Monday 26 Feb 2018 | 12:44 | SYDNEY
Monday 26 Feb 2018 | 12:44 | SYDNEY

Spitzer's tawdry sex story: Is this news?



12 March 2008 09:31

In the continuous coverage of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s tryst with a high-class hooker at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington – amidst all the high-volume verbiage and opinion – there’s one question which has not received much airplay: is this actually news? I have grave doubts about the American media’s practice of reporting the personal peccadilloes of public figures. I don’t accept the argument that a person’s private behaviour is revealing of their public actions: President John F. Kennedy conducted a reckless sex life but in most of the key moments of his presidency, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was the most cautious and prudent policymaker in the room.

I don’t see what this kind of thing gets us except a cheapened public life. Some will reply that where private behaviour clashes with public positions, such hypocrisy should be exposed – but who among the media is wise enough to make these kinds of moral judgments?

Naturally, there are exceptions to my rule, and one of them is the lawbreaker exception. If a public figure has broken the law, then it’s hard to argue the public does not have a right to know about it. That’s why Spitzer’s a goner: this may be a victimless crime – it’s hard to claim victimhood status when you bill $4300 for an hour’s work – but it apparently remains a crime.

Even the lawbreaker exception can be rubbery. Bill Clinton’s various liaisons were with willing and unpaid participants, but he was untruthful about them while under oath, and that second-degree offence licensed the media to report on the whole sorry saga. Much better to avoid all this by erring against ruining the lives of public figures (and, more importantly, their families’ lives) on the basis of their human frailties.

Not that any of this will save Eliot Spitzer.

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