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Friday, Dec. 13, 2013
It's a Scandal!Posted Wednesday, December 30, 2009, at 10:40 AM
I am currently reading a wonderful biography of America's 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by Jean Edward Smith. It is a lengthy work, at more than 600 pages plus notes, but not at all tiresome to read. Overall, the book has increased my admiration for the great leader and strengthened my beliefs in liberal progressivism. But, personal ideologies aside, I have been struck by an interesting political and social difference between those times and now.
FDR had a long-standing amorous relationship with a woman named Lucy Mercer, which was certainly known to many close to him, though the media never even broached the subject -- nor did any opposing presidential candidates, for that matter. Really, FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt had mostly a marriage of convenience, and they spent much of his presidency apart. Imagine what would happen if Mr. and Mrs. Obama were suddenly distant and often separate!
It could be said that, in the "old days," members of the press, and perhaps politicians in general, were more respectful of persons of authority, or perhaps sex scandals were just too risqué for conservative American readers and voters. But really, why is it the public's business who the president spends his (or, hopefully someday, her) spare time with? Don't we have other, more important news to cover?
Obviously, as a member of the press myself, I believe that transparency and honesty are essential qualities in a public official, and that the journalist's role as a watchdog is ever important as a check on government behavior. However, these things don't necessarily extend into the private lives of public servants. Unless the president is philandering with a spy or a lobbyist or someone else with an equally sinister motive, I don't think it's really journalism's role to comment.
Of course, I've already been quite overruled on this topic. Mass media outlets and tabloids alike have discovered that scandal sells, and unfortunately the bottom line often takes precedence over other considerations. You certainly don't have to think too hard to come up with many political figures who've been publicly chastised for their private behavior: Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, etc.
There are a couple, but certainly only a couple, of instances where I think media attention can be justified. For instance, former Congressman Mark Foley, who sent inappropriate e-mails to male teenagers who worked as Congressional pages. Also, Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who essentially abandoned his state office while traveling to visit his Argentinean mistress.
I don't expect my lone little blog to end the torrential coverage of political sex scandals, or even just celebrity ones (think Tiger Woods). I'm afraid these stories are here to stay. But, I am interested to know readers' thoughts on the subject, especially those of you who think the coverage is justified.
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Sydney is a former staff writer for the Democrat-News. She received degrees from University of Missouri in both music and magazine journalism. She played oboe with the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra and the Marshall Municipal Band while she was in Marshall.