- - Monday, August 19, 2013

Anthony D. Weiner’s scandal highlights the media’s disparate treatment of such political circuses. Lost in the firestorm each scandal creates is this key distinction: When Democrats get caught, the media view it as an individual failing; when Republicans slip up, they hold the entire party responsible. As a result, Democrats’ troubles are contained, while GOP scandals mushroom.

When Republican Senate candidates W. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock self-immolated last year with statements about rape deemed insensitive to women, they didn’t just torch their candidacies. As far as the media were concerned, they set fire to the Republican brand as well.

In contrast, when Mr. Weiner decided to redefine the meaning of junk email, the media concluded that he has a personal problem. Assuredly, he does — several, actually — but the point is that in the media’s eyes, his problem is an isolated one. The New York City mayoral candidate’s sexting offenses are not seen by the media to redound to Democrats as a group. Why not? If in the Akin and Mourdock incidents, these individuals’ failings were extrapolated to be symptoms of their party’s flaws, why not Mr. Weiner‘s?

These examples underscore the media’s double standard in its treatment of similar incidents. In the case of Democrats, scandals are personal; in the case of Republicans, they’re systemic.

The media regard a Republican’s mistakes as symptomatic of a deeper issue that betrays his true character. It’s as though, in an unguarded moment, a member of a secret club has spilled the beans — like inadvertently letting slip a long-guarded password or handshake.

Yet a Democrat’s failings are his and his alone. For the media, one bad apple does not spoil the whole barrel. Instead, there is a muted tut-tut over how the bad apple got there in the first place.

This disparity of treatment effectively means that a Democrat’s scandal is walled off by a media fence, keeping the party safe from contamination.

So conditioned are we to this reflexive media reaction that few even recognize it is happening. If pressed, political pundits would compulsively respond: What do Mr. Weiner’s transgressions have to do with the Democratic Party? But any comparative effort to disassociate the Akin and Mourdock missteps from the GOP would be greeted with disbelief.

One could make the argument that Mr. Weiner’s behavior belies rhetoric that liberals are more sensitivity to women’s issues, that as he views women as objects, liberals do, too. If the man uses women as simply a means to an end to be discarded later, then, it could be said, the party has a problem with women.

Unfair? Of course. However, isn’t this the same unfair political extrapolation Republicans endured last year and to which they are commonly subjected?

Our conditioning to this disparate treatment is so thorough that Republicans feel they must fall all over themselves to disprove their stupidity, all the while knowing that characterization is nothing more than a media concoction.

It is time we came to recognize and label this type of “political profiling” for what it is. It is well past time that the media put a stop to it, and that “we the public” stop buying into it.

Stupidity is a purely personal choice — as in the case of Mr. Akin, Mr. Mourdock and Mr. Weiner — not a collective one. It can lead individuals over a personal and political cliff, but it doesn’t necessarily stampede the whole herd over the edge. In politics, Americans may need to cull the herd in order to spare themselves the depredations of a few unruly politicians. However, it would be unwise to brand every member of the party for the flaws a few, or to be taken in by media that seek to do so.

J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.