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Eight Men Out

Think the Larry Craig story was just a tabloid creature of late summertime?

Think again.

Eight men have now come forward in the Larry Craig story – for reasons that range from clear anger to admitted self-promotion – and they have told their stories to the Idaho Statesman, the newspaper that broke the story in late August. According to the Associated Press' reporting of the matter:

Eight men say they either had sex with Sen. Larry Craig or were targets of sexual advances by the Idaho lawmaker at various times during his political career, a newspaper reported Sunday…

The newspaper identified four men and reported details of the encounters they say involved Craig. It also reported the accounts of four other men who did not agree to be identified but who described sexual advances or encounters involving the conservative Republican, who opposes same-sex marriage and has a strong record against gay rights.

It's a blockbuster advancement in the story, no doubt. But seeing the coverage given the story all day Monday, a few questions occurred to me:
  • From a journalistic standpoint, does the fact that you've already broken the story make one's job easier or harder?
  • If there wasn't already the initial Craig Story out there, would these allegations have the journalistic "oomph" to be considered news?
  • Does the threshold for news get lower once something is already "out there?"

    I decided to put those questions to the Editor, Managing Editor and Political Columnist at the newspaper.

    First off, Dan Popkey, the political columnist. His thoughts?

    The threshold didn't get lower for us. In August, we published accounts from three unnamed men, all denied by Craig. Sunday, we named four men, and relayed the account of another man, unnamed.

    For Sunday's story, we didn't get Craig's response because his policy is he won't talk to us any more. But we did our best to give him a chance to comment. Unable to hear from him or his staff directly, we quoted his aides talking to other media and denying the accounts of sex offered by Phillips and Jones. Then, as you know, Craig issued a blanket denial Sunday after we published.

    These five men came forward and agreed to talk because Sen. Craig said he was a victim of "profiling" in Minneapolis and because he continues to deny engaging in homosexual conduct. They say they know otherwise. I really don't think we've lowered the bar at all. Remember, when it was "out there" in the fall of 2006; we did not publish, but instead did the reporting. After talking to Craig in May 2007, and hearing his denials, we decided to wait. Only after news of the guilty plea did we publish in August.

    We published Sunday in a different context, yes — Sen. Craig had reversed his vow to resign and had appeared on prime-time TV for an hour to say he'd been wrongly accused. He continues to represent Idaho in the Senate, even though his clout has diminished. We felt an obligation, having spoken with the five men, to let our readers see, and hear, what they said about their experiences with Craig.

    Statesman editor Vicki Gowler took a second bite at my apple.
    If the threshold was lowered, it occurred when the senator was arrested and pleaded guilty and tried to keep it secret. Few people in this country, particularly educated and knowledgeable people, plead guilty to something they don't do. That guilty plea became a piece of evidence to show the senator had tried to engage in anonymous gay sex.

    Since that time the senator has not only said he's been wrongly accused, he said he intended to resign but got caught in a voice mail suggesting he didn't mean that at the time he said it, and he said he had not consulted an attorney but ended up in conflicts with his statement to another police officer and to the actual date he hired the firm.

    His credibility has been increasingly in question.

    Meanwhile, these other men stepped forward and we spent weeks checking out their stories. It wasn't easier to do this story; we knew we would be accused of piling on; the bar was actually higher – we weren't going to do a story if we didn't have names. These men were willing to do that – and their accounts are eerily similar.

    And, lastly, Statesman Managing Editor Bill Manny wrote in to make sure one point was clear:
    One key point I think we need to emphasize: Two of these accounts are bathroom solicitations contemporaneously confirmed by people who also were willing to talk to us. These two men had told other people they had been solicited by Craig in a bathroom before news broke of the bathroom solicitations (Minnesota, Union station) in August. That is persuasive.
    So, yes, the bar has actually gotten higher for the Statesman's reportage, according to the paper's own editor. As Gowler admits, they wouldn't have written this story built on anonymous accusers, as they did with the initial story. That would have come close to appearing like 'piling on.'

    But what they did is an example of the ever-shifting calculus of news merit -- full of variables here and there. And by moving forward only with on-the-record sources, they showed they were willing to raise their standards as the stakes got higher in this developing story.

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