The Time to Vet Candidates is BEFORE the Election, Reporters

Have you heard what’s happening in Virginia lately? The political leadership of the state is melting down. All because the press apparently failed to do its job before these bozos were elected.

Of course, the national news media has been obsessed with Gov. Ralph Northam, since a right-wing outlet found and released the two-page spread in his medical school yearbook from 1984, featuring a photo of a man in a KKK cloak and hood and another wearing minstrel-show style blackface.

Northam didn’t ignore the release. Instead, he made everything worse. He first copped to the picture and took responsibility, but the very next day, he held a press conference in which he then denied he was one of the people in the photograph, but them admitted to two things no one had even asked about; that he had once “darkened his skin” to play Michael Jackson and to admit that he knew the perils of using shoe polish on the skin because it’s not easily removed. A reporter then asked if he could still “moonwalk” and his wife had the good sense to remind him such a thing was inappropriate.

The question is, instead of asking whether he can moonwalk, where was the Virginia press during the 2017 campaign? Why was no one doing the research these right wingnuts did after the fact? It was his yearbook, so it’s not like it was something difficult to find.

As one can imagine, there were numerous calls for Northam’s resignation, mostly from Democrats, since Republicans had nothing to gain from the resignation. But then, a few days later, just as he was looking to be a shoo-in to take over as governor, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. Vanessa Tyson’s statement, issued about 15 years after the fact, said the encounter started with a kiss but turned into him forcing her to give him oral sex.

Of course, Fairfax denied the accusation, but he also accused Northam operatives of uncovering the statement, as a way of making it less tenable that Northam resign. Think about it; it kind of makes sense, in a warped way. How could Northam resign if his replacement is a sexual predator, right? It didn’t help Fairfax that a second woman, Meredith Watson, claimed Fairfax had raped her as a student at Duke back in 2000.

On Wednesday, the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, admitted wearing blackface as an University of Virginia undergraduate at a party in 1980. He was dressed as Kurtis Blow. Once again, the admission seems unsolicited, but again, I would imagine Virginia voters would have preferred to know this shit before they went into the voting booth.

These are all Democrats, but Republicans have no room to point and laugh, as the Senate Majority Leader, Thomas Norment, is currently under fire because he was once in charge of assembling the 1968 Virginia Military Institute (VMI) yearbook that featured lots of pictures of students in blackface and more than a few racial slurs.

The Norment story was uncovered by the Virginian-Pilot within days after the first three were discovered to be flawed humans, as the cliche goes. Wouldn’t it have been great to have them find these yearbooks and these apocryphal stories BEFORE they were offered to Virginia voters? Now, the state of Virginia is demanding that all these men resign, thus throwing the entire state government into turmoil.

The job of the press is to inform the public before the fact. The journalism profession has largely been failing us by waiting until someone else does the hard work and then repeating the story after the fact. When Ralph Northam announced his run for governor, someone should have been assigned to look into his background. In this case, they could have checked his educational background; a quick look at his medical school yearbook would have uncovered the blackface and Klan picture and allowed for voters to make an informed choice. Same with Fairfax; the second-in-line for the governorship should also be vetted, just in case. And surely, the Attorney General and the Senate Majority Leader should undergo a good vetting, so that voters can make an informed choice.

The press failed us by not vetting Donald Trump, and now we’re finding out they’re not vetting any candidates, when that should be job number one for the political journalist establishment. Finding out how horrible some politicians are a year-and-a-half after the election is not acceptable. If there is something we should know, investigative reporters should do their job and tell us before the fact.


Originally published at The Pragmatic Progressive.