Yes, they do try, some of them — not all of them. (And yes, most of those are married.) And that is where a female journalist who wants to remain a journalist and not somebody's mistress — or, more likely, a forgotten tryst in a hotel room — says, warmly and clearly, "No, thank you."
As a journalist, biographer and author I have spent countless private hours with celebrities — actors, writers, singers, directors, athletes, politicians, entertainers, TV hosts, comedians and business people. (No military men, yet.) They are shot through with ego and power in varying degrees; sometimes they have charisma; sometimes they are attractive, sometimes not.
One of them, a stellar novelist, lounged in bed with a hangover throughout the interview. In Las Vegas, a renowned comedian hunched on the sofa in his bathrobe and slippers. One entertainer walked me around Lake Calhoun and telephoned weeks later. (We did not have an affair. We talked about books.) Another asked me to be his date for the Academy Awards. (He was married. I declined.)
Good interviewing is a staged and temporary mutually agreed intimacy, and if it is done well and the chemistry bubbles, you inspire each other. The subject gives more of himself, and a worthy, insightful article or book can be the result.
Interviewing involves keen listening, being highly attuned to another person. It is often only an hour or two, but I have spent as much as three years off and on working on private histories of successful people, dining with them, traveling with them, sometimes living with them and their families. It can become a friendship of sorts, but beneath it all, this is a job, I am a professional, and I really love my work.
I sometimes also come to love my subjects. You sit close together, you attend to their moods, you ask them to trust you with truths, you enjoy each other, while at the same time you keep an eye on the time, hope your tape recorder doesn't fail and that you can read your notes later when transcribing them at your desk.
Power is an aphrodisiac, it's said. I hadn't noticed that, so much as that intelligence and candor make subjects attractive. I am grateful and moved when they share themselves. It makes a better, truer story for both of us and for posterity.
Meanwhile, the French (and others) are wondering why in the world we care about yet another (famous man's) indiscretion. And more to the point, why all this media coverage? I wonder, too. It is undignified and unworthy of us as media people. It degrades our common culture.
Like idiotic tabloid and Web fodder about who is pregnant, who wore a revealing dress, the speculations about which neo-celebrity or micro-star had plastic surgery, it's a disgrace. It's boring. And the world has so many more important issues, especially now.
Male military misconduct covers a spectrum of behavior, from rape among the troops to the Tailhook scandal. Those are legitimate news and crimes, and they merit reporting.
Religious figures and politicians who have made a platform of monogamy, heterosexuality or morality and then are caught doing the opposite (Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, Larry Craig, Newt Gingrich, et al.) should be covered. Officials whose bad judgment could jeopardize national security (President Bill Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus, for example) should be exposed.
Otherwise the private life of a public figure is largely irrelevant. The only real consequence of elevating it into the media is amplified pain to a spouse and children. Mostly, it's just not news.