Tell me again: Why should we get all worked up over the revelation that the New York governor paid for sex? Will it bring back to life the eight U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq that same day in a war that makes no sense and has cost this nation trillions in future debt? Will it save those millions of homes that hardworking folks all over the country are losing because of financial industry shenanigans that Eliot Spitzer, as much as anyone, attempted to halt? Perhaps it provides some insight into why oil has risen to $108 a barrel, benefiting most of all the oil sheiks whom our taxpayer-supported military has kept in power?
Sure, the guy, by his own admission, is quite pathetic in all those small, squirrelly ways that have messed up the lives of other grand public figures before him, but why is an all-too-human sin, amply predicted in early Scripture, getting all this incredible media play as some sort of shocking event? The answer is that, while having precious little to do with serious corruption in public life, it does have a great deal to do with stoking flagging newspaper sales and television ratings.
The sad truth is that reporting on major corruption, say, the rationalizations of a president who has authorized torture, doesn't cut it as a marketing bonanza. Just days before this grand exposÃƒ©, the president vetoed a bill banning torture, and instead of being greeted with horrified disgust, the president's deep denigration of this nation's presumed ideals was met with a vast public yawn. Torture, unlike paid sex, doesn't have legs as a news story.
Sex sells, and frankly it would seem far more exploitative for the news media to pimp this tale to the public than anything that VIP escort service did with the pitiable governor. His behavior was not really any more wretched than messing around with a young and vulnerable White House intern who didn't even get paid for her efforts, yet Bill Clinton survived that one, whereas Spitzer was presumed dead on the arrival of this "news." The New York Times, which editorially has supported the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, whose vast White House experience clearly did not include corralling her husband, now editorializes contemptuously about Spitzer's betrayal of the public trust as well as about his exploitation of his "ashen-faced" wife, who, like Hillary, stood by her man.
The media consensus from the opening salvo was that Spitzer must resign and he will be thrown to the dogs, which is unfortunate because, like Clinton, he has done much valuable work in the public interest, and the outrage over this personal dereliction, tawdry in the extreme, is excessive. I certainly never wanted Clinton to resign, let alone be impeached, but why is Spitzer's paying for sex more disgraceful than ripping it off? Yes, Spitzer allegedly broke a law that shouldn't be on the books, and his resignation in disgrace is inevitable, but it bothers me that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney remain in office despite having violated enormously more serious laws.
Frankly, I don't care what any of these politicians do in their personal lives as long as the practice is consensual, and the thousands of dollars that exchanged hands in this case would provide a presumption that the lady in question was indeed a willing partner in this commercial transaction. True, Spitzer is an outrageous hypocrite for having prosecuted others caught in what should not be considered criminal behavior, but since when is hypocrisy on the part of a politician, particularly as to sex, so shocking?
I wouldn't have written this column had I not read The Wall Street Journal's Page 1 news story headlined "Wall Street Cheers as Its Nemesis Plunges Into Crisis." The article begins with the crowing statement "It's Schadenfreude time on Wall Street" and goes on to quote those whom Spitzer went after over what should be considered the criminal greed that has predominated on Wall Street. It was Spitzer, as much as anyone, who sounded the alarm on the subprime mortgage crisis, the obscene payouts to CEOs who defrauded their shareholders and the other financial scandals that have brought the U.S. economy to its knees.
The best rule of thumb these days is that ordinary Americans should be mightily depressed over any news that Wall Street hustlers cheer, for they have been exposed as a dangerous pack of scoundrels quite willing to rob decent, hardworking people of their homes. And of course no one on Wall Street ever paid for sex.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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