Scandals hiding in plain sight

By Catherine Rampell

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 9:50 p.m. MDT

I have one theory. Facing severe challenges to their business models, lots of mid-size newspapers have decided to go "hyperlocal," thinning out their coverage of state-level issues and officials in the process. A recent Pew report, for example, found that the number of full-time statehouse reporters fell by 35 percent between 2003 and 2014. So perhaps governors got accustomed to the luxury of operating with little scrutiny from the Fourth Estate. Some of these imbroglios were first uncovered or pursued not by journalists, by the way, but by government investigators or an outside watchdog group.

Simultaneously, Americans are increasingly turning to comedy and entertainment sources for their news. Unfortunately, most of these newsworthy gubernatorial disgraces and boondoggles involve complex legal issues. Without lurid sexts or colorful femme fatales, they don't especially lend themselves to late-night comedy material, or even a particularly pithy portmanteau (with the exception, of course, of Christie's "Bridgegate"). There are a couple of stellar comedians, such as HBO's John Oliver, who have actively tried to comedify serious but technical topics, but they are unusual.

The takeaway for politicians: If you're going to engage in dubiously ethical endeavors, make sure they're shrouded in complicated, confusing statutes like securities law. Good old-fashioned sex scandals may sound like more fun, but they're intelligible enough to hold the attention of comedians, and voters, for longer than you might like.

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

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