For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media
As a reporter, one of the most difficult decisions you'll ever have to make is whether to reveal something deeply personal about a public official.
Sometimes, if you're serious about your profession and don't work for some screaming tabloid, you'll hold off, primarily because the revelation makes no difference to anyone.
About the only time you should go ahead and publish, or say it over the air, is when the fact in question shows the official to be a hypocrite, a liar, or an incompetent buffoon.
The issue has arisen again in the last few days in the case of the veteran U.S. senator from Idaho, Larry Craig, who's apparently been less than discreet with his pecadillos.
Craig pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct after he was accused of making a sexual advance on a man who turned out to be an undercover police officer. The incident occurred in a men's room at a Minneapolis airport.
And this is where truthfulness comes in. Craig blamed the whole thing on a "witch hunt" by the Idaho Statesman, which was investigating rumors that Craig had engaged in homosexual conduct.
He denied he was gay and said the newspaper had been spreading rumors about him. As a result, he said, he was under such stress that he had pleaded guilty when he didn't really mean to.
The Statesman's managing editor, Bill Manny, defended the paper's reporting.
"As our story demonstrated," he said, "we followed leads and asked questions... We didn't print anything until the senator pleaded guilty."
The paper said Craig's airport encounter was similar to an allegation against him about an incident in a Washington, D.C., railroad station.
Statesman reporter Rocky Barker wrote that news of Craig's arrest "prompted a political crisis" for the 62-year-old Republican, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 1980 and won his Senate seat in 1990.
"Another ethics scandal is the last thing congressional GOP leaders want," Barker wrote.
He quoted presidential candidate Mitt Romney as saying on CNBC that the scandal reminds him of Mark Foley, who resigned from the House after it was revealed that he had propositioned male pages, and of Bill Clinton, who was impeached for lying about an affair with a White House aide.
Romney said people "who are elected to public office continue to disappoint."
The Newsweek website said rumors about Craig's sexuality date back many years, and at least one blog claimed months ago that the senator had sex with other men in public restrooms.
"But mainstream media didn't touch the story until Craig was arrested during a police sting operation targeting public sex," Newsweek said.
In the same posting, Michelangelo Signorile, who helped found the now-defunct OutWeek, said he hoped the Craig story "will give news organizations the confidence to pursue similar stories about other public figures when relevant."
Signorile, who is gay, said that reporters, editors and news producers are "gradually seeing the importance and the relevance of looking into this issue with regard to public figures."
"If people are going to make other people's lives into campaign issues by promoting ‘family values,' " he said, "then it is right to look into issues relevant to their own lives."
In 1999, Craig was very critical of Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
In an interview on Meet the Press, Craig said, "The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughty boy. I'm going to speak out for the citizens of my state, who in the majority think that Bill Clinton is probably even a nasty, bad, naughty boy."
How about you, Larry? Are you a bad boy too?
This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.