Sex Scandal Extravaganza!!!

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Nice post. Now, allow me to disagree with some minor part of it: I think part of the Weiner problem is that it took place over social media. Pictures were being passed around.

    If you have pictures, you have a story. No pictures? Might as well be a rumor from the Enquirer.Report

    • Avatar M.A. in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Pictures are half of it, but I suspect just as much of it was the glee with which editors could get away with making ribald puns and jokes for a few days. “Weiner in Weiner Scandal”, “Pics of Anthony’s Weiner Go Public”, “Congressman’s Weiner Problem” – the headlines practically write themselves.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Good point about the pictures. I think that the one thing missing from the article – and there’s no way around it – is the weight of evidence at a given time. Would Tod have really run with the McCain story, or passed on Hart? If I recall correctly, the McCain rumors were really weak, and the Hart stories were common knowledge, before the first headlines appeared. Maybe that’s the ingredient that Tod can’t take into account. As an editor, he probably wouldn’t have done anything he’d regret on those two stories if he’d been there at the time and read the reporters’ notebooks.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        A quick note – I was trying to determine which stories I’d have run early, not ever.

        I’m assuming, for example, that even if I’d never have OKed running rumors about Arnold having a kid a decade and a half earlier, once the story broke and he ‘fessed up and it’s begin reported everywhere you can’t just pretend it doesn’t exist – you gotta run it.Report

  2. Avatar Roger
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    says:

    Tod,

    This is probably the most intelligent treatment of these various scandals that I have ever read. Like you, I have always had problems with someone of power abusing it with an intern, and am glad to see the hypocrites such as Newt get their just deserts.Report

  3. Avatar M.A.
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    says:

    I remember someone saying that Schwarzenegger getting involved with a sex scandal made him more a Kennedy than marrying into the family. But you’re right that his stuff was more tabloid than anything else.

    Gary Hart invited it, in fact dared the press to run a story like it if they could dig one up. I probably would have run it on that basis alone.

    Looking at Chris Lee’s issue, I think it falls into the category of hypocrisy, but it’s hard to say.

    Regarding John Edwards – at the time, it was screwing around on his cancer-stricken wife, which seems headline-worthy. I suspect that a decision not to run it would be now tinged with regret since the story has grown into a full federal trial. I also suspect that absent news media running the story from the beginning, the coverup might have worked and there might not even be a trial currently. Perhaps a quiet plea bargain, perhaps a sealed child support agreement, but not a public trial for the potentially corrupt use of campaign donations in the coverup.Report

  4. Avatar Russell Saunders
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    says:

    I would have put Vitter in the same category as Larry Craig et al.

    Otherwise, I’m with you all the way. Especially your closing thoughts about John Edwards.Report

  5. Avatar Rufus F.
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    says:

    It seems like there’s a bit of a tit for tat thing going on with these scandals at this point, which makes me wonder what one started the whole ball rolling as far as making a really big deal of them. The first one I can remember being a really big deal in the media and political spheres was Clarence Thomas, but maybe there was one before that. Chappaquiddick was a big deal because someone died.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
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      says:

      It also seems to me that the problem Americans have is this: they very much want their politicians to be Christians, but it’s really easy to be a Christian in America. It really should not be easy to be a Christian, which is immediately evident in the Scriptures. But, in America, it’s really easy to be a Christian. So, the title doesn’t mean as much there.Report

    • Avatar M.A. in reply to Rufus F.
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      says:

      Jefferson & Hemings, James Buchanan & Rufus King, Wilbur Mills & “Fanne Fox”.

      Grover Cleveland not only had an illegitimate child but was a “cradle-robber” in the old parlance.

      Millard Fillmore was Hot For Teacher.

      I think we just forget about the sex scandals as time goes on, especially when they’re old news and most high school history classes can barely get from 1776 to World War II even with cliffs-notes pacing.Report

  6. Avatar rexknobus
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    says:

    Tod — excellent essay. Can I trouble you with one small quibble that has always bugged me? Clinton/Lewinsky. Absolutely agree that he was in power and dealing with what was essentially an employee who was subject to his power; and granted, she was not making the proper decisions in that situation. But I have always objected to phrases like “…it should have been about the inherent abuse of power that takes place in sexual harassment cases…” when discussing this case. She was an adult. She enthusiastically participated in the situation. I find it a bit demeaning (ironically enough) that she is often portrayed as a total victim, as opposed to an excited, excitable young person having a great time.

    They both should have known better, but she was a fully functional adult. Being an adult does not protect anyone from bad decisions, but it does entail responsibility for them. She wasn’t a meek girl scout cowering in a corner; she was a full-fledged woman doing exactly what she wanted to do (if I remember correctly, often initiating the activities). There is no need to diminish her to accentuate the wrong-doing.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to rexknobus
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      says:

      That she was an adult is irrelevant. Clinton was a person with significant work/career power over her and in her chain of command. Sexing up somebody you have that much power over is an abuse of power.Report

      • Avatar rexknobus in reply to greginak
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        says:

        greg — sort of a sliding scale to me. The more he used his power and position to seduce, cajole, maneuver, coerce her, the worse the crime. My recollection (not that good, perhaps, because I really didn’t follow the story that closely) is that it was pretty consensual. That doesn’t mean that it was all o.k. (and I tried not to state that it was) but it does mean that she was a full voluntary participant. If he used his position to corner her (emotionally or physically) then that would be one thing. If she grinned and hopped right in, that would be another.

        Her adulthood seems extremely relevant to me. Had she been underage…

        I might be prejudiced here. I have never been a boss, but I have had more than one boss with whom I had affairs. Some weren’t such a good idea. That last one? We’ve been married 30 years now. 😉Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to rexknobus
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          says:

          “That last one? We’ve been married 30 years now. ;)”

          Yeah, I’m guessing that’s not the type of affair Lewinsky and Clinton had.

          Also: Work must have been a lot more fun for you than it was for me!Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to rexknobus
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          says:

          My initial impression was that Clinton was the predator and I was angry. It was 180 from that, poor guy. I won’t go into the details but he did everything Bill Clinton the actual human being could humanly do to stop it from happening. [Just google presidential kneepads. Poor Bill never had a chance. Barack, Mitt, sure. But not Bill. And it’s not as if we didn’t know who and what we were electing.]Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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            says:

            Definitely the psychology of the individual. What would make Clinton, who is an immensely smart man, do something so stupid and self-destructive? A woman who looked and acted exactly like that.

            (I don’t recall which Friend of Bill it was who said “At first, I didn’t believe it. The I saw a picture of her with the big hair and I knew it was true.”)Report

    • Avatar A Teacher in reply to rexknobus
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      says:

      There are certain cases where consent, regardless of adulthood, cannot be presumed, even when it’s stated. There’s lots of ways to look at this, but pretend I’ve got 10 employees, 5 men and 5 women. I start an affair with one of them as two consenting adults. What happens?

      First there is critique of her work by her coworkers. Is she getting good assignments on merit or because she’s my lover? Is she being evaluated for promotions the same way as the others? Does anyone feel that they have work harder ~SOLELY~ because she’s banging the boss?

      Then there’s the matter of what the others feel they need to do to keep up. Another woman (or man) may feel compelled to hit on me simply to have a fair shake at it. Even if we keep our affair professional, there will ~always~ be that underlying tension and question of “What do I need to do to get the professional treatment she gets?”

      While I respect that these are all working adults, the employer/ employee relationship is VERY dicey for these kinds of relationships. Under no circumstances could I, for example, have sex with a student-Teacher (an adult learning to be a teacher or intern) because I also evaluate them. My father never could have had an affair with one of his draftswomen. These are crimes that would get us dismissed immediately (Or at least have our resignations demanded). He got a pass because he’s the President and above those rules.

      For me it did not start out being about lying under oath: It was abuse of power over a subordinate. Of course ~then~ it became based on lying under oath which I also consider a pretty “Big Deal”.Report

      • Avatar rexknobus in reply to A Teacher
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        says:

        Teacher — I guess this is where it starts sounding a bit off to me. (I am not a lawyer, so I can’t address how the law handles these things). To me, if we are discussing an adult’s behavior, I always presume consent. If I am then shown clear signs of coercion, or diminished capacity, or something along those lines (in other words, something that overrides the “adultness” of the less powerful person in question), then I can qualify the stated consent with: “they didn’t know what they were saying” or “they were forced into it”, etc. But being “adult” means to me: I get to make, and take responsibility, for my actions. All of them.

        None of this is to be construed as approving of behavior in the situations that you outlined above, or between Clinton and Lewinsky, or even between myself and my boss (despite our positive outcome). Abuse of power over a subordinate is always going to be bad, and it has to be watched out for, and dealt with. But all relationships that have, as a component, different levels of power, are not necessarily wrong. Abuse is not a necessary component in these situations.

        Your examples are powerful and probably come up more than would be desired. It is very clear that these things can cause huge disruptions in the workplace. My comment was not meant to suggest that anything like that is o.k. But just because one party in the affair has more power, that does not remove all agency from the other party.

        Ms. L and President C both knew what they were doing was wrong. They were both adults and decided to do it anyway. They suffered consequences for it. Nothing that I have heard in their story suggests to me that she was coerced in any way. It must have been quite a thrill for her, there in the office, with the President of the United States. I get temptation. But I haven’t seen much evidence of her being victimized by anything other than her own desires and decisions. I feel she should be judged as an adult, and not as a helpless victim.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to rexknobus
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          says:

          rexknobus –

          The problem (and not just for Clinton & Lewinski, but in many harassment cases) is this: When the affair ended one was able to continue their career unimpeached (sorry, I couldn’t help it) while the other’s career was put in jeopardy. In this case, Lewinsky was an up and comer in the White House – the place young DC critters want to be, career wise. When the President was done and it looked like she wasn’t, she was quietly shipped off to the Pentagon, a place that, aside from military professionals, is seen as a career black hole. They may start as two consenting adults, but it career- and power-wise it is a unilateral relationship.

          There are almost no quid pro quo harassment cases any more, at least none that I ever see. All the ones we come across are cases where something starts as consensual, something changes, and the employee in a lesser position of power is put in an hostile work environment – which is what being shipped to the Pentagon is.Report

          • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Tod Kelly
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            says:

            Tod et al. — I’m obviously doing a really bad job of expressing myself here. I’m not in favor of these kinds of relationships; the greater the power discrepancy, the worse the situation can be. I understand completely the risk of abuse. I’ve been trying to say that treating her as less than an active participant, a victim, is not quite accurate and, oddly enough, demeans her. She decided to do what she did, willingly, enthusiastically, if I remember correctly. (For my money, any coercion in a relationship, be it mental, physical, or professional, could be construed a rape.)

            So, let me re-phrase it as a question: When a boss hits on an employee, or an employee hits on their boss, does the employee then automatically lose their “adult” status and become instead an “adult with diminished capacity” whose decision-making is not to be trusted? Does participating in such an affair automatically delete the less-powerful person’s ability to decide? Does Ms. L, despite the spectacular disparity in status and power, retain any responsibility for what she does? Or is she completely a helpless victim?

            And, doggone it (because I’m starting to sound like the world’s biggest apologist for power inequities in affairs) Dr. Saunder’s comment below makes me respond: my widowed mother married her doctor — marriage lasted 27 years until his death (and he remained her doctor).

            O.k., enough from me…Report

            • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to rexknobus
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              says:

              I’m not saying it doesn’t happen (and I think it was more commonplace and accepted in previous generations). It is strongly frowned upon these days, tho.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to rexknobus
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              says:

              2 things…

              1. Your mom married her doctor, and you married you boss? Rebels! 🙂

              2. A little red flag comes up when we’re notified you leave a message. That is so cool, how do you do that? Do you know?Report

            • Avatar karl in reply to rexknobus
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              says:

              “When a boss hits on an employee […] does the employee then automatically […] become instead an “adult with diminished capacity” whose decision-making is not to be trusted?”

              The employee becomes an adult whose decision-making cannot be trusted to be uncoerced. Can the employee be sure that a “no” will not result in workplace retribution? No.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to karl
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                says:

                karl — “…an adult whose decision-making cannot be trusted to be uncoerced?” Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

                tod — Hell, I raise red flags wherever I go! Also, three more quick anecdotes: #1: a very close friend teaches English. His 7th grade student fell in love with him and hit on him. He declined. When she was 18 and a senior in high school, she still loved him and hit on him again. He declined (though it was a bit tougher). She graduated college, came back at 21, and hit on him again. He accepted. Married for years. Anecdote #2: my brother married the first girl he ever dated. He is in his late 50’s and has never even kissed another woman. Anecdote #3: back in 1968 I worked with a woman in her late 50’s. She left home and got her own apartment when she was 11. She married when she was 14, telling her 21 year old husband that she was 18. Five kids. When I knew her, she was a constantly smiling, happy lady who flew all over the country to visit her five kids (all college grads).

                I have trouble with these absolute statements about who is suited for whom. The heart is a large place. Dangers abound — but anyone who has ever fallen love knows that from the start.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to rexknobus
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                says:

                This was awesome. Thank you for this.Report

        • Avatar A Teacher in reply to rexknobus
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          says:

          A fair response and I think I know what you’re going at. In fact in I’ve seen relationships between upper admin and teachers before. It’s dicey but thanks to things like Union Rules it’s hard for there to be true retribution should things go sour, or favoritism if they go well. Or there was. With the union busting in our state that’ll change.

          I get why you’re saying it’s demeaning but I just see it differently. Maybe it’s just hard enough that we can’t write a law about it, but the common practice is that you just don’t do it. There are so many factors to consider because a workplace borne relationship between boss and subordinate impacts more than just the two parties.

          I guess… I know that Ms. L said she wanted it and she was okay with the “risks”. I just don’t believe that she really knew all the factors and risks going in. Did she know what the outcomes would be if/when there was a break up? Did she know now her relationship was going to change things with the other staffers.

          Overall I think that the “Right” thing to do would have been for her to request the transfer to the Pentagon and then start the relationship, or put the relationship on hold until the term in office was over so tehre wouldn’t be a conflict.

          But I’m old fashioned….Report

      • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to A Teacher
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        says:

        FWIW, it is considered grossly unethical for a physician to have an affair with a patient. The power differential between patient and provider is too great, and it irrevocably alters the clinical relationship for there to be any kind of romantic involvement.

        I view employer-employee relationships in largely the same way, and for reasons already laid out perfectly well by A Teacher.Report

  7. Avatar Dan Miller
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    says:

    ” I’d have gone with the Mark Foley story, partly because of his penchant for running on the morality card, and partially because it appears that he used public funds to arrange meetings with his lover. ”

    I think you meant Sanford here–otherwise this has some NAMBLA-esque implications that I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean. 😉Report

  8. Avatar Tom Van Dyke
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    says:

    For many, many months it was a given that there were a certain group of GOP officials who would be on the news nightly saying that any man with the audacity to cheat on his wife should be thrown from public office.

    The GOP argument was that Clinton perjured himself, not the adultery itself. [Witness tampering, also.]

    http://www.davidstuff.com/usa/impeacharticles.htm

    As for the news angle, we all know the mainstream press had the story and spiked it, right? It was when Drudge broke it that the MSM said what the hell, the cat’s out of the bag.

    As for its pressworthiness in the first place, I say it was only because of its relevance to the Paula Jones lawsuit, and again, that Cliunton lied in a legal proceeding—and also to the America people, with several cabinet members in tow. It was a grave misuse of his office to co-opt officials of the American government out there as cover for his personal misconduct. That was the worst offense in the whole deal in my eyes, although not technically illegal, I suppose.

    Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “I believe the allegations are completely untrue.”

    Commerce Secretary William Daley added “I’ll second that. Definitely.”

    “Third it,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

    Bad. Very bad.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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      says:

      The impeachment was for perjury, yes. But that was well down the road. The affair was the first chink in the armor that the GOP poked at (no pun intended). He didn’t just show up to a random court house at testify he didn’t have sex with Lewinsky; he did so because by that time the scandal had been ongoing.Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to Tod Kelly
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        says:

        It was also a result of Kenneth Starr being in the position of trying to justify the immense budgetary waste of money on his investigation. By the time all was said and done it ran over $70 million and Starr was also milking the process, deliberately – and illegally – leaking grand jury information to the press constantly in a bid to keep Congress from defunding him. If he hadn’t brought some sort of a charge, then the eyes would have been that much sharper examining just what $70 million of investigation was really spent on.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly
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        says:

        It’s just not true that the GOP called for his resignation because of the adultery. That’s the revisionism, and was the line from the pro-Clintoners from the first.

        And had there been no Paula Jones lawsuit, I don’t believe the affair was newsworthy. But I suppose those days are long gone. No wonder we get plastic men like Barack and Mitt. We prob seen the last of the interesting sorts like Clinton and JFK. [LBJ for that matter.] So be it.

        [On the other hand, Al Gore turned out to be “interesting,” that sex-crazed poodle hunk of throbbing enviro-manhood, he. So you never know…]Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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          says:

          My recollection is that the adultery was considered a big deal, but in the sense of “This is why we shouldn’t have elected him, this is why we shouldn’t re-elect him, and this is why we shouldn’t trust a single thing he says.”

          I don’t remember the resignation part until they got the lying under oath rack to hang their hat on. (I do remember some calls for resignations over other things well before the blue dress, however.)Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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          says:

          I’m not sure that I remember a call for Clinton to resign initially either. Well, I mean aside for the killing Vince Foster thing. It was a while into the scandal that we got to demands for resignation, and a while after that before we got to impeachment. At least as my memory serves.Report

  9. Avatar Kyle Cupp
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    says:

    Thoughts? My thoughts? You have too much time on your hands, Tod. 😉Report

  10. Avatar Will Truman
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    says:

    I love this post, though I don’t agree fully with the conclusions. I am not a big fan of doing so on the basis of hypocrisy (though if you are going that route, Edwards should qualify by the statements he made with regard to Clinton).

    Another thing is that I think there is more to it than run it or don’t run it: how much in the way of resources do you devote into verifying it? This, to me, is one of the main factors in whether or not something gets covered. The issue I had with the coverage of McCain wasn’t that they went with what they had so much as they seemed to scour the earth to put it together (failed, then ran it anyway). I don’t blame them for not following up on Edwards. But you take a case like Sanford’s where there was a story (The Disappearing Governor) before the affair was made public, and I’m not sure how you don’t run with that.

    The other thing is this… I am uncomfortable with how much we should be focusing exclusively on the politician in question. Donna Rice was a messed up kid (well, until she did the Playboy thing). Monica Lewinsky an intern whose life was not derailed by the sex but by the coverage. And even a case with adults, saying that one person who is sleeping with a married man deserves scrutiny because she happened to fall for a hypocrite and another gets privacy because she slept with a congressman who avoided saying the “wrong” things, strikes me as uneven. Not to mention the humiliation of spouses. These are, at least by my current thinking, private matters. And the office-place ramifications? Internal matters. When possible.Report

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