Tabloid Culture

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Those who yearn for a more tabloid news culture in Los Angeles are smiling this week.

As most everybody now knows, Antonio Villaraigosa has a girlfriend on the side. He's had her for most of the two years he's been in charge at City Hall.

We all learned about it because the little Daily News outhustled the Times and forced the mayor to cop to his secret life.

In this same spot three weeks ago, I admitted to not knowing if the mayor was having an affair. I had heard the rumors, like most of the journalists who observe Villaraigosa.

I knew that he came with a reputation as a womanizer.

But I never tried to prove he was cheating on his wife, Corina -- I didn't care that much.

I care more now, after a flurry of plot twists that would make for a pretty steamy telenovela.

Unless you are a fan of the mayor or a believer in journalism ethics. Then you are probably just disappointed.

Let's set the stage.

Back on June 8, Villaraigosa disclosed that he and Corina were separating. He didn't say why, just that the situation was private and that he took responsibility.

His quote was, "I feel a personal sense of failure."

It was a pretty big story in the mainstream media and on Spanish language news. Channel 52, the Telemundo outlet in L.A., told viewers the rumors of a marital split were true.

What Telemundo anchor Mirthala Salinas didn't say was that she knew better than any other reporter why the mayor's marriage was over.

You see, she's the other woman.

Salinas is about 20 years younger than the mayor, born in Mexico, with a TV anchor's striking looks.

Villaraigosa fessed up to the affair -- reluctantly -- when the Daily News told him it would publish a story -- with or without his confirmation.

The Times then found a lady in the Valley who remembers the mayor arriving with a bottle of wine at the journalist's condo... more than a year and a half ago.

Wait, it gets better. Before getting to the mayor, Salinas also dated two other dashing Latino rising stars. One of them, Speaker of the State Assembly, Fabian Núñez, is one of Villaraigosa's closest allies... on school reform and many other issues.

Villaraigosa's advisers hoped to contain the story, but so far have failed miserably.

The mayor and his younger TV babe are talk show and blog fodder now. The Washington Post ran a piece making fun of Villaraigosa, and the story has reached London via staff-written stories in the Guardian and the Independent. Radar magazine calls Villaraigosa our Horndog Mayor.

There are two main threads in the public conversation about what this all means for Antonio Villaraigosa's political future. One holds that this is a blip, a minor episode that will be forgiven by voters who dismiss extra-marital affairs as essentially private matters.

The other school of thought is that the revelation seriously dims Villaraigosa's star power. Already there have been Latinos saying they won't vote for him again. Worse, some say they are embarrassed by him.

When he runs for governor -- if he still plans to -- every profile written about him will mention that he's a serial adulterer. Questions will be asked about not just his honesty, but his maturity.

The best thing may be if he and Salinas get married and settle down. At least then he won't be seen as the guy who wasted time on an inconsequential fling while failing to move forward his agenda on the schools.

For her part, Salinas released a statement saying that she behaved appropriately. Her flack put out the word that she asked several times to be excused from reporting on Villaraigosa.

But there are also reports that she had denied the affair when asked by station officials.

By the end of the week, Telemundo was running for cover. The network put Salinas on leave, and announced it would investigate to decide if ethics were breached. Ya think?

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this is LA Observed.

Photo courtesy of Telemundo, Channel 52