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General News    H3'ed 5/19/16

Does America Always Forgive Disgraced Public Figures? Not These Transgressors!

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With the current disinhibited reality TV environment in which a Presidential candidate can call Sen. John McCain a "loser" for being a POW with no repercussions--and few even remembering-- it might seem there is nothing a public figure does that cannot be swiftly forgiven. After all, Alex Rodriguez is still playing for the Yankees despite admitting drug use, chef Paul Deen is still selling cookbooks despite reportedly using the "n" word and Mark Sanford was elected North Carolina Senator despite leaving his post as governor and publicly cheating on his wife in Argentina.

The Internet has enabled greater public shame
The Internet has enabled greater public shame
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But a closer look shows there are limits to what we will tolerate from public figures. Despite Eliot Spitzer's successes as New York Attorney General, and later as Governor he was forced to resign in 2008 over employing prostitutes, a habit on which he spent up to $80,000 charged investigators. When he thought in 2013 the public might have forgiven or forgotten the scandal and ran for New York City comptroller, he was soundly defeated in the primary. Recently, Spitzer was again in the news with a likely prostitutional scandal. A similar scenario unfolded for Anthony Weiner, husband of top Hillary Clinton aid Huma Abedin and former U.S. representative who served New York's 9th congressional district. He was roundly defeated in a bid to be New York Mayor in 2013, perhaps thinking in two years people would have forgotten a little thing like his t exting a genitalia photo to a female college student. And Bill Cosby? The only thing the nation thinks is funny is how he was able to get away with his alleged acts for decades.

It has been 22 years since figure skater Tonya Harding arranged to have her ex-husband and body guard break the leg of her skating rival Nancy Kerrigan with a collapsible metal baton so Kerrigan would withdraw from the 1994 Olympic figure skating trials. She did. Fans turned their back on Harding who was was blackballed from the skating world and ended up in the world of boxing--a punch line both literally and figuratively.

While President Bill Clinton survived the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment, many expect the unsavory facts to resurface during his wife's upcoming bid for the presidency. And while Ted Kennedy served as a senator for decades, many believe the Chappaquiddick incident in 1969 in which he drove his car off a one-lane bridge and his young colleague Mary Jo Kopechne drowned, cost him the White House.

Sometimes the behavior of public figures is so tawdry, we stop loving to hate them and hating to love them and give them the ultimate punishment: exile from the news. Who, for example, has even thought about John Edwards, John Kerry's vice presidential running mate in 2004 who c heated on his wife with his campaign videographer as she was dying of cancer and even had a child with her? Who has heard any news about former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who fathered a child with the family's housekeeper in an outrageous and extended dupe of his wife Maria Shriver that spanned his entire governorship? The public also largely exiled movie director Woody Allen, losing all interest in his antics after his affair and marriage to 21-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow.

Still, the ultimate banished public figure is clearly cyclist Lance Armstrong who maintained the lie of using no performance enhancing drugs for years, deceiving the public and sports fans everywhere. When the truth came out, fellow athletes, the press and his hometown would have little to do with him. "I'm that guy everybody wants to pretend never lived," he told a British paper.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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