AZ Capitol Times: When do private issues become public matter?

PHOENIX - The report published by Phoenix New Times detailing threats supposedly made by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu to an ex-boyfriend should prompt some reflection on an important question: When does the private become a public matter, and was the New Times justified in also revealing personal details about Babeu's love life? 

Rumors about the nationally known immigration hawk and the impact they could have on Babeu's congressional campaign were nothing new among political insiders.

But chasing after, then putting the details of somebody's private life on display – gay or straight – is not the typical business of news organizations. But where serious accusations of misconduct necessarily involve someone's private life, the situation changes.

Babeu is accused of abusing his power as sheriff. And the pattern of alleged behavior, which portrays a sense of running above the rules, leads to questions of sound judgment. 

If an imaginary – but straight – sheriff who touted his tough stance on immigration issues had threatened to deport an immigrant ex-lover over a personal matter, those allegations would hopefully be taken seriously just the same. In this case, however, Babeu's private sexual life became the venue for serious charges of misconduct. "Jose" and his attorney knew full well that would be the case, too. 

Babeu would have the public believe his sexuality and the parade of explicit sexual details that was included in the New Times story was the ultimate goal, and that this was an attempt by his political enemies to damage him politically. So, he turned his Saturday press conference into a defense of his lifestyle and of every American's choice to live with a degree of privacy. 

That slick redirection scores some easy political points, and it will make him look like he's taken the higher road. But it doesn't dismiss the claim that Babeu threatened to deport his ex-boyfriend if he went public with their relationship and revealed that Babeu is gay. Babeu might want to move on, saying he's addressed the issue, and claiming that the issue is his homosexuality. But the accusations of threatening to deport an ex-boyfriend in order to keep him quiet will not go away with a defiant coming out party. 

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office will be inundated Monday morning with records requests, as journalists try to verify his claims that explicit text messages and photos weren't sent from a government cell phone. Reporters across the state will also try to land interviews with the ex-boyfriend. 

Whether having his sexual life splayed for public perusal was the goal, it will probably go on until the questions about the troubling allegations are cleared up.

Given that it's only February, one also has to remember that election-year politics has only just begun and this story will only continue to heat up.

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