Washington reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg managed to write an entire story about the marital woes of potential Republican presidential candidates yet only vaguely glanced over President Bill Clinton, whose proven adultery and allegations of sexual harassment almost brought down his presidency and led to his impeachment.
A marital crisis in the thick of a campaign always requires an explanation. Thus did Hillary Rodham Clinton sit by her husband, Bill, for what seemed like an excruciating "60 Minutes" interview about his alleged infidelity - an appearance that, in the eyes of many, helped save his 1992 presidential campaign (and foreshadowed unseemly aspects of his presidency).
Cheri Daniels, whose aversion to politics appears to be the reason her husband, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, is dithering about running for president, had no shortage of stories during her much-hyped speech in Indianapolis last week. There was the one about her driving a dump truck, the one about how she attended a senior citizen's prom, about how she took a prize for cow milking at the state fair.The Times' tone was more hesitant and regretful in those primordial, pre-Internet days when Bill Clinton was running for the presidency. An excerpt of Times reporter Robin Toner's similar January 12, 1992 piece, headlined "What Can Candidates Expect to Keep Private? "
But the story Mrs. Daniels did not share is the one that politicos and pundits are dying to hear: the one about how she married her husband - twice.
Mrs. Daniels is the subject of intrigue over an episode nearly two decades old: In 1993, she left her husband and four daughters and moved to California to marry another man - only to remarry Mr. Daniels in 1997. And so she is the latest example of a political wife dealing with delicate marital matters, and whether it is possible to keep them private.
Her story is already being twinned with that of Callista Gingrich, third wife of Newt Gingrich, whose admissions of infidelity are well-known. And if either woman needs a kindred soul, she might look to Maria Shriver, California's former first lady. Last week, four months after her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, left office, the couple announced they were separating - a move perhaps unthinkable had he still been governor.
The 1988 campaign often seemed dominated by "character issues," and when it was over much of the political press corps conducted endless debates on how and why it should cover a candidate's personal life. But Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia and the author of a recent study called "Feeding Frenzy," said that no real consensus emerged on how to handle sexual issues.Perhaps by declaring them "nonissues." On the campaign trail in July 1992, Times reporter Isabel Wilkerson seemed relieved the accusations against Bill Clinton had failed to derail his path to the Democratic nomination: "Gennifer Flowers is long forgotten....The charges of womanizing, in particular, seem to be a nonissue, and some seemed impressed that Gov. Clinton had weathered the scrutiny."
By contrast, on Sunday, Stolberg suggested that Newt's new wife would have to answer for his past behavior:
But old infidelities may require explaining as well. That is surely the case for Mr. Gingrich, facing a Republican base deeply concerned with family and faith. He presents Mrs. Gingrich as evidence that, after two divorces, he is a happily married man. But she has yet to answer questions about the affair they had while he was still married to his second wife. If his campaign progresses, analysts say, she may have to respond.