KENTUCKY VOICES
Posted on Sunday, 23 March 2003
Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky.com site logo

Sexual Preoccupation

MEDIA COVERAGE OF POLITICIANS' PRIVATE LIVES DOES NOT HELP PUBLIC

by Bob Sloan

CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST

There may be something less interesting to read or hear about than the sexual behavior -- extramarital or otherwise -- of governors and presidents, senators and congressmen.

A list of the scientific name for various varieties of moss growing on trees in the acres of forest behind my house for instance.  The post-production after life of Survivor survivors.  A door-to-door missionary's pitch for an off-brand path to heaven.

But nobody's lending inches of front-page newspaper space or minutes of newscast air time to those topics, and they're easily avoided.

On the other hand, any citizen sufficiently interested in current events to read a paper (any paper) or listen to the occasional talking head is gonna get a whole lot of information about political penises.

Seems like it gets worse.

What started as brief, sniggering sophomoric articles about Walter Jenkins, a pitiful aide to Lyndon Johnson caught soliciting sex in a public restroom, became a misapprehension that such information constitutes actual news.

Soon we were reading reams about Rep. Wilbur Mills' midnight mall swimming with a beltway stripper, or Rep. Wayne Hays' misadventures with somebody or other.

There was open speculation about former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller's fatal heart attack in an office late at night with an attractive, much younger woman.

By the time Jimmy Carter ran for president, the fact he had from time to time looked at other women lustfully was front-page news and, to a degree, threatened his candidacy.

Anyone who wasn't in a coma during Bill Clinton's second term knows what this fixation on political penises led to.  Al-Qaida plotted the destruction of the World Trade Center while hundreds of FBI agents spent their workdays investigating the president's buffoonish sex life.  All of government -- and the public, for that matter  --  fixated on a stained blue dress, as though it meant something.

Kentuckian Larry Flynt, of Hustler magazine fame, offered a handsome bounty for true-life dirty stories with prominent Republicans in the cast.

Front pages and newscasts dutifully reported U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde's out-of-wedlock child, while suddenly silent House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned.  Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, who had lobbed verbal stones at Clinton for months, was in line to take Newt's place, expecting to hold the second most powerful political post in the country.  He resigned in the wake of stories about his behavior.

All this was so important that few of us remember Jenkins or Hays or even Mills, whose shenanigans made him a superstar in the sexual escapades derby.  (I didn't remember Livingston's name and had to look it up.)

All this penile preoccupation doesn't stop with Washington either.

With Kentucky lacking a budget, with Frankfort gridlocked and financial ruin on the horizon, for the longest time we read and listened to details of Gov. Paul Patton's adultery and subsequent lies.

Long after it was clear that there wasn't any substantiation of his lady love's claims of being targeted by any arm of state government, those details kept playing.

Are we tired of it?

Maybe.

TV's talking heads and the people who decide what makes newspaper headlines don't think so.  They claim they can prove that sort of thing makes us more likely to watch a certain channel's newscasts or read a certain paper.

Maybe they can.  I don't know.

But speaking just for myself, every time reporters get hung up on some politician's moral shortcomings and feel compelled to write in-depth accounts about them, I wish they were as interested in his policies as they are in his penis and would report on real issues in as much detail.


columns by Bob Sloan:

Roadblocks  (2/27/2003)

Political Penises  (3/24/2003)
A Good President  (4/24/2003)

Un-Social Discourse  (6/19/2003)
Boone vs Rogers  (7/24/2003)

Boone vs Rogers II  (8/28/2003)
Toy Bugle at Vet Funeral  (3/1/2004)

Forgotten Young Soldiers  (6/14/2004)
Flynts Hard to Beat in Court  (8/08/2004)

Homeland Security?  (12/6/2004)
For Love of Kentucky  (5/02/2005)

I Love Mountains  (02/2006)