OMG! Covering the personal failings of giants

Peter Orszag (courtesy of America.gov)

My first reaction to the NYT piece about the romantic maneuverings of Obama budget guru Peter Orszag was an audible gag.

Even in the piece itself, writer Mark Leibovich revealed a touch of nausea at having to write about the subject (boldface mine):

“Everyone feels the need to say, ‘I’m really sorry I have to ask you about this’ and ‘I’m only carrying out orders from my boss,’ ” Mr. [Kenneth] Baer [of the Office of Management and Budget] said. (For the record: this reporter was only acting on orders from his boss.) And, of course, the Very Serious Media are not writing the Orszag Love-Child Story, they are merely writing about the media frenzy surrounding it.

To Leibovich’s credit, he explores the idea of whether reporters should actually cover these under-the-sheets exploits. I believe it is journalistically valid to ask whether such a web of emotional involvement (two children with an ex-wife, a newborn with an ex-girlfriend, and a new fiancee) affects Orszag’s decision-making.

Unfortunately, most of the piece documents Orszag’s celebrity. The more I read, the more I wondered whether such a story would have been written about the less fair among us (especially since it was filed under the Fashion & Style section). What if Orszag were not a dashing 41-year-old? If he were not dating an attractive ABC reporter a decade younger than himself?

It reminded me of the torrent of Tiger Woods stories after revelations about his love life. Perhaps it is seeing the flaws in these giants that makes us feel better about ourselves.

I had to admit to myself that the headline — “If Peter Orszag is so smart, what will he do now?” — was the first I clicked on this morning, in part because of the picture of the handsome couple. I’ve listened to Orszag in many an interview and heard his praises sung by many. Perhaps it was morbid curiosity. Perhaps it was my own desire to see the celebrity flaw.

Perhaps it was intellectual laziness, going for the easy story rather than complex pieces about the bank crisis, Yemen, or  the mistreatment of immigrants in federal prisons.

When I finally clicked on Nina Bernstein’s investigative prison piece, I realized I had become the lazy public, favoring tales of individual failures over stories of systemic woes.

Unfortunately, it is also easier for journalists to cover the individual than the system. Why expend the effort for something far fewer will read or watch?

In the end, we will all get what we click for.

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