Friday, July 20, 2007

Let sleeping swine lie

For nearly eight years, it was quite fashionable in the media to find a hurtling bus and throw Congressman Kickass beneath it. As his years in office soared by, it seemed like the triple-chinned John Sweeney seemed to get fatter by the day off the neocon gravy train as it blazed a trail of ruin through the post-9-11 countryside.

He was the quintessential filthy politician, with a hand in every cookie jar his fat little digits could fit through. And being a member of the ruling class, he had a carte blanche to do just about anything he felt like doing, whether it was driving drunk or supporting third-world slave labor or rubbing elbows with convicted felon Jack Abramoff. Yes, there were some good times and good stories had at the expense of Sweeney.

That all ended on Nov. 7, 2006, when voters handed Sweeney his walking papers. True, you don’t erase two terms of sleaze out of the press –or the blogs in this case –overnight. The beseated congressman still had a few knocks left in him after the election, primarily because his campaign fell nearly a quarter-million dollars in debt.

Then last week, Sweeney’s name again surfaced in the Times Union, the very paper he accused of running a smear campaign against him just days before a contentious election. Quizzically citing a story in the Saratogian –a paper that unabashedly promoted Sweeney for the duration of his time in office –the TU published a story about the former congressman being estranged from his wife, Gaia, the very woman they accused him of beating during a 2005 incident.

The story was certainly newsworthy, in the sense that it finally sent the embattled lawyer off to political retirement. It also added justification for the paper’s reporting of Sweeney’s uncharged domestic violence case. But then today, the TU ran a second article about an order of protection Sweeney recently was granted against his soon-to-be divorced wife. The article seems a bit over the top and even invasive into the life of a private citizen, albeit one of a particularly oily ilk.

Journalism gurus will offer this rule of thumb for determining the newsworthiness of a story: does it impact the public or is it of keen public interest. On the first of these premises, this report fails. And on the second, it’s debatable. Some would argue that the 20th district now has a perfectly suitable representative and that Sweeney’s name should be returned to anonymity until he does something over the top, as many predict he eventually will.

There does come a time when the congressman turned punching bag should again be able enjoy the civilian life and all the just prudence the media affords to commoners. In Sweeney’s case, perhaps this time hasn’t come. But it seems the TU is a bit overly vindictive toward Sweeney, considering the ruin his career has become.


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