Sum of our parts 

By the time you read this, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick may be gone. Or not. But everybody now realizes that he has to be extracted as soon as possible, and lawyers and the business community are feverishly trying to put together some sort of a deal.

No one can now deny that his presence is having the same effect on the city, and the region, that a 300-pound dead mackerel would have on the Greektown Casino if it were lying in the front lobby in the heat of August, stinking and becoming more repulsive every day.

There's really very little more to say, except this: Friday morning I was in Washington, D.C., at the magnificent Newseum, which chronicles the history of the American Press, courtesy of some of the same corporations that have done their best to sacrifice journalism to the profit motive. Thanks to the wonders of electrons, they display — every day — the full-color front pages of hundreds of newspapers.

Detroit's entry that day was the Free Press, with its giant, World War II-is-declared-size headlines and big, impassive booking mug shots of the thug-in-chief. A chunky middle-age guy in a red T-shirt and a baseball bat paused before it, and said to the woman he was with, "Howdja like to live there?"

She grimaced and shook her head. That's the prevailing national obituary for our city, folks; and nothing is going to change that one bit till we drag this giant rock away from the front of our tomb.

Sex, John Edwards and the rest of us: By now you know that twice washed-out presidential candidate John Edwards has confessed to having had an affair with a dishwater-blondish woman named Rielle Hunter, although as I write this he is still denying fathering her baby. That's certainly plausible to me; I visit single women and their babies in the Beverly Hills Hotel all the time.

In fact, another campaign staffer and long-time close Edwards friend says he is the father, which makes one think that while it lasted, the Edwards campaign was a much more fun place to work than our own David Bonior ever let on.

Sheesh. Once again, it just goes to show you that the First Iron Law of Modern Life and Journalism is this: Real life is far more bizarre than anything you could make up. For example, if you were writing this as a novel, would you even think of trying to include: Rielle Hunter, a 42-year-old who recently gave birth to a girl who Edwards says is not his, has long been said to be the inspiration for Alison Poole, the "cocaine-addled, sexually voracious" 20-year-old lead character in My Life Story, Jay McInerney's novel of 1980s excess and degradation?

Naturally you wouldn't. Not that is, if you wanted your novel to sound like it might be something that could actually happen in real life. That passage, however, is the real deal; I took it from a straight news Associated Press story on l'affaire Edwards.

Once you've assimilated all that, you just knew her real name had to be Lisa Druck, which, of course, it is.

Yet this mess raises two important issues that the media and our society badly need to tackle. They are far wider than John Edwards himself, who is, politically, Melba toast crumbs.

First, to quickly dispose of Edwards' remains: By far the most interesting thing about him is how a medical malpractice lawyer who made umpteen million dollars could be so stupid.

True, what our hypocritical, proto-Puritanical society has yet to acknowledge is that lots of people have complex sexual lives, and that few are entirely truthful about them.

Usually, the more complicated and successful people are, the more widely varied their opportunities and experience.

This is as true for women as it is for men. However, we have the odd notion that anyone running for president should have a sex life that could have been designed by the network television censors who approved Ward and June Cleaver's lifestyle.

Worse, we sanction efforts by the media to try to uncover whatever a candidate did that may have differed from that norm. This is stupid, and keeps many capable people out of politics. However, everyone knows that is how the game is played. I know full well that if I were to run for president, the fact that I wet my pants on a field trip to the Detroit Zoo in 1960 would be discovered.

Incidentally, and as a matter of full disclosure, you may as well know that this, and my secret unnatural annual longing for the butter cow at the State Fair (yes, and her calf too) have been the sole factors preventing me from offering my services to the republic, which is why I continue at my keyboard.

But seriously — leaving aside the question of whether John was being a cad by sporting with Ms. Druck even as his wife battled cancer — what was he thinking? How did he think he could do that and run for president, and not have it found out?

That alone says he is too stupid for the job.

Now, however, for the really serious issues. The first is one the mainstream media has to wrestle with. Everyone in the media, and millions of other people, knew about John Edwards, whatever-her-name-now-is and the alleged love child more than two weeks ago.

They knew, because the National Enquirer reported it, and it was all over the Internet. Nevertheless, the "mainstream media" ignored it. They didn't know what to do. Every instinct, and Edwards' reaction, told me (and probably every other experienced newsperson) that the story was very likely at least partly true.

Yet — should the supposedly responsible media report it?

Should they follow the lead of the tabloid trash? Or should they primly act like they are our mom, and not talk about these nasty rumors? Richard Berke, an assistant managing editor for the world's most important newspaper, The New York Times, was quoted by that paper's ombudsman: "We run the risk of looking like we are totally out of it. Or we're just like the rest of them — we have no standards."

Which brings us to the second, and even more important issue: It is clearly time to stop reporting about candidates' sex lives.

We need to find some way of taking this off the table. Otherwise we will continue to keep all sorts of potentially great people from running for president, or maybe even governor.

Anyone who piously says this is an important "character issue" is full of it. Nobody ever accused Jimmy Carter of cheating on his wife. Yet there is common consent he was a not-very-good president.

Ronald Reagan is universally hailed by Republicans as the greatest prexy we've had since John Wilkes Booth took out Abraham Lincoln. Yet RR's first marriage was a disaster, and he then cavorted with a parade of starlets until he married one Nancy Davis, who was three months pregnant at the time, presumably by him.

What we need is for the responsible media to just decide that from now on, we are not going to write or broadcast about this stuff, no matter what, unless it involves criminal behavior.

No, that wouldn't be a perfect solution. But it just might help us remember what we are supposed to have a government for.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]

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