Another sex scandal rocked the Detroit political arena after the Detroit Free Press exposed the mayor’s illicit affair with his chief of staff in January. The mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, had an extended affair with Christine Beatty, which was exposed after a police investigation uncovered thousands of sexually explicit text messages sent between the two in 2002 and 2003.
The affair itself was not the issue; the problem was that the police officers investigating the affair were fired. They brought a suit against the city that called Beatty and Kilpatrick to the witness stand. Once on the stand, the two lied under oath and now face a combined twelve-count complaint that brings charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and misconduct against the mayor.
Political sex scandals seem to come around dozens of times a year. What makes Americans blow their collective tops every time a politician has sex outside of marriage? The first answer is that it detracts from the character of the perpetrator. A man or woman who defies the stereotypical scripts about marriage is seen as morally weak and untrustworthy while only serving to remind us of ourselves.
I have many friends who date like idiots. Frankly, people of all ages tend to date in a particularly idiotic manner. I cannot go two days without hearing about some epic failure with the opposite sex. It stands to reason since we are all nearly incapable of a perfect, traditional relationship, we would be quick to overlook sexual misconduct.
Politicians, however, are held to a superhuman standard of morality. Their inability to adhere to these standards serves as a reminder that politicians are mere mortals like the rest of us. Since we all know that humans are weak and easily corruptible, we place politicians on a higher moral plane to ease our insecurities and fears about the corruption brought on by power. Sexual affairs remove this security blanket, exposing societal fears.
Besides ripping away our comfort, there is another reason why sexual affairs are given so much attention. A ratings-starved media takes special care to expose these scandals because of the relatively recent move toward infotainment. After all, nearly every president since the birth of the nation has been suspected of having an affair, not to mention the thousands of congressmen that stopped for a little nookie on their way to Washington.
Affairs were rarely exposed to the degree they are now because news had considerably less concern for ratings than it does today. As news organizations were absorbed by super-corporations like Viacom, the emphasis changed from informing people to making money. It explains the rise of “action news” and why almost 15 minutes of a half-hour news program is devoted to entertainment news in Southern California.
This change in the news landscape made stories shift from global events to any stories that seemed to interest people. The newscasters assume that sex and scandal sell the same way soap operas do. They devote extra time to scandals like the one in Detroit. As a result of the extra time spent on the scandals, Americans tend to know more about and be more interested in sexual affairs.
Since Americans are becoming more interested in affairs, the news devotes more time to these events and neglects to show other events around the world. This creates a snowball effect where events repeat themselves over and over until ridiculous amounts of time are spent covering the corruption of a couple of people while stories like the Iraq War are barely discussed.
The final reason why these affairs become an enormous deal is the politicians’ tendency to lie and use their connections to conceal their misconduct. Take Barack Obama, who abused drugs early in life before going into politics. Obama fully admits to making these mistakes and working hard to overcome them. George W. Bush was once an alcoholic, and he also admits to this problem. Kilpatrick had a sexual affair with his chief of staff and used his connections to fire two police officers, lie on the stand, and obstruct justice. Two of these politicians have had careers that brought them incredible influence. The other’s career is likely to be over after his term is complete.
Whatever damage is done can be mitigated with a simple admission of guilt. If Bush or Obama had not admitted to their past problems, they would have become unmanageable scandals during their campaigns. Kilpatrick did more to destroy his career by covering up the affair than simply admitting to it ever could have. A politician who uses his contacts to hide the truth is like a dictator in the eyes of the people, making the fears of corruption and mistrust exposed by affairs into a reality.
Kevin Pease is a third-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.