Alec Baldwin definitely not considering a run for Congress right now, no matter what you've heard
On behalf of the celebrity-political media-industrial complex, we would like to apologize. If you glimpsed a news Web site or cable news station last week, you may have encountered a fascinating bit of intel -- that Alec Baldwin was considering a run for Congress. We now know he's not, okay? But stay with us as we try to unravel a story that was too good to be true.
It emerged with tantalizing detail: With a too-close-to-call race headed to recount, the famously liberal star's home district on Long Island was suddenly at risk of flipping to the Republicans . . . which meant Baldwin might finally have his chance to run for office as his district's Democratic savior in 2012. The story was all over the Web: USA Today, National Journal, Fox News, the New York Post, National Review.
As well-known scholars of celebvocacy, we were asked to appear on MSNBC to discuss the likelihood of a Rep. Baldwin. We had no trouble mustering an opinion for the cameras: No way he'd run. The guy's totally A-list right now. Going into politics would mean exhuming personal matters -- outrageous interviews, ugly divorce, custody fight - that were survivable for an actor, deadly for a pol. Also: Major pay cut.
But Baldwin had said he was interested, right? Where had this story come from, by the way? That was the curious thing: While MSNBC had just cited "reports," most everyone else on the Web seemed to be citing the source of the story as . . . MSNBC.
Seems that, yes, indeed, MSNBC had done a story a day earlier that got everyone else buzzing. But that story, a producer told us, was just a passing 20-second segment that itself referred back . . . to a Huffington Post blog posting. And that HuffPo item turned out to be an ingenious bit of speculation. The writer had observed the possible defeat of Baldwin's congressman, Timothy H. Bishop -- currently trailing GOP challenger Randy Altschuler by 400 votes pending a recount court battle - and recalled that a year and a half ago, Baldwin had told Playboy that he'd love to run for office someday, but he couldn't imagine which one, except maybe the congressional seat if Bishop every left it. Writer Jonah Green then cited an anonymous "ranking Democrat" saying that Baldwin had recently reiterated his interest in running one day.
We checked with Green, who was a little irked MSNBC was getting all the credit for his hypothesis. (He also clarified that Baldwin's conversation with the anonymous Dem happened before anyone knew Bishop might be in trouble.) By then, well, it was all beside the point: Baldwin's rep told the New York Observer that the actor is not interested in Bishop's seat.
"The New York Observer got the story right -- which is that there is no story -- because they called to ask," the rep, Matthew Hiltzik, told us. Which no one else had done. (Including ourselves. While we didn't write about it, we also didn't pick up the phone before going on TV to pooh-pooh the rumors.)
How'd this get so far? Blame the slow week after midterms, which always leaves journalists yearning for the next horse race to start. Blame the frenetically competitive Internet news culture, in which every news Web site wants to reflect every story out there whether it can vouch for it or not. But heck, let's also blame Baldwin for being an interesting guy who gives interesting interviews and has frequently teased the idea of joining the ranks of Reagan, Eastwood, Schwarzenegger -- probably never figuring anyone would call him on it. If it ever happens, it almost certainly won't be this cycle: He's locked into his "30 Rock" contract until March 2012.
The Reliable Source
| November 18, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
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