John Diaz: How Gary Hart’s fall changed all the rules

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - INSIGHT - JOHN DIAZ John Diaz is The Chron­i­cle’s ed­i­to­rial page ed­i­tor. Email: [email protected]­i­cle.com

It was too good to last. Af­ter Hol­ly­wood brought a pair of in­spir­ing, based-on-re­al­life dra­mas about jour­nal­ism to the sil­ver screen (“Spot­light,” 2015, about the Bos­ton Globe rev­e­la­tions about the Catholic Church sex-abuse scan­dal and “The Post,” 2017, about the Wash­ing­ton Post pub­li­ca­tion of the Pen­tagon Pa­pers), “The Front Run­ner” por­trays a less glo­ri­ous mo­ment for the pro­fes­sion.

The film stars Hugh Jack­man as Gary Hart, the 1988 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, in what is widely — at least su­per­fi­cially — cited as a turn­ing point in the rules of en­gage­ment be­tween jour­nal­ists and the politi­cians they cover.

It of­fers an abun­dance of wince-wor­thy scenes about news peo­ple in ac­tion and raises thought-pro­vok­ing is­sues about how much the flow of in­for­ma­tion has changed in three decades, for bet­ter and for worse.

As with the 2014 book on which it is based, “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Pol­i­tics Went Tabloid,” by Matt Bai, the film is gen­er­ally sym­pa­thetic to the for­mer Colorado se­na­tor in accentuating his se­ri­ous­ness about pub­lic pol­icy and his shock and re­vul­sion (with no small touch of sanc­ti­mony) that his pri­vate life would be­come a de­ter­min­ing fac­tor in his quest for the White House.

The film is mostly faith­ful to ac­tual events, with some creative lib­er­ties, such as “Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter” A.J. Parker (played by Mamoudou Athie), whose scenes rep­re­sent a com­pos­ite of Post and New York Times scribes along with a fab­ri­cated ex­change with Hart af­ter tur­bu­lence on the cam­paign plane.

But the essence of the jour­nal­is­tic foibles sur­round­ing Hart’s down­fall are pre­sented in stark terms. The Mi­ami Herald’s stalk­ing of Donna Rice and stake­out of Hart’s Wash­ing­ton apart­ment was smarmy in con­cept and am­a­teur­ish in ex­e­cu­tion. Its rush to pub­li­ca­tion was reck­less.

Once the story rolled off the presses, the frenzy was on. One of the take­aways from the sor­did tale was how the Herald’s story, how­ever flawed, lib­er­ated the rest of the main­stream press to lift their in­hi­bi­tions — or, more point­edly, their stan­dards — about re­port­ing on Hart’s long-ru­mored wom­an­iz­ing.

Yet watch­ing “The Front Run­ner” brings home how much news gath­er­ing has been de­cen­tral­ized, de­moc­ra­tized and de­sen­si­tized since then. Hart was fa­mously warned by pal War­ren Beatty that “cam­eras are ev­ery­where.” To­day, they truly are. It would no longer take an anony­mous phone call to a ma­jor news­pa­per to re­veal a 50-year-old ma­jor pres­i­den­tial can­di­date board­ing a plea­sure boat in Mi­ami with a 29-year-old woman who was not his wife. It’s hard to imag­ine that a sim­i­lar jaunt on the “Mon­key Busi­ness” would not have been doc­u­mented by a passerby on the dock or a pas­sen­ger with a cell phone — and would im­me­di­ately go vi­ral on so­cial me­dia, per­haps with a big boost from TMZ.

Alas, Hart’s down­fall did not set a new stan­dard for can­di­date chastity. Amer­i­cans have since elected two pres­i­dents — Bill Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump — al­leged to be se­rial phi­lan­der­ers. How­ever, the rise of the #MeToo move­ment in the past year is likely to heighten the at­ten­tion on ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual in­dis­cre­tion by pow­er­ful men.

Yes, the old rules were bro­ken in 1987, and Amer­i­cans can de­bate whether they were bet­ter served when jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing cam­paigns had a pact with the sta­tus quo to look the other way. The quandary con­tin­ues to mu­tate, with cell phones at ev­ery dock and ho­tel lobby. Di­rec­tor Ja­son Reit­man’s “The Front Run­ner,” with a strong per­for­mance by Jack­man, is a cau­tion­ary tale for jour­nal­ists and politi­cians alike.

The Fox fol­lies

Speak­ing of oblit­er­at­ing jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards, Fox News has done it again, this time on Pres­i­dent Trump’s fa­vorite show.

The Sierra Club re­cently used a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest to un­earth a May 2017 email ex­change be­tween a “Fox & Friends” pro­ducer and an aide to thenTrump EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt. The pro­ducer was un­abashedly so­lic­i­tous in not only ask­ing for “bul­let points” on what Pruitt wanted to say, but of­fer­ing to send an in­tro­duc­tory script for re­view.

Pruitt’s team was only too happy to play. The script in ques­tion cited the new di­rec­tion at the agency af­ter “the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion left be­hind a huge toxic mess.” The EPA aide wrote back, “Yes — per­fect.”

This is not jour­nal­ism; it’s why so many call the Fox News Chan­nel “state me­dia.” With­out of­fer­ing de­tail, Fox said it dis­ci­plined em­ploy­ees in­volved in the email play, just as it con­demned the on­stage rah-rah ap­pear­ances of Sean Han­nity and Jea­nine Pirro at a re­cent Trump rally in Mis­souri.

Each re­mains on the air.

Water­front of dreams

It was all smiles in Oak­land last week as the A’s un­veiled their lat­est plan for a new ball­park, this time on the water­front just north of Jack London Square.

No one was smil­ing more than Mayor Libby Schaaf, who has ad­vo­cated the site near Howard Ter­mi­nal from the day she took of­fice in Jan­uary 2015. The A’s man­age­ment at the time had stud­ied the op­tion and dis­missed it as too cum­ber­some and ex­pen­sive to de­velop, from toxic cleanup costs to trans­porta­tion.

Now the A’s have come up with gor­geous draw­ings of a pri­vately fi­nanced ball­park with el­e­ments that are al­ter­nately throw­back and fu­tur­is­tic. But can it re­ally hap­pen as en­vi­sioned for Open­ing Day 2023?

Schaaf, for one, is a be­liever. She noted that the big dif­fer­ence be­tween last week’s roll­out and last year’s an­nounce­ment of a pitch to build a ball­park next to Laney Col­lege is that, this time, the A’s were ac­com­pa­nied by neigh­bors and gov­ern­ment lead­ers. Last time, they were on their own.

“We were there, all to­gether, around one vi­sion,” Schaaf said in a phone in­ter­view Thurs­day.

Plenty of hur­dles re­main. Per­haps the most ob­vi­ous, and po­ten­tially the most daunt­ing, is ac­cess. The roads around Jack London Square rou­tinely be­come grid­locked to­day. BART is a long hike away — and a walk few fans would want to take af­ter a night game. The idea of a gon­dola ca­pa­ble of shut­tling 6,000 pas­sen­gers an hour from down­town sounds in­trigu­ing un­til one does the math of what it would take to get 30,000-plus fans to a ball­game.

Still, Schaaf is op­ti­mistic that the ac­cess is­sues can be iden­ti­fied with an up­com­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal re­port, and rec­ti­fied with an as­sist from state and fed­eral funds. If it works, it could be the cat­a­lyst in the way AT&T Park trans­formed a San Fran­cisco neigh­bor­hood.

“We have such a beau­ti­ful water­front, yet it al­ways seems like it has not quite reached its po­ten­tial,” Schaaf said. “This, I be­lieve, will change ev­ery­thing.”

It also of­fers the hope of a rein­ven­tion of the Coli­seum site that is about to be aban­doned when the War­riors cross the bay to their new arena and the Raiders grab the $750 mil­lion in cor­po­rate wel­fare and run to Las Ve­gas. The A’s want to take over the site along In­ter­state 880 for a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment that would help fund their new ball­park.

It’s an au­da­cious vi­sion, and a chal­leng­ing one. If it suc­ceeds, it will be yet an­other ex­am­ple of how a sports fran­chise in this re­gion has found a way to build a state-of-the-art venue with­out heavy re­liance on tax­pay­ers’ sup­port.

Now that is some­thing to cheer.

Courtesy Sony Pic­tures

Hugh Jack­man por­trays Gary Hart.

Bjarke In­gels Group

Ren­der­ing of the pro­posed ball­park.

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