You know, people say they are stunned, shocked. On and on. A close personal friend of mine who is a lawyer in NYC responded to an e-mail I wrote asking for an opinion on Eliot Spitzer’s alleged dalliances like this, “A topic better discussed off-line.” No doubt. No doubt.
How many times do I have to write about how “rising star” is the kiss of death? About how expectations outgrow human nature, as does our fantastical desire for there to be a mortal we can call perfect?
The rising stars fall not because our expectations are too high or because they lack the ability to rise as high as we need them to or wish they will or think they can.
Rising stars fall because no one, no thing, can rise indefinitely. And the plateau or the fall or decline is all relative. But it is also inevitable. And people just refuse to remember this and adjust their hopes and expectations accordingly.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have hope or hope for hope or believe in hope. It only means that you shouldn’t walk around saying how shocked and betrayed you feel. You snowed yourself if you thought it wasn’t possible.
On one level, Spitzer’s story is similar to that of many leaders in our society. We become infatuated with them, even begin to worship them, believe they can do no wrong, assigning them qualities and expectations that too often are not humanly possible to fulfill. Meantime, the leaders themselves, mere mortals, begin to believe they actually hold mythic powers, at times exercising them with abandonment and hubris, often leading to their own demise. All this reminds me of sundry fables about young wizards, who when they finally embrace their own individual power, fail to understand its true use, and especially its limitations.
On another level, the Spitzer saga makes me think about notions of “imperfection.” I often think that in our desire to ascribe mythic qualities to leaders, we forget — indeed, I think we actually seek to deny — the reality that we all, including our leaders, are imperfect. Thus when imperfections arise, we are ill-equipped to discern their true meaning to us. We want people to grovel or put forth false modesty when caught, or we want their heads. Room to gauge our failings gets squeezed out; we try to ignore the reality that human imperfection exists, until once more it is staring us right in the face and cannot be escaped.
Now, if Ohio Governor Ted Strickland were revealed to have used the Emperor’s Club, that would shock me. Because his personality and Spitzer’s could not be more different.
Frankly, Spitzer fits the profile of someone who did what he’s alleged to have done and got caught precisely.
Here are some experts on that, thrown in with some other commentary that has stood out to me:
Why does someone in such a visible and responsible position act in this way? Over the next few days you’ll hear plenty of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals give their sage perspectives.
But for all intents and purposes, no one can know why Governor Spitzer acted as he did, except the governor himself. As a matter of fact, it is against my code of ethics to state what the governor’s problem might be.
That’s because the reason that people stray away from their marriages are complex. One person may use extramarital sex to get back at a partner, another to escape obligations, a third to experience a thrill.
Chicago psychoanalyst Mark Smaller believes one can find useful parallels in the case of certain patients, from all walks of life, who exhibit a striking capacity to compartmentalize risky, unethical or even illegal behavior, a process known as the “splitting” of part of the personality.
“They can be otherwise completely law-abiding, sensible, reliable people,” Smaller says. “Often the behavior in question is caused by intense anxiety, stress in the workplace or home, or feeling overwhelmed.” And often, he says, the behavior can involve sex, drugs, or something like shoplifting.
“They compartmentalize to the extent that they don’t feel any sense of shame or guilt,” Smaller said. “Until,” he adds, “they get caught.”
Most newsrooms will not assign reporters to report this story directly. But it will show up on the front pages, homepages and broadcast reports of news organizations around the world. Here are some key questions journalists can ask themselves as they figure out how to handle this story, if only from afar, and the inevitable cycle of local stories raising similar issues:
1. What is the journalistic purpose of running such a story? Be specific.
2. How will the public benefit?
3. If private behavior is involved, how could such behavior affect public life?
4. Has a crime been committed?
5. What do we know about how law enforcement has handled the case? Any indications of favoritism, entrapment or other mis-steps?
6. How long am I willing to wait for details to emerge before I publish?
7. Do I have any special obligations when the story involves lurid accusations of sexual misbehavior?
8. If no crime is committed and sex is consensual among adults, what circumstances would justify publication or broadcast?
9. What if the misbehavior had occurred three years ago? Thirty years ago? Is there such a thing as a journalistic statute of limitations?
10. Is prostitution a victimless crime? What is the moral difference between a governor using an adult business with discretion and his hooking up at an out-of-town bar?
11. What influence should the public statements and policies of a politician have on the decision to publish public/private behavior? (Say you learn that a political candidate had an abortion. Does it matter whether that candidate is pro-choice or pro-life in your decision to publish?)
12. What safeguards have I established to resist the urge to publish or broadcast the more lurid details of sexual behavior, even when those details become public record? (As in the Starr Report.)
Let’s look at how this story will play out across the media:
I hate that Spitzer violated the public trust in him, or what little was left anyway. The whole thing is gross and vile. If anyone is familiar with NYS politics (and if you aren’t, be very glad – ignorance is truly bliss!), you know that Spitzer just handed over a HUGE victory to the Republican Senate leader, Joe Bruno, who himself is under investigation by the FBI for corruption. Who will pay attention to boring old corruption charges when there’s illicit, dangerous (literally, according to the affidavit) sex out there? The real losers of all this are New Yorkers, and quite frankly, women who truly are sex trafficked.
1. Why would the bank tell the IRS and not Spitzer himself if there was a suspicious transfer? Spitzer is a longtime client, a rich guy and the governor. We’re talking thousands of dollars here, not millions. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that they spotted a “suspicious transfer” made by the governor, and that this is how things began. It’s possible it was just ordinary paperwork the bank had to file with the government whenever some particular flag was raised, but if that’s the case, why did the DoJ go to DefCon 3?
2. What is a USA doing prosecuting a prostitution case? This isn’t normally what the feds spend their time with.
3. Mike Garcia is a Chertoff crony. Sources familiar with the investigation say that he sent a prosecution memo to DC two months ago asking for authority to indict a public figure (Spitzer). Which means they had their case made long before the wire tap of February 13. Why did they then include this line from that conversation in the complaint?
LEWIS continued that from what she had been told “he” (believed to be a reference to Client-9) “would ask you to do things that, like, you might not think were safe — you know — I mean that…very basic things….”Kristen” responded: “I have a way of dealing with that…I’d be like listen dude, you really want the sex?…You know what I mean.”
This salacious detail does not seem like it’s necessary to make their case, and appears to be added for no other purpose than to destroy Spitzer’s career.
4. How did Spitzer’s name get leaked to the media, and who did it? Didn’t happen to Dave Vitter.
5. Why did Mike Bloomberg suddenly start talking about running for governor recently? And why did he give $500,000 to Joe Bruno? He’s good buddies with Mike Mukasey. What did he know and how did he know it?
6. The Mann Act? Are you kidding?
7. Spitzer’s been in the line of fire of the GOP hit squad for a while. Roger Stone, Roger Stone, Roger Stone.