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From AJR,   June/July 2011  issue

Gate of Hell   

Can’t the news media stop tacking “gate” on every scandal― and “scandal”― that comes down the pike? Wed. June 29, 2011


By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

It's time to show "–gate" to the gate.

Ever since a certain third-rate burglary in Washington, D.C., many years ago, journalists have insisted on sticking the suffix "gate" onto every scandal that erupts. Big or little, significant or silly, real or faux – doesn't matter. It gets gated.

This has been an annoying practice for years. It's knee-jerk. It's easy. It's boring.

Worst of all, it suggests a false equivalency.

Watergate was serious business. It involved a pernicious and far-reaching abuse of power by the president of the United States and his minions.

Our most recent gate, the endlessly entertaining Weinergate, featuring Twitter-happy Rep. Anthony Weiner – not so much.

A hell of a story, to be sure: A truly creepy congressman (and a prominent one, thanks to his liberal broadsides on the cable) with a predilection for suggestive online colloquies with women, done in by a Twitter typo. But hardly a threat to the republic.

But Weinergate was Teapot Dome (Teapot Domegate?) compared to some of the gossamer gates of yore.

When then-AJR Associate Editor Suzan Revah chronicled the proliferating gates back in 1997, she listed such forgettable fare as Gurugate (did Hillary Clinton conduct "séances" in the White House with historical figures at the urging of her "guru," Jean Houston?); Nannygate (two of President Bill Clinton's attorney general nominees brought down when it is revealed that they had hired illegal immigrants as nannies); and Whitewatergate (an ominous-sounding but utterly inexplicable Clinton-era farrago that ultimately went nowhere).

And things haven't gotten any better (see Weinergate).

We've had Nipplegate (Janet Jackson's breast is exposed briefly during the Super Bowl in 2004). We've had Kanyegate (rapper and record producer to the stars Kanye West interrupts county chanteuse Taylor Swift's Grammy acceptance speech). We've had Gatecrashergate (a couple of poseurs crash a state dinner at the White House).

And there are even recurring gates. There have been no less than three Troopergates since 1993, including one involving Sarah Palin.

Sam Dash, a man who knew his way around gates, was not amused by the gate epidemic. Dash, who died in 2004, served as chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee and later was a consultant to Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr. In 1997, he told Revah that attaching gate to everything diminished the seriousness of truly important episodes like Watergate. "When people hear this proliferation of 'gates,' he said, "they feel the press is telling them this is the same as Watergate, and whatever Watergate has stood for has lost its meaning."

True that.

But there's another reason to stop the madness.

It's just lame.