If aliens are evaluating whether to visit Earth and reveal their secrets of the universe, they had better not be looking at TMZ.com in their analysis, or they’d certainly reject the idea. Once again, two scandals about men who misappropriated technology and then lied about it have made headlines, and once again not much is happening because of it. If a politician or activist falls in the forest, will anyone notice? Here I’ve listed a few notable aspects of the “caught red-handed” denial game political operatives play. Gentlemen, consider yourselves prime candidates for the Douchebag Decree.
Adopt a “persona” separate from yourself so that you can feel some distance from your inappropriate behavior—Some men would choose to abuse a dating website if they were going to pretend to be someone they’re not, but Tom MacMaster went so far as to create an entire person with her own history and political agenda, and posted under her name for years: Amina Arraff, a lesbian Syrian activist. He was making a point, he says, by creating this character and writing articles by her for years before suddenly Amina was kidnapped by Syrian security forces. Which of course didn’t happen, but which sucked up rescue resources anyway. But even when looking at liars who don’t go to such extremes in getting what they want (recipients for crotch photos, underage sex, and so on), they often report, once they’ve admitted their behavior happened, that it didn’t mean anything or that it wasn’t really their behavior. But before they admit it…
Deny that any of it actually occurred—I think most of us remember Bill Clinton standing at a podium wagging his finger and saying he did nothing wrong with a certain intern. Or Larry Craig insisting he is not gay. Or more recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger denying he’d fathered a child with his mistress, or Tony Weiner characterizing his posed photos as a prank someone was playing—on him. MacMaster also denied he was actually Amina, for a long time, until last week, IP addresses what they are. At some point, the denials look all too easily like what they are: a stall for more time and a desperate hope the storm will blow away. And I would suggest that this hope is really more about men not wanting to lose power and the access they’ve found to the behavior they enjoy.
Once you’ve admitted it happened, provide a justification—Rep. Weiner followed the David Duchovny model and said he would be entering treatment this week for sex addiction. I can’t know if this is at the core of his behavior or not, although I’m a little wary of excusing predatory sexual behavior (it came out over the weekend that he’s been sending photos to 17-year-olds) via a mental illness diagnosis. But I worry about the easy answer in these cases. MacMaster, on his blog, wrote:
While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground, I do not believe that I have harmed anyone—I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.
Wait a minute. Much more than the narrative “voice” was fictional here. The character was fictional. What happened to the fictional character was fictional. A white middle-aged man who describes action in a Middle Eastern country is something Edward Said would describe as neo-colonialist, but because MacMaster feels “strongly” about it, he has license to create whatever he likes in order to justify his agenda? I would argue that MacMaster has harmed people: He’s harmed actual activists inside and outside Syria who are working toward their own liberation, he’s reinforced ideology about Syria that it is merely a backwards culture so hostile to LGBT people (Amina’s character was an out lesbian) and activists that it would kidnap and possibly kill her. He muddied the story coming out of Syria and took attention away from the protestors on the ground and placed it instead on a lie. And he sees no problem with his behavior at all.
Wait a while, then reinvent yourself away from the spotlight—As Political InQueery reported last summer, there is an afterlife for the people embroiled in scandal, at least sexual scandal. Bill Clinton, Gary Condit, Mark Sanford, and Bob Packwood have all moved on to perfectly successful enterprises. Eliot Spitzer is a commentator. People seem to have forgiven them their dalliances with women, and what else can we presume is the reason for this if not the sexist notion that all men fool around from time to time?
Scandals involving money, bribery, or forgery not related to spending time with one’s secret (opposite-sex) love are much more harshly treated. Charlie Rangel was brought up on ethics charges. Rep. William Jefferson is serving a 13-year sentence for keeping $90,000 in his freezer, and mayors Sheila Dixon and Kwame Kilpatrick also were sentenced for financial shenanigans, although the majority of Kilpatrick’s sentence is for a probation violation, and he was first scandalized for sexting someone on his staff. Now Rep. Maxine Waters will be going through one form of ethics charges or another (it hasn’t been decided which House process she’ll opt for) regarding using her influence to help her husband’s investments. It seems that taking advantage of one’s power over women is forgivable, but taking advantage of one’s power over banks is not.
Something else of note: All of the elected officials facing or serving time for these financial ethics violations are people of color. Anyone want to hazard a guess what that might be about?