When I first heard about the investigation of the "D.C. Madam" and her infamous list of clients, I immediately had a sense of dread. This is one of those stories that has great potential to hurt politicians and activists on both sides of the aisle, since sin is sin and tends to show up in all kinds of places. Nevertheless, we live in an era in which political issues linked to the Sexual Revolution cannot be avoided.
Thus, it is understandable that journalists consider conservatives who are part of the whole faith-based, family-values world to be the greater sinners when they fall. After all, moral conservatives are their base. There are some liberals, in this doctrinally conservative context, who are soft on sin or, more accurately, strong advocates of redefining sins. The bottom line: The conservative sinner, the hypocrite, gets the bigger headlines, because we expect their political stock to go into freefall.
So I am not sure what to think of an interesting hole in the Washington Post story by Shailagh Murray that features the headline "Senator's Number on 'Madam' Phone List." Here are some key paragraphs at the top of the story:
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) apologized last night after his telephone number appeared in the phone records of the woman dubbed the "D.C. Madam," making him the first member of Congress to become ensnared in the high-profile case. ...
"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," Vitter, 46, said in a statement, which his spokesman, Joel DiGrado, confirmed to the Associated Press.
"Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling," Vitter continued. "Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there -- with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way."
Later on, the story provides more background on the senator and his political ties.
Vitter was the first senator to endorse former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for president and serves as the campaign's Southern regional chairman.
Vitter and his wife, Wendy, a former prosecutor, have four children. On his Senate Web site, Vitter says he is committed to "advancing mainstream conservative principles" and notes that he and his wife are lectors at their hometown church.
Now, it is pretty easy to hit the Web and find the name of that "local church" -- St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie, La. And it is not hard to find out that this means he is a "lector" -- someone who reads Scripture from time to time in worship -- in a Roman Catholic parish.
Now it is also not surprising to learn that a politician from Louisiana is active in a Catholic parish. However, I thought it was interesting that the Post used the rather liturgical term "lector" to refer to Vitter's church involvement, but then declined to identify him as a Catholic.
Now here is my question: Is this omission good or bad?
People like me tend to say that Catholics usually have a rough time in public life, especially those who are supposed to be moral conservatives. So is it a sign of progress that the newspaper of record here inside the Beltway didn't pin a scarlet "C" on the senator's forehead? Would the newspaper have stressed the fact if, oh, he was a Southern Baptist? What think ye?