Normally, I’d say yes, but this Huffington Post piece gave me pause.
I had an “aha!” moment, when Huffington Post columnist Keli Goff covered two disturbing articles in Gawker on California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s two adult sons, who have been kicked out of prep schools, among other places, for assault and even a racial incident. Not only has Whitman settled with a subordinate who she was accused of shoving, but I remember being really put off by her anti-illegal immigrant ads in the Republican primary because they came off as very anti-Latino. It made me uncomfortable.
Anyways, I saw Goff’s article as evidence of a pattern of racism in Whitman’s family. But for the purposes of this article, Goff made a compelling case for instances in which it should be okay to cover a politician’s family. The obvious cases are when politicians use their families as props, or run on their record as a parent.
While I was initially hesitant to write about them at all, since yes, I know they are not the ones running for office, I thought about it and wondered why I shouldn’t. Don’t they represent one of Whitman’s most significant contributions to the world, as does the child of any person? Also since Whitman cited her investment of time and energy in raising her children as being the primary reason she didn’t register to vote until she had nearly reached the half-century mark (an egregious example of using your family as a political shield that should make feminists of all political parties shudder) then why isn’t assessing how well her investment turned out, fair game? Furthermore, if Whitman has been accused of having temperament issues in the workplace and her children are accused of having temperament issues as adults as well, doesn’t that raise questions about her leadership skills at work and home?
Obviously no person is perfect and no family is perfect (me and mine included) and we shouldn’t expect them to be, but here’s my question. If we hold elected officials accountable when their policies fail other people’s children, then why shouldn’t we hold them accountable when their parenting skills fail their own?
To those who think that the media has no business ever covering the children (adult or otherwise) of candidates, I ask this: If a candidate opposes gun control, and his own child accidentally shoots another child while playing, are we supposed to have a hands-off mentality, because the child did not run for office? Or, if an elected official argues that abstinence only is the most effective form of sexual education for kids, but then her child proves this to be false through an unplanned pregnancy, is the media supposed to operate with blinders? What about if a candidate campaigns on his tough-on-crime credentials but when his adult son is accused of sexual assault, uses his resources to make sure junior gets the kind of blind justice only money can buy? Does the media have a responsibility to do the right thing by not covering such stories?
I agree with Goff 100 percent. However, putting on my reporter’s hat here, I think it is important to distinguish between covering a child for the sake of it — think of cruel Saturday Night Live jokes about Chelsea Clinton — and reporting on the hypocrisy of a politician. I don’t think the children of politicians should be covered in and of itself as a story. But if they commit a crime and get off easy because of their parents, or behave in a way that is antithetical to their parent’s platform, then they are fair game as far as I am concerned.
Under the latter, I would cover Sarah Palin who ran on a platform that included abstinence education. As for the former, I would certainly mention Jeb Bush, whose daughter, Noelle, was jailed for two measly days on a drug charge, which is nothing compared to the many young people who were locked up for years under the watch of her father’s administration for similar offenses. And, yes, I would include Whitman’s sons — although is this hypocrisy or just coincidence? — who Gawker covered here and here.
Also, I don’t think it is a coincidence or unfair that all these children happen to be the sons and daughters of prominent Republicans. It seems to me that if you are going to run on a platform of “family values,” then you are just begging for this kind of scrutiny.
What say you? Are politico’s children fair game when it comes to media coverage?