Hillary's sex life, Frist's gorilla surgery and Christopher Dodd

The mainstream media has its priorities.

Published May 24, 2006 4:51PM (EDT)

The mainstream media sometimes tells us more than we want to know about some U.S. senators. Earlier this week, the New York Times informed us that Hillary Clinton has spent time with her husband on 51 of her last 73 weekends but on only one day in February 2005. And just this morning, the Washington Post walks us through Bill Frist's early-morning bathroom routine -- shower, hair dryer, the whole bit -- by way of telling us that he sometimes performs heart surgery on gorillas at the National Zoo.

It's all very interesting, we're sure. But what about Christopher Dodd?

Now, granted, the Democratic senator from Connecticut -- the other Democratic senator from Connecticut -- isn't the subject of sex-life obsessions and has neither operated on a primate nor diagnosed a brain-dead woman from the Senate floor. At least as far as we know. But Dodd did announce earlier this week that he's going to "do all the things that are necessary to prepare to seek the presidency in 2008," which would seem to put him in the category of senators about whom Americans might like to learn a little more.

The editors at the Times seem to know better. The paper's 300-word report on Dodd's announcement says virtually nothing at all about who Dodd is or what he has done in 25 years as a U.S. senator. The sum total of the background the Times provides: "Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat ... has a considerable amount of money -- roughly $2 million ... considered running for president in 2004 ... but ... chose to run for re-election instead, winning his fifth term by a wide margin." His votes? His political leanings? Alliances he has made? Stands he has taken? Nada.

The Washington Post, which gives Frist's gorilla story 1,000 words and an online photo essay, relegates Dodd's news to a 162-word digest item that covers the same sparse ground as the Times' piece does. What sets Dodd apart from the 10 other senators who may be running in 2008? Well, he has less money than some of them, the Post says, and he's a "long shot" candidate starting from "a near-dead stop when it comes to fundraising and organization."

We don't doubt that that's true. But we wonder: Would it really have been so hard to report on something beyond the horse race aspect of Dodd's announcement? With a half an hour of Web work behind us, we can tell you a few things about Dodd. It's not a complete picture, but at least we're taking the camera out of the drawer.

Dodd served in the Peace Corps, the Army Reserve and the House of Representatives before he was elected to the Senate in 1980. He gave a nominating speech on behalf of Bill Clinton in 1996, and he voted against Clinton's impeachment in 1999. He voted for the confirmation of John G. Roberts and Condoleezza Rice, but against Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Alberto Gonzales.

Dodd voted in favor of the Brady bill in 1993. After the 2000 presidential election, he helped to write the Help America Vote Act and worked hard to get it through Congress. He voted against a late-term, or so-called partial birth, abortion ban in 2003. Although Dodd voted for the use-of-force authorization for Iraq in 2002, he has since accused the Bush administration of going to war on "false premises." In November, he supported a Senate amendment that would have required the president to establish a timetable for the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Dodd's Senate Web site touts him as "a respected legislator who works in a bipartisan fashion to better people's lives." In the National Journal rankings for 2005, Dodd checked in as the Senate's 22nd most liberal member, putting him in the middle of the pack of Senate Democrats with a score that's almost identical to Hillary Clinton's.

Rankings like those -- not to mention 25 years' worth of Senate votes -- may be susceptible to all sorts of misuse and distortion, but we'd submit that they're at least as important, and maybe even as interesting, as the fact that a hard morning of gorilla surgery has Frist "reeking of silverback testosterone."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Christopher Dodd D-conn. Hillary Rodham Clinton