Craig.

  3. The best pun I saw was, as always, from the NY Post: "Erections have Consequences". Oh NY Post, you almost make News Corp worth it.


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