The elephant in the room (book review)

Let’s set aside for now the potentially explosive allegations regarding Rick Perry which Glen Maxey lays out in his e-book Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry, released earlier this week. They’re either true or they’re not, and those reading the book or resulting news stories can draw their own conclusions. I won’t repeat them here – you already know the material.

Let’s even set aside the massive hypocrisy it would represent if even one of the stories Maxey relates in the book were true. Perry’s “Strong” ad last week alone would make that clear enough.

And let’s for a moment set aside the relative credibility of the author, which is bound to come under serious scrutiny if mainstream media begin reporting on Maxey’s findings. I’ve known the man for 22 years. We’ve agreed a lot, and disagreed sometimes. In the years we’ve been friends, I have certainly not doubted his dedication to his causes. It’s a sure thing he is willing to take the heat – he certainly barged into the kitchen.

Rick Perry

Let’s set all of the above aside, long enough to have, in Rick Perry’s frequent words, a serious conversation, and mull over what’s next, if anything, and why.

Intelligent people can, and probably will, disagree about whether the book should have been published. But now that it is, what are serious journalists, who work at news organizations on the political beat whose job it is to inform the public, going to do about it?

It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine absolutely nothing happening – Maxey has taken years worth of rumors and attached (partial) names, details, and sheer bulk which covers much important new ground. The subject material is a sitting Governor of a major state who is running for President.

News media even provided coverage a couple of months ago when a man paid for an ad in the Austin Chronicle merely asking the questions that Maxey attempts to provide answers to in the book. How can asking the questions be more news-worthy than providing some answers?

Glen Maxey

After reading the book Wednesday, I could frankly see why “the national news outlet,” as Maxey mysteriously terms it but which practically everybody in town can identify, ultimately took a pass on printing the story, to Maxey’s clear frustration. What Maxey lays out is sheer volume of circumstantial evidence. But among this mass of evidence, what he lacks – and he’s not at all misleading about this – is closing the loop on the smoking gun story. The golden example – named and on the record, laid out on a silver platter to conveniently take all worrisome close judgement calls off the collective conscience of editors, and make it abundantly clear that the story is solidly publishable, and true – is missing. It’s the deal that ultimately couldn’t be closed.

And fair enough – a lot of stories which rely on circumstantial evidence don’t get printed, and shouldn’t be. But some are, and should be.

Something Maxey barely touches on in his book, in my view, could have been the central thesis of the entire work: the possible double standards involved here. Discussing his frustration at being unable to convince a publication to run with his evidence, he writes:

“…on October 30, I saw that Politico.com broke the story about Herman Cain harassing a woman while he worked for the National Restaurant Association. Politico ran the entire story—and based it almost entirely on anonymous sources. Where were the on-the-record quotes I was required to have? Why didn’t they need to have two dozen people speaking openly about what they’d heard or known??

To refresh your memory, in late October, Politico broke the Herman Cain sexual harassment story which ultimately proved to be  the beginning of the end of Cain’s Presidential aspirations.

The story neither named nor otherwise identified Cain’s accusers/victims and didn’t quote them, nor did the story name sources used to back the claims. It didn’t even describe any of the specific behavior of which Cain had been accused.

But Politico ran with it.

For whatever Maxey doesn’t have, he apparently has more about Perry than Politico printed about Cain. Granted, it’s entirely possible that Politico had much more evidence than they printed, which gave comfort to the editors ultimately approving the story. That would certainly be a defense from a possible journalistic double standard.

But what did Politico have, but not print? And what did Maxey’s “national news outlet” need in order to print, but not have? Do those two data sets match up, or is there really a double standard?

And what of other possible double standards, related to gender, or sexual orientation? As difficult as it must be for a woman to come forward and disclose an improper relationship with a man, how much more difficult would it be for a man to do so? The negative stigma attached to those situations is perpetuated by politicians like Rick Perry himself, and others in his Party, who have long had gay Americans on their list of people they cynically scapegoat for the sake of a few more votes.

Has Rick Perry himself created the very media standards paradox which protects him? Has he scapegoated people so effectively that there is no way they can possibly step forward and verify Perry’s hypocrisy to the satisfaction of long-established journalistic standards?

These are, hopefully, the ethical issues being debated among reporters, editors, and publishers, as they grapple with what, if anything, to do with Maxey’s book, or any other evidence of base cynical hypocrisy among those who would lead governments.

On the other hand, here is the conclusion I hope they’re not going to reach: that it’s a legitimate story, but that they’re not going to bother with it, because of an editorial judgement call that Perry is a washed-out Presidential candidate who will soon drop out of the race.

Even if that happens, which seems likely, Rick Perry will still be the sitting Governor of the second most populous state in the Union, who presides over, and claims credit for, the second largest economy in the nation. And he will remain that for at least the next couple of years, and perhaps the next six. He has either done the things Maxey discusses in the book, or he hasn’t. Perry is either a hypocrite of the highest order based on this evidence, or he is not.

At a bare minimum, there are more than 25 million Texans whose judgments regarding their Governor are important to them, who should know the truth, if the truth is, indeed, demonstrable.

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