Nothing sells newspapers or boosts TV news ratings like a good sex scandal. And if one of the people involved happens to be a politician, so much the better. Journalists, after all, love dirty laundry. They love to expose the flaws of the powerful, even when many in the press corps have the very same flaws.
So when Mark Sanford, the married governor of South Carolina who has four young children, came clean and admitted he went to Buenos Aires to be with his girlfriend, well, you can imagine the glee that permeated the ranks of the Fourth Estate.
After all, he was a Republican. And better yet, he was a conservative! Sure, reporters will jump on a sex story no matter what party the offending politician calls home. But when he’s a Republican, boy oh boy, do they salivate.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and I’ll show you what I mean.
If you’re of a certain age you may remember way back to 1974, when Wilbur Mills, a Democratic congressman from Arkansas and chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee was stopped by the police for speeding. Once the car pulled over, Mills’ passenger jumped out and ran into the capital’s Tidal Basin. That the passenger was “Fannie Fox, the Argentine firecracker” was a nightmare for the congressman — and a dream come true for every political reporter this side of Neptune.
Two years later, there was Wayne Hayes, another powerful Democratic congressman, this one from Ohio. Turns out Hays gave his beautiful, young secretary — who just also happened to be his mistress, the lovely Elizabeth Ray — a pay raise courtesy of you, the taxpayer. When it hit the fan, Ms. Ray told reporters, “I can’t type, I can’t file, I can’t even answer the phone.” Hey, nobody’s perfect. Hayes resigned.
In the 80s, there was Gary Hart, then a Democratic senator running for president, who was caught on film with a 29-year old Miami model named Donna Rice. She was sitting on his lap on a yacht called Monkey Business, which was anchored at a resort in the Bahamas. The senator’s wife back in Colorado was not amused.
The list goes on. And on. And on.
But not all sex scandals are created equal — not in the eyes of liberal journalists, anyway. Generally, sex is covered one way when the naughty boy is a Democrat — and another when it’s a Republican who’s been caught with his pants down.
In 2006, the sex scandal involved a Republican congressman from Florida named Mark Foley. Seems he was sending emails and instant messages of a sexual nature to congressional pages – male congressional pages, if that makes a difference.
A year later, the name of Senator David Vitter, a conservative Republican from Louisiana, was found on the phone records of a Washington madam.
A year after that, in 2007, another conservative, Idaho Senator Larry Craig was caught playing footsy in the men’s room at the Minneapolis airport. A police officer testified that Craig was soliciting sex.
What makes sex scandals involving Republicans different from the other kind is that reporters tend to turn Republican sex scandals into a problem not just for the guy involved -but for all Republicans. And the general theme is fairly simple and straightforward: Republicans are the conservative party, the party of family values – and therefore, Republicans are a bunch of hypocrites for not practicing what they preach.
Democrats, on the other hand, don’t make a big deal out of family values, so when a Democrat gets caught with a model on his lap, or with a stripper in his car, or a bombshell on his congressional payroll, it’s his problem – and that’s pretty much where it ends. In other words, as far as liberals in the media are concerned, you get points when your party does not make a big deal out of morality.
When Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic governor of New York, got caught with a hooker, reporters didn’t try to turn the story into an indictment of all Democrats. The story was just about Spitzer and the hooker.
When Barney Frank was reprimanded by the House of Representatives because he had a relationship with a male prostitute whom he had hired as his personal assistant, reporters didn’t condemn all liberal politicians just because Barney Frank is a liberal
When Democratic Congressman Mel Reynolds from Chicago was convicted of having sex with a 16-year old campaign worker, reporters didn’t play the story as a problem for the national Democratic Party.
And when then-President Bill Clinton looked the American people in the eye and emphatically told them, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” journalists didn’t try to turn the story into some kind of parable about Democrats in general; the story was about one particular Democrat.
But now we have a Republican governor in the cross-hairs. And I’m guessing it won’t be long before journalists slide into their comfort zone and tell us how the governor is just the latest Republican family values hypocrite to be caught. Sanford confessed at two in the afternoon. By eight o’clock that same night, Keith Olbermann on MSNBC was having a field day with the story – gleefully reading personal emails the governor sent to his girlfriend to the accompaniment of cheesy mood music supplied by Olbermann’s producers. The salivating has already begun.