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The myth of a partisan double-standard in media coverage of political sex scandals

More than a few conservatives are complaining these days, in light of the current controversy over sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain, that the media are much tougher on Republicans than Democrats when it comes to sex scandals. (See HERE, for example.)

But these complaints are baseless. One need only recall the many sex scandals of Bill Clinton — involving dalliances, actual or alleged, with Jennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and other women. It’s preposterous to say that the media downplayed these matters or even gave Clinton the benefit of the doubt.

The fact that the American public seemed not to be terribly bothered by Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes doesn’t mean that the media didn’t give prominent play to the scandals. It’s not the media’s fault that most people weren’t as offended as certain other people thought they should have been. Moreover, a similar dynamic seems to pertain in the Cain controversy. A poll released just this morning SHOWS that the allegations against Cain haven’t hurt his standing in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Even if Cain eventually quits the race because of these current allegations, the situation won’t be unprecedented and won’t be an example of partisan media bias. Liberal Democrat Gary Hart dropped his bid for the presidency 24 years ago amid a media firestorm over his womanizing.

Nor can it be said that the media weren’t all over the recent story of Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner’s sexual weirdness. Or the story of Democrat Eliot Spitzer’s affairs with hookers. The simple truth is that the media love sex scandals, regardless of political party. The only hint of bias in their coverage of these matters is when sanctimonious family-values Republicans — such as David Vitter, Mark Sanford, John Ensign, et al — are cited for hypocrisy when their sexual misadventures come to light.

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