In recent times, mainstream news has been too much like tabloid or reality television. If you don’t know what John Ensign, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn have been up to, was it hibernation or blunt force trauma to the head that caused your “long rest?” But because these men have been caught in, or accused of, sexual scandals of varying degrees of severity, news coverage has become obsessive and unavoidable. Are all of these scandals worthy of the same level of public scrutiny? Why are we so fascinated and ready to offer an opinion? And what does this say about us as a society?
One of the first things I noticed was the dynamic that gender played in these scandals. “Boys will be boys,” but the women involved in these situations are often depicted as whores or seductresses who “asked for it.” Let’s be perfectly clear: In cases of sexual harassment and assault, women are victims, not predators. In the alternative, the wives of the powerful men aren’t treated any better. The fact that they trusted their husbands is deemed stupid or naïve. Or they are seen as frigid, power-hungry bitches who must have known they married selfish, cheating jerks. These attitudes strike me as an epic failure for the Feminist movement. It’s disgusting that these clichés about women are part of the conversation about the vices of men.
The threshold question should be whether any of these scandals are our business. The litmus test for whether a politician’s actions require scrutiny could be: Did their actions break the law or the ethical rules? Ensign, Edwards and Strauss-Kahn have allegedly broken the law. In these situations, since we are innocent until proven guilty, the media has an obligation to provide an unbiased reporting of the facts, but without the salacious overkill we’ve been experiencing. Since Louisiana Senator David Vitter was a regular at a Washington brothel, which is illegal, and remains in the US Senate, the air is thick with hypocrisy.
Anthony Weiner deserves special mention. He undoubtedly displayed bad judgment and broke a promise to his wife, but not to his constituents. But should seven terms of committed service to New York be wiped away due to stupid Twitter and Facebook behavior? Evidently, the answer is yes. As of June 21, 2011, Anthony Weiner resigned from the US House of Representatives. But the story of his public life may not truly be over. Ask Eliot Spitzer and President Bill Clinton how quickly we can forgive, but not forget, a sex scandal where sex is actually involved.
But when the vices of men, such as Weiner and Schwarzenegger, are private matters and no laws are broken, it really isn’t our business. Let their wives have the last word. We’ve become like the Romans in the Coliseum—we’re bloodthirsty for public humiliation. From our televisions, computers and smart-phones, we play emperor, offering no compassion. Instead, we’re ready to feed politicians to the lions for the hypocritical, judgmental fun of it. But in 2011 when the real scandal of men—their true vice—involves letting weak and powerless Americans go hungry, homeless, unemployed, and uninsured, where is the 24-hour news coverage of that scandal?