Political sex scandals


First aired on Day 6 (20/07/12)

Former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner, who resigned last year after a sexting scandal drew international media attention, was back in the headlines this month after rumours circulated that he would run for mayor of New York in 2013.

Weiner told People magazine late last week that he had no plans to run for mayor, but also didn't rule out a return to public office. Many media and political analysts have been speculating on whether Weiner would be able to make a political comeback.

Alison Dagnes, editor of Sex Scandals in American Politics: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Construction and Aftermath of Contemporary Political Sex Scandals, joined Day 6 to weigh in on a potential Weiner resurgence.

"I do think he can make a comeback. He's a very sharp guy, and I think he's got a future ahead of him, but I think he has to wait a little bit longer than right now," she said.

Dagnes says that politicians who have successfully rehabbed their public image have taken time away from the spotlight. They used this time to do other things, to work on serious projects, in an effort to show people that there's something more to them than scandal. According to Dagnes, Weiner also has to find a way to get his former constituents to see him in a new light. She points to former New York governor Eliot Spitzer as an example of a politician disgraced by a sex scandal who has regained public approval. He quietly began writing columns about the economy for newsmagazines, starting teaching political science at a college and made appearances on political talk shows. CNN then offered him a hosting gig in a new roundtable discussion program. After that show was cancelled, he joined Current TV and hosted another program. Spitzer used the time after the scandal to construct a new narrative, Dagnes said.

"Now when [people] Google him, the first thing that comes up is maybe he did have sex with prostitutes, but the second thing that comes up is that he was a CNN talk show host."

sex-scandal-politics-110.jpgOf course, some sex scandals just prove to be too damaging to recover from. Former senator and U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards had his political career completely derailed by his infidelities. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards, who had been battling breast cancer for years until her death from it in 2010, legally separated from him.

When a sex scandal breaks, Dagnes says that one of the surest ways a disgraced politician can salvage their reputation is by continuing to have the support of their spouse. It's surviving sex scandals 101.

"You can always tell when a guy not's going to come back from this, when the wife doesn't show up for the apology."