I can remember the specific moment when I swore off the sex lives of the famous as journalistic currency. It was the case of a national sportscaster — I won’t name him, but, alas, most of those old enough will remember the name, which is regrettable — whose sex life had suddenly become the media chow.
This man had been involved in a consensual relationship with another adult and for reasons both ridiculous and obscure, the other adult thought it just and meaningful to reveal herself and her complaints, making explicit all of the unique and varied ways in which she and this man had expressed their sexuality. And my, wasn’t he a weird one. And wasn’t it funny.
When that story broke, I was standing in the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun and I remember my growing distaste watching reporters and rewrite men as they were sucked, joking and snickering, into the breaking news. And no one had any doubt that it was news. The man was a national sportscaster, for the love of god. A more public figure this nation cannot muster.
I was no Candide on a first promenade through Paris. I’d held pen and notepad akimbo and reported hypocritically at points. Not a year earlier, I think, I’d been guilty of dragging to the front of the metro section some sad sack who happened to serve on a mayor’s advisory committee — an unpaid position, mind you — and happened to get arrested in a car with a lit marijuana cigarette between his lips. At the price of that misdemeanor, I’d messed that guy up good. Wasn’t my fault he caught that charge; hey, I was just the cop shop reporter calling districts and reporting arrests. Don’t shoot the messenger.
And then, like the shitbird that reporters often are obliged to be, I probably left work that night and smoked a joint with the night editor, after which, we went to Burke’s for onion rings. Which we did just about every other night.
Hypocrisy will never go out of style in American journalism or American life. But sitting there and watching the rewrite and sports desk mobilize to surround the sexual wanderings of a sportscaster, I remember making a decision: Enough. This is just sex. This is nothing more than the odd, notable penis or the odd, notable vagina staggering off the marked path and rubbing against the wrong tree. This is just people.
I told myself that I wasn’t in journalism to chase something so ordinary, so adolescent as other people’s sexuality, that I wouldn’t play this game, that there were better reasons to be a reporter, and there were better things for readers to consume. I knew that one soldier opting out from such a lurid and exalted battlefield of the media wars meant nothing, but I did it anyway. Fuck Gingrich’s divorces. Fuck Lewinsky. Fuck where Anthony Weiner found some happy online moments. I’m not playing anymore. I long ago ceased to even pretend to care.
The arguments about character? That human sexuality isn’t the most compartmentalized element of our nature? That if someone will lie about sex, they’ll lie about other things? Really? No, sorry, fuck that tripe. Character has become the self-righteous rallying cry of far greater hypocrisy than any cheating husband. It’s the excuse that makes our prurient leer seem meaningful and reasoned.
Observe the process by which we remove some of the most essential American figures of the last century for having failed to corral their sexual organs in the marital bedroom: Roosevelt, gone. Eisenhower, gone. Kennedy, gone. Lyndon Johnson, gone. Clinton, gone. Martin Luther King, Jr., gone. Edward Murrow, gone. Follow the gamboling penis to an arid expanse of sociopolitical wasteland, where many of the greatest visionaries and actors can never tred, a desert in which only the Calvin Coolidges and Richard Nixons remain standing. Anyone who looks at the history of mankind and argues that private sexual fidelity exists in direct proportion to political greatness or moral leadership is either a chump or a liar.
And now comes General Petraeus.
His penis, too, has roamed. And now he is grist for the usual mill. And there will be three themes that we must now endure ad nauseam from all of the men and women of our media elite who will gather around their laptops and type so furiously as to obliterate everything they actually know about human sexuality and achieve the necessary velocity for judgment and arrogance:
1) Man, this guy was dumb. Ha hah!
2) Too dumb to be the Director of C.I.A. Isn’t that a sensitive position? Shouldn’t his penis only show itself in the most careful moments, so as to protect a great nation’s secrets? Isn’t he therefore incompetent? As well as:
2a) Didn’t he know he was boning a crazy lady? The head of the CIA should be smarter than to be boning crazy ladies, right?
And lastly, because there is always a place for dumbass partisanship:
3) How does this affect the Democrats? How does it affect the Republicans? When can we put a -gate on the end of this scandal?
To wit, let us parse the work of one Roger Simon, my namesake alas, a veteran political writer currently slinging witticisms and paper-thin insight for Politico.com:
“Gen. David Petraeus is dumb, she’s dumber.”
That’s the headline. Let’s venture southward into the prose and see what we find:
Ah, Mr. Simon says the general should not have resigned because he’s involved in a sex scandal. No, “he should have resigned because if he were any more dimwitted, you would have had to water him.”
Ha, hah! That’s great stuff. Mr. Simon is saying that the head of the CIA is as dumb as plant. Because you have to water them. A tasty bon mot, and we’re off and running. Mr. Simon then offers to leave aside “the sordid, yet fascinating details” of the general’s private life — after which a sordid, yet fascinating detail is quickly cited—and instead focus intently on all of ways in which General Petraeus and his paramour were indifferent to being discovered—their use of email, the girlfriend’s jealous anger and her foolish compulsion in expressing that anger in writing to a perceived rival, and finally, Petraus being unwilling to act sensibly when confronted by the FBI: “When Bill Clinton was caught in a sex scandal, he lied through his teeth until they came up with the DNA. Not Petraeus. He folded immediately…and admitted everything.”
So, now that we’ve had our fun chronicling how poorly these two people have handled their personal affair, it is time for Mr. Simon to turn his level gaze on General Petraus as the public man. Just what did Petraeus do so that we thought he had any merit in the first place? And Roger Simon — a man who has covered politics all his life, who is charged by a news organization that wishes to be a serious prism by which Americans can evaluate the political world and its relationship to actual issues and policy — he has exactly this to say:
He was once on an airplane five years ago with John McCain. And he interviewed McCain, who admired Petraeus, who thought him charismatic, who then, in this interview, reduced the general to an anecdote: “One thing he did was have a bag of money, and he would go around and say, “OK, build this irrigation ditch, buy yourself a generator.”
This is more than enough for national political columnist Roger Simon to look down at the valley of the dumb and dumber from the high mesa of his sun-kissed laptop and joke about being impressed, since he is from Chicago and knows the value of carrying around bags of money with which to dispense favors. And then Mr. Simon offer his grave doubts — based on what John McCain told him about David Petraeus second-hand, in an offhand interview on a plane between Cedar Rapids and Davenport — that Petraeus, despite his education, his military experience, or any other qualification, was the man to save Iraq or Afghanistan. As if such a man even exists.
And there it is: Not only is Petraeus dumb, he’s easily expendable. Bring on the next hump and let’s see if he keeps it in his pants.
But here is the real world in proportion:
David Petraeus has had sex outside his marriage, as have many men and many women. Human sexuality and compulsion are not in any way related to intelligence. It’s not that the dumb or powerful are more prone to fucking around, or that the intelligent and powerless do it to any greater degree. It’s that men in general are hopelessly and permanently prone to contemplate sex and furtive romance and, sometimes, to act on it. The reasons they do so are crude, ordinary and inevitable. Women are also hopelessly and permanently prone to contemplate furtive romance and sex —- and yes, I changed the order, I know — and the reasons they do so are only marginally less crude, ordinary and inevitable.
Professionally, David Petraeus understood a helluva lot more than John McCain conveyed to Roger Simon in two minutes of conversation. For one thing, if Mr. Simon wanted to be honest, he might acknowledge that it was Petraeus who saw the morass that was Iraq even as it began, who famously turned to a journalist on the march into Baghdad with the 101st Airborne and declared openly: I know how this begins, but explain to me how this ends? That alone makes the man more astute and more valuable than an entire White House, most of the Pentagon, and much of the American press corps, which itself failed to raise much worry when war in Iraq was being debated, or rather, not seriously debated at all. It certainly makes Petraeus smarter than most of America, which largely supported that disastrous intervention.
To characterize Petraeus now as having failed to save either Iraq or Afghanistan is facile and dishonest and, of course, necessary to Mr. Simon’s argument that the sexual misadventures of a human being can then reveal that perhaps this fellow wasn’t smart enough in the first place. After all he got caught, didn’t he? A smart fellow would have taken more care. No emails. Only whispers. And affections only for cunning and discreet ladies. No undue emotions, please.
Having had a sexual misadventure, this guy can’t be smart, and therefore, let’s make him completely clueless by dint of a solitary, second-hand conversation with one distracted politician. No other context is required.
It would be one thing if this were a scandal that could have compromised the CIA or American intelligence, if this were some honey trap set by foreign entities. When politically-connected columnist Joe Alsop was famously lured into a homosexual liaison by Russian intelligence, which then attempted to turn Alsop, he rightly marched into the CIA headquarters and revealed the ploy, rendering it moot. And if there were indications that Petraeus was vulnerable to being so blackmailed, this mess might have actual import. But no, upon being confronted with his paramour’s indiscreet emails, he confessed all, resigned, and returned to private life to attempt, no doubt, to salvage his marriage or at least deal with the personal implications of it all.
More incredibly, Mr. Simon argues the general’s stupidity in not lying to federal investigators. He is, at that moment, not merely callow and sneering, as much of the press is apt to be in such a circumstance, he is, himself, grandly idiotic. The penalties for lying to an FBI agent are profound. Just ask Henry Cisneros. Or Martha Stewart for that matter. Or Bill Clinton. No doubt if the general did lie and was later charged with a false statement, or worse, lying to a grand jury, Mr. Simon and his like would rush to declare that it wasn’t the marital infidelity that we care about, but the perjury and dishonesty. As if it isn’t entirely rational for any human being — caught and shamed for thinking with their genitals as ordinary mortals are often apt to do — to lie and avoid not only the public shaming, but the private harm to other loved ones inherent in that public disgrace. Nice for the press to have it both ways: Shame them when they tell the truth about their private indiscretions, or stand self-righteously and defend the public trust if they don’t. Christ. It’s enough to make even a half-honest man vomit.
I’m neither an admirer nor detractor of General Petraeus. But I am most definitely a detractor of what journalism has become in this country, of what passes for the qualitative analysis of our society and its problems. And I’ve paid enough attention to the human condition to no longer take seriously the notion that anyone who lets penis or vagina rub against the wrong person, who is indiscreet in doing so, and who then tells the truth about it when confronted by an FBI agent is unfit for either citizenship or public service. I certainly know enough about the human condition to know that all kinds of people — smart and dumb, powerful and powerless — are capable of finding themselves in such a circumstance and shaking their heads at just how far they strayed, at just how indiscreet they were in their very ordinary, human hunger, and how they have hurt those closest to them. Sex, done right, is some powerful shit. And when Americans begin to accept the human condition for what it is rather than an opportunity to jeer at the other fellow for getting caught, then we will be, if nothing else, a little bit more grown up. I remember when Francois Mitterand’s wife and mistress walked beside each other in the French premier’s funeral procession and few in that country thought it remarkable. The French have got their problems, but in some respects, they make our country, our political commentary, seem as mature and insightful as a fourteen-year-old unsticking the pages of his dad’s just-discovered skin mags. It’s a peculiar American hypocrisy that only the worst kind of journalistic hack would readily and willingly embrace as a meaningful metric.
We’ve caught some of the smartest and most committed public men and women with their pants at their ankles. Time and again, we’ve had our fun. We’ve roundly mocked them for the very weaknesses that are so utterly our own. Reporters who have at points in their lives fucked themselves silly in hotel rooms across this great land of ours while pursuing the infidelities of more public men with righteous glee — these are not men and women who are much inclined to any real moment of self reflection, but then who among us really is? This kind of hypocrisy requires a complicit silence and a ritual wiping of the memory before every byline. Well, I’m 52 years old and I will admit that I have not lived this long without occasionally misplacing my penis. For shame, yeah. And so, being fully complicit in the human comedy, the last thing I’m going to mock is the mistakes that others make in the rush to bed, or why they do so.
But for those who love throwing stones, is it too much to ask that their aim be true? That they limit the target to Darwinian compulsion, to ordinary, and yes, at times, unthinking human desire. That they not equip themselves to judge the totality of a public servant’s entire career and works solely with the details of whatever sexual misadventure we happen to discover. Roosevelt was a smart guy. So was Eisenhower. Clinton might be the smartest president of my generation. And David Petraeus saw and spoke to the folly of Iraq before the rest of America was cheering the fall of Saddam’s statue. And he stayed long after that folly was evident to work at a remedy for and an extrication from that tragic intervention.
If we can judge stupidity by solitary lapses, then Roger Simon, by dint of this recent column could rightly be judged a moron. And if we’re going to free associate stupidity with the public discovery of sexual misadventure, such vacuous shit as Mr. Simon just offered up virtually requires him to be caught unawares in a Nuevo Laredo whorehouse with a fistful of fifties.
What I just wrote is unfair of course. I’m sure Mr. Simon has had better and meaningful moments commenting on our body politic, just as the general has had other, more meaningful moments as a public servant. But given that Petraeus himself doesn’t seem to have done anything criminal, or failed in his public performance, one can surmise that his decision to depart as CIA director is predicated on what he will now endure from our stunted media culture.
Allen Dulles screwed his way through dozens of women as director of the CIA. Dulles, by every fair historical assessment, was a Georgetown player and backroom bullshitter who led the agency into some of the worst intelligence failures in American history, then created an alternate myth of success for the agency. Shame on the American press corps of those years for buying into the professional myth, of course, but hey, at least those then covering the intelligence community hadn’t reduced themselves to a copse of dour-faced, suit-and-tie-wearing Hedda Hoppers. They didn’t give a shit who Dulles slept with. But David Petraeus can expect no such quarter, or—as Mr. Simon’s commentary suggests—even the smallest sense of proportion.
Of course he quit.
* * *
Earlier, instead of the reference to Anthony Weiner, this essay utilized Herman Cain as a similar example. In fact, I am reminded that in the case of Mr. Cain, the allegation was one of sexual harassment in the workplace. Obviously, there is a prevailing public interest in such cases—as well as those involving political leaders who advocate for specific standards of sexual morality and then violate those standards. To keep it on point, the argument here is about sex between consenting adults who have not sought to argue against such practice in any public sphere.
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Here’s one commenter who’s not going to nitpick.
Brilliant article, David and in my eyes 100% correct.
Hopefully this article will give Roger Simon long pause to think and consider his article and attitudes in general.
Nice points on the Puritan political sexual mores in the USA, recalling HL Mencken’s maxim the Puritans obsession with the ‘horrifying thought ‘someone, somewhere, might be happy.’
i’ll note for the record that Patraeus is on record via second parties (those retired junior officers with no future to protect) as a self-aggrandizing liar who’d been surrounded by sycophants in a media cult of personality when in actuality Patraeus had the touch of a military Midas where everything he was in proximity to, turned to shit. The surge in Iraq was in fact a public relations ‘bait and switch’ where the dramatic upswing in American deaths during the course of operations had been covered over by a subsequent rapid withdrawal of the USA combat forces to their bases which is what dropped the violence overall; taking the Americans out of combat operations for the 1st time since the inception of the war. The same could have been accomplished, and honestly at that, in 2004.
Quoting ‘The Nation”
Retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, a former senior defense intelligence official, says that Petraeus’s arrogance—“smoothly concealed beneath the appearance of the warrior scholar”—made him deeply unpopular among the military’s high-ranking officers. Dismissing the media’s portrayal of Petraeus as a “super soldier” and great military leader as “phony bullshit,” Lang describes him as the product of a military promotion system that encourages generals to think of themselves as “divinely selected.” “In fact, he didn’t write the COIN manual, the surge was not the main thing in improving the situation in Iraq…. They sent him to Afghanistan to apply the COIN doctrine in the same glorious way he did in Iraq, and it hasn’t worked. So, if you look beneath the surface from all this stuff, it’s just a lot of hot air. There are great generals, but this guy is not one of them.” Arriving at the CIA, Lang says, Petraeus “wanted to drag them in the covert action direction and to be a major player.””
In which case those informed persons with real concerns for the direction of our nation, can be somewhat grateful our national fascination with prurient scandals, in the paradox of our concurrent Puritan demands of public servants, has in this case done us a favor 😉
Again, I am agnostic on Petraeus. And the essay merely credits him with having doubts about the efficacy of the Iraq intervention when everyone else in that administration and the military were exuding confidence in the policy. It is neutral on the surge and what it represented and why it is not replicable in Afghanistan. I will say I don’t think there is a single military leader on whom success or failure in Iraq or Afghanistan can be credited or blamed. That was, perhaps, the most embarrassing premise of Mr. Simon’s column.
That said, I wholly reject your notion that this process of judging public men by private sex does us any favors. You’re thinking short, and the issue is long. If we perpetuate this process, the same false choices that cost us a leader you do not admire and value will cost you one that you do. And process is what the essay is about.
That so many readers seem to look past that is frankly debilitating.
It isn’t about Clinton or Petraeus or Gingrich or Hyde or Weiner. It’s about us. We’re the problem.
The last paragraph had been intended to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’ .. my apologies for the misunderstanding. I actually prefer the ‘French’ model. That said, somehow coming up with a method to weed out the incompetence is in fair play if only because the article raises the history of Patraeus (agnosticism notwithstanding)
[…] David Simon, former journalist and the man behind many TV shows you might love like The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Streets and Treme, says the media’s handling of the Petraeus scandal shows it’s lost its way. (The Audacity of Dispair) […]
[…] Simon has one of the best commentaries on the Petraeus affair you will ever read, low bar that might be. His argument is straightforward […]
[…] David Simon | Stray penises and politicos: But for those who love throwing stones, is it too much to ask that their aim be true? That they limit the target to Darwinian compulsion, to ordinary, and yes, at times, unthinking human desire. That they not equip themselves to judge the totality of a public servant’s entire career and works solely with the details of whatever sexual misadventure we happen to discover. Roosevelt was a smart guy. So was Eisenhower. Clinton might be the smartest president of my generation. And David Petraeus saw and spoke to the folly of Iraq before the rest of America was cheering the fall of Saddam’s statue. And he stayed long after that folly was evident to work at a remedy for and an extrication from that tragic intervention. […]
The dir of the CIA is subject to blackmail and is very vulnerable. We all should know if he’s dirty.
Bullshit. Name a successful blackmailing of an American military or intelligence official based on heterosexual marital infidelity? Can’t think of one.
The same logic used to be used to keep all homosexuals out of sensitive positions.
Sexual blackmail is an overstated threat, dramatically so. But if you want to reduce the currency of such blackmail, resolve that sexual infidelity is not a career-ending threat to public service.
This. A thousand times, this.
FBI Agent, Married Los Angeles Socialite, Double Agent, sound familiar?
If he wants to have an affair go ahead, what do I care. Just give up your powers as the head of the biggest spying agency in the world and go do what you want. If he had retired after he left the military rather than become the head of the CIA no one would care about this. It isn’t that deeply about sex.
Enlighten me further.
The only FBI agent who doubled for the Soviets was unstable in about twelve different ways. He was sexually promiscuous to be sure, but the Soviets didn’t catch him in a honeypot and blackmail him. He volunteered to spy for the Russians for cash money. He wanted to live rich. It was about the dollars, above all. Unless you are thinking of something else.
As to American spymasters keeping it in their pants, two words: Allen Dulles.
If you want to diminish the power of sexual blackmail, then begin to normalize our view of sexual misadventure.
I’m not so much concerned with the idea of blackmail as simple distraction and manipulation. I don’t want the head of the CIA having a google drop box to send messages to every woman who flatters him. Having these socialites wandering about airforce bases with unlimited personal access generals and diplomats. Honestly I’m more disturbed about him showing up in a 28 car motorcade to Jill Kelley’s house like the Tampa suburbs is Fallujah as I am about the sex.
If you want to have a complicated personal life go ahead, just take up the plow and leave the spying to someone else. Would that an enterprising young reporter had taken the low road regarding Dullus and we’d avoided some of those inteligence failures you mentioned.
I understand that you are disturbed. But I am not.
I don’t need private rectitude from my leaders. I need public performance and public results.
I see no correlation. And again, I think sexual misadventures are grandly overstated as a means of compromising our intelligence community. And to the extent we stop making the discovery of sexual misadventure a career ending paddle-line through the media circus, even moreso.
I have to admit the most disturbing parts of this nonsense have nothing to do with the sex. It’s the FBI agent who had sent shirtless photos of himself to Jill Kelley and that she went to when she got the “I saw you touching David under the table” email and who then went to GOP members of Congress trying to screw with the election because the investigation was going nowhere. Even more disturbing is Jill’s twin sister, Natalie, described by the judge in her bitter custody battle for her son as lacking “any appreciation or respect for the importance of honesty and integrity in her interactions with her family, employers and others with whom she comes in contact,” got both Petraeus as CIA head and 4-star Gen. John Allen to write the judge attesting to Natalie’s fitness as a mother. From what I’ve read about her, if Petraeus believed that, that’s a far more serious character flaw than cheating on his wife.
For the love of all that is holy, read that paragraph back aloud and know that I don’t give a fuck about any of it. I don’t even want to have it in my head. I don’t want it to occupy the public discourse. That post on a blog conceived and maintained for the argument of actual ideas reads like copy from the inside page of supermarket gossip rag. Fuck all.
Why are we acquiring and utilizing private sexual information to judge public performance?
Back away from the keyhole, Edward. It’s for the best.
I know. I hate that I know that because I haven’t sought the information. It’s just been flooded so much that I’ve acquired it through osmosis.
The world we live in.
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The difference between then and now is the Christian Coalition. Reagan invited evangelicals to make their religious beliefs a driving force in our society. And, if you haven’t paid much attention to religion or the anti-sex crusaders, you’d be missing the fact that they too get caught in these things. It seems more frequent and freaky when they do.
Pastor died with a dildo you-know-where and wearing two wetsuits? Check, they’ve done that. But up until then he made his hay shaming single women and gay people.
These folks need to grow up about sex. They’ve literally started claiming that holding hands is a gateway to sex. It’s insanity and it needs to stop.
Gex … personally, I completely concur… American society’s sexuality needs to grow up… in a broader historical sense, and re. your 1st sentence, please have a look at my comment below. cheers… db
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We are all flawed. We all have to decide therefore, whether or not to be OK with person X, in position Y, given that they exhibit flaws A, B, and C, to whatever extent they exhibit them. We all have to make compromises. Are we willing to deal with a co-worker’s bullying nature, given how talented he is at his job? Etc.
What we may be willing to accept in a boss, we may not be willing to accept in a spouse, or vice-versa.
But don’t try to tell me that infidelity doesn’t suggest a serious character flaw. It legitimately suggests issues with honesty, loyalty, judgment, and maturity. Is that necessarily a problem? Well, it depends . . . how deep are the flaws, and how important are these aspects of character, to the job?
“If someone will lie about sex, they’ll lie about other things? Really?” Yes, really. Do I care? Maybe not.
Nowhere in the essay or in these comments have I said that infidelity isn’t a character flaw. Of course it is.
What I have said is that it bears little relationship to public leadership and good governance.
Let me reverse it on you: “If someone will tell the truth about sex, they’ll tell the truth about other things.”
Bullshit again. I’ve personally dealt with people who are pillars of rectitude when it comes to their sexual lives but who will cheat all of mankind to make an extra buck or gain even the most modest business advantage.
A willingness to engage in sexual misadventure and then lie about it is not a morally neutral act; but there isn’t any evidence that it correlates in any way to dishonesty elsewhere in the lives of individuals. If you are offended by sexual immorality, and your distaste for such behavior predisposes you to distrust and dislike those who engage in such behavior, then you may not want to accept the lack of a correlation, and yet merely saying you believe one exists isn’t evidentiary. History argues otherwise persuasively, if anecdotally.
One other ironic thing in this instance. We are talking about America’s top spy, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. A certain amount of fundamental deceit and dishonesty is required in matters of espionage; it is, indeed, a skill set. So what are we talking about? We want him to lie only situationally, right? What is a lie told to hide sexual misadventure other than situational? And does such a lie breed a more comprehensive dishonesty? Again, no evidence of it.
I have no idea if there is any evidence that dishonesty in sexual relationships correlates with dishonesty elsewhere. I don’t even know if anyone has ever done a study on such a thing.
I admit that I am going by my experience with people, personally and professionally to some extent (am thinking particularly of my experience doing auditing).
Is this scientiic evidence? Heck, no. Not only is it all anecdotal, it’s interpreted by my subjective brain. Is there any evidence out there supporting your theory that dishonesty is more compartmentalized? I dunno. I assume you’re going with a personal interpretation also – which is A-OK with me – I appreciate you sharing it in the well thought out way you did.
Just saying it doesn’t jive with the conclusions I’ve come to in my own life.
Sarah and David… your discourse reminds me of an old (horribly annoying) antacid ad … ” .. stop… you’re BOTH right..!” // The question of integrity/morality has one more integral element, I would suggest… that being ; what is any observed society’s current ‘moral norm’ ?
One era’s ‘deviant’ is another’s ‘Joe Average’.
So if I am reading what you have written in your post and your replies to comments correctly, your basic premise is that a man’s (sorry — person’s, though it is odd that we are not only talking almost exclusively about men but that almost all of the people posting here have male monikers) sexual behavior is completely separate from how they conduct themselves in all the other aspects of their lives.
If I have read you incorrectly, please enlighten me.
If I have not, then is it safe to assume that any public figure who publicly opposes certain types of sexual behavior but engages in them in his personal life should not be subject to exposure by the ‘4th estate’? I’m thinking of Larry David, Mark Foley, and Scott Desjarlais.
If you are saying that a person’s sexual life should not be a reflection or factor in his (or her) professional life, where do you draw the line? Breaking the law (but then Petraeus did that by violating the military code of conduct against adultery)?
What about Jerry Sandusky — should the press not have reported his transgressions because by all accounts he was an upstanding figure in all the other aspects of his life? So if you say no because he raped the boys, then what if the sex had been consensual? If you say that this is statutory rape, would you then feel the same way if Monica Lewinsky say, had been one day shy of her 18th birthday when she ‘didn’t have sex’ with President Clinton?
It’s been said in many places throughout the comments, and in a footnote below this essay. If you advocate for a particular sexual morality as a public position and are discovered to personally violate that morality, then of course that is germaine to the public. patreus is not that, correct? neither was clinton? neither was weiner? or eisenhower? or roosevelt? or…
we’re also talking about consenting adults. of course. sexual crimes with minors are sexual crimes with minors. just as rape is rape. but when two grown-up people fuck each other because they want to fuck each other and they don’t publicly argue or campaign against people fucking each other in like fashion, it isn’t my business or yours. it matters to them only, and those other people in their life to whom they may have made commitments. the rest of us need to back away from the peephole.
and yes, you can provide no evidence sexual morality among consenting adults bears any relation to public performance or public morality in other spheres. it does not. the greatest leaders of the twentieth century alone prove the opposite — that sexual misadventure is in no way indicative of a human being’s value to society.
lastly, there have been many women posting in the section. i do not have a breakdown by gender. easier if you go to twitter and search for this article, you’ll see plenty of female icons affirming for this argument. i think we’re all sick of the useless sanctimony.
Are you saying that if one doesn’t advocate for a certain type of morality then one doesn’t have a moral compass, that we can’t expect a certain level of sexual morality from our elected officials? If not, what is the minimum base level of sexual behavior that the a public official should meet before it becomes the business of the public – and the press?
What do you mean by adult? Do you accept the arbitrary standard that a person one day shy of his or her 18th birthday is not an adult and one day later magically becomes one and that changes everything as to whether it is the public’s business or not?
Perhaps I cannot provide any evidence that sexual morality among ‘consenting adults’ bears any realtion to public performance or public morality in other spheres, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter ( I am certainly happy that David Petraeus will no longer be the head of the CIA (as are many people much smarter than I am who think he focused too much on drone attacks and not enough on counter-intelligence).
You claim that the greatest leaders of the 20th century prove the opposite. What defines ‘great’ for you? Many people would argue that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Guevara were all great leaders. Others would point to Churchill, Reagan, De Gaulle, and Teddy Roosevelt among others. None of these ‘great leaders’ were known as adulterers to the best of my knowledge.
Whatever your opinion is, I think there are two lines to be drawn between three categories..
One is between those who most likely betrayed their spouses but either didn’t overly lie about it or where the infidelity was tacitly accepted. I would place Eisenhower in the first category and FDR in the second
The next is those who had an affair and betrayed their spouse but only with one individual. Petraeus falls into this category.
Finally, there are the serial adulterers. JFK leads this category, probably the most over-rated US president.
As far as your claim that there have been ‘many women posting in this section’, a quick survey at the names of those posting results in an overwhelming number of male names – which is not surprising considering how misogynistic so many of the views are expressed here.
Your arguments are off the point of essay, entirely. They do not address the premise of the essay.
The premise is: There is no apparent relationship between private sexual misadventure and the quality of public service and political leadership. Therefore, if that sexual activity is between consenting adults, and does not involve a political hypcrisy on the part of someone who has campaigned publicly for sexual morals that they are discovered to have violated, then it should not be public business, regardless. Because to make it public business — given that the majority of men will be unfaithful in the marital vows and a significant plurality of women will also be so — is to marginalize too many people who are capable of great public service and great public good.
Arguing the cases of some great leaders who were not known to have sexual misadventures does not disprove the argument. This is weakly anecdotal.
Arguing the cases of bad leaders who were known to stray does not disprove the argument. This, too, is weakly anecdotal.
Arguing that distinctions between levels of misadventure — which frankly do little more than satisfy your personal desire for more private rectitude — does not disprove the argument. There is no proven or apparent correlation between public performance and the number of sexual misadventures or the amount of dishonesty involved in those misadventures either.
Arguing that some of the male views on the comments site of the essay are misogynistic does not disprove the argument. Arguing that other comments are insightful and non-misogynistic doesn’t prove anything either. This point is ridiculously irrelevant to the actual merits of the essay’s actual argument.
Arguing that some of the people who fall from grace by dint of our sexual moralizing should just have well fallen because of their public performance, in your opinion, does not disprove the essay’s argument. Clearly, others — Roosevelt, Clinton, Eisenhower — did not fall and most Americans are grateful for it. And in cases where the public performance is lacking, then it is incumbent on society to respond on the merits.
Arguing that because the boundaries between minority and adulthood can be thin does not disprove the essay’s argument. By necessity, after all, we must choose a birthday at which we recognize adulthood. Unless you wish to sexually infantilize women who you otherwise credit with the right to vote, the right to make all of their financial and career decisions and the right to die for their country, one must endure the reality that at some certain chronological moment, a minor becomes a consenting adult.
I am saying your arguments are all desperately off-point. You are unwilling to confront the actual real world choice here. You want to have the best and most effective people available for all of society’s leadership and governance needs, and yet you will not concede that by the moral standard you require, you are eliminating many, many, many fine candidates. Indeed, to estimate by Kinsey’s research, you are eliminating more than half of men and possibly a third of all women in America, possibly more. And in doing so, you have yet to refute in any way the premise of the essay — that sexual misadventure bears no correlative relation to responsible public performance and leadership. You want to think that it should, and that it does, I know. You want it to matter because you are personally offended by sexual impropriety. But alas, there is no evidence for your belief. None at all. And indeed there is ample evidence to the contrary.
Let me close with Henry Mencken’s famous theorum: If A, in an effort to improve or reform B, does harm to C, then A is a scoundrel. By this algebra, B are all the straying husbands and wives who might otherwise serve effectively in our society, and C is the rest of the society with all its abundant need to public service and commitment. Regrettably, you and people who argue as you do are A in this equation. The Great Iconoclast had your number, I’m afraid.
So basically whatever you say goes and all other arguments are invalid? If not, please state what facts or arguments could possibly result in you revising your opinion.
Prove that adultery prevents an individual from performing their job. That’s the argument and it has yet to be directly challenged with anything other than rhetoric.
Thank you. As god is my witness, thank you.
succinctly put, sir. Bill… I am sure that Mr. Simon is not as egocentric as your comment alludes to ( of course, I have no particular proof of this… however, let’s allow innocence until proven guilty). If Les’s words don’t illuminate the issue for you, I’m not sure what will. However, let me reiterate one of Mr. Simon’s sentences … ” Indeed, to estimate by Kinsey’s research, you are eliminating more than half of men and possibly a third of all women in America, possibly more “
Actually, I am quite the sonofabitch. Make no mistake.
Easy. Be direct. Address and refute the actual premise of the essay, to wit:
“There is no proven correlation between sexual rectitude and great leadership and great public service. Indeed, the last century argues precisely otherwise. And given that infidelity is prevalent in at least a major plurality of married American males and possibly a majority of married America males, our insistence upon such is debilitating and distracting to our society. We should grow the fuck up.”
That’s the premise. Here’s a few things that definitely don’t refute that:
1) Petraeus is an bad guy, incompetent blowhard, or overhyped asshole. We don’t like him anyway, so whatever ruins him is a fine dynamic, regardless of the process it creates. (Congrats, you’ve just argued for the selective shaming of those people you don’t like, if not a world in which, say, the culture of political blackmail by trolls like J. Edgar Hoover will flourish.)
2) I can think of good people who were monogamous. Truman! (Saying there is no correlation means there is no correlation. I can think of people who were monogamous and who were political disasters. James Buchanan was an asexual bachelor. He was also in the top three of presidential failures.)
3) I can think of bad people who fucked around. Mussolini! (See above.)
4) How can you say that someone who will lie about sex won’t betray their important public service as well? ( How can I? I just did. Roosevelt. Eisenhower. Johnson. MLK. Murrow. To omit the leaders and players of the last century who were unable to avoid sexual misadventure is to denude American history of some of its greatest achievers and heros. That is a certain, demonstrable cost.)
5) I demand more of my leaders. (Yes, a circular argument. I know you do, and I’m arguing that your sanctimony — as expressed through our media — is one of modern America’s many ruinations. I demand less of my leaders when it comes to their sexual behavior, and yet I aspire to much more from American leadership on matters of public import. So what? This isn’t an argument, it’s merely a stated preference by both of us.)
6) This is bad for women. Or these women in particular. You misogynist fuck! (Offer this argument and you are engaging in not only an appeal to pity, which is a basic rhetorical fallacy, but also in the additional fallacy of equivocation. Because I am not affirming for sexual infidelity or denying the damage that results in any sense whatsoever. No one is exalting sexual misadventure and no one is denying that both men and women can’t be diminished by sexual misadventure. The argument is that free human beings have agency and what people do in private is between them and the others in their life to whom they have commitments. Given that my premise argues that there isn’t any proven correlation between sexual misadventure and public dishonor, we have no business staying at the keyhole, and indeed, making the misadventures of others public does nothing to help any of those involved. In fact, it is cruel and destructive.)
7) But what about sex with minors? Sex by hypocritical family-value-preaching politicians? (What about sex with non-consenting reptiles? What about sex in the cockpit of a commercial airliner that causes the plane to crash and kills everyone aboard? What about…for the love of god already, we’re talking about sex between consenting adults who haven’t publicly advocated against the same. The Petraeus case, remember? Again, to argue this is an equivocation on the actual facts of the case.)
8) The only guy who would make such an argument is a guy who fucks around. Simon, you fucking whore! (Argue the idea, not the man. Argumentum ad hominem is the last refuge of our most intellectually ineffective and dishonest citizens.)
If I still have to explain in detail why, exactly, these arguments are rhetorical fallacies of logic then I confess to an inevitable exhaustion. I’ve been doing so repeatedly and seemingly to little effect. Sorry.
Bill wrote: “Others would point to Churchill, Reagan, De Gaulle, and Teddy Roosevelt among others. None of these ‘great leaders’ were known as adulterers to the best of my knowledge.”
Though this makes me sound like those in the media Mr. Simon rails against and I’m in agreement with him on that point, I thought it worth noting what Piper Laurie wrote about Reagan in her autobiography last year. Though he was between Wyman and Nancy at the time, he took Ms. Laurie’s virginity soon after her 18th birthday when they were making the 1950 film “Louisa” where the 39-year-old Reagan played the father of Laurie’s 16-year-old character. I’ll let you Google if you wish to read more of Ms. Laurie’s unflattering depiction of his bedside manner. Of course, Reagan still was a Democrat and headed a union then.
[…] making the media swarm pretty predictable. Screenwriter and former reporter David Simon derided the futility and hypocrisy of journalists’ preoccupation with others’ sex lives, concluding that “when […]
[…] I was wondering why people quite their jobs after having an affair. This morning I just read an excellent piece by David Simon (via Jon Gruber) which so nicely calls out our country’s hypocrisy on the […]
[…] Warnings in 2009 Detailed Storm Surge Threat to the Region (NYT) • Stray penises and politicos (David Simon) • The Great Campaign Polling Conspiracy (Bloomberg) see also How Conservative Media Lost to the […]
Spot-on, David, and well-said.
My first thought was that Spike Lee said it all in one line in More Better Blues, although I cannot recall the particular character who said “Man is a dick thing.
My second thought was that Henry Adams said it better and far more eloquently in The Good Solider. Presently, I know the passage, but cannot cite at the moment, but I shall search and return.
I think the article is spot-on about sportscasters, celebrities. What they do off-screen or the field of play is their business. I would rather not know about it.
The article is off-the-mark regarding those in public positions, especially on the national level. If somebody can live a lie with his/her spouse they will have no problem lying to the public. That person might do a good job and never betray the public’s trust. But, we shouldn’t have to take that chance. Petraeus did the right thing.
Answer the question at the bottom of the related essay on John O’Neill. That’s a real-world choice. Not the pretend choice that you suggest. Saying we shouldn’t have to make a choice, or take a chance, that we in fact must take all the time — that’s a luftmenschen‘s argument. Live in the real world. Deal in the real world.
Benjamin Graham was a philanderer who cared nothing for monogamy. His most famous student was Warren Buffett who had an affair and then lived with another mistress for decades.
Compare that to Dick Fuld. A man who placed fidelity above everything and stated that the performance of his company was directly related to how his executives conducted their marital lives. He even forced out his top lieutenant for cheating on his wife. Cheating was something that wasn’t done at his firm.
Of course, Benjamin Graham was the founder of value investing. Recognized as not only a great investor but a great educator. And Warren Buffett is the greatest investor in history. They are (or were in Graham’s case) heralded for their ethics and discipline in business and their generosity towards others. Buffett has committed all of his fortune to charitable programs.
Dick Fuld was the CEO of Lehman Brothers. The company he bankrupted through over-leveraging and other unethical practices. He oversaw the collapse of not only a 158 year-old company but almost the entire banking system. He also paid himself over $70 million in compensation in the two years prior to Lehman”s bankruptcy.
Who would you want to have invested with? According to your theory, Graham and Buffett were the men investors shouldn’t have taken a chance on. That’s a real world example. As Mr. Simon said, live in the real world. Adultery does not dictate how someone will perform a job.
Thanks for your responses. I was referring to elected officials and those appointed to important public positions and the trust we have given to them.
I am not interested in the fidelity of the the business people you mentioned. I will choose whether to invest in Berkshire Hathaway, or any other company, based on its business model and its prospects.
Each of us individually can’t choose a different director of the CIA so he needs to be held to a higher standard.
I think the difference in our points of view is you subscribe to moral relativism. I am taking a positiion on what’s right and wrong.
You’re being obtuse and ignoring the reality, Tom.
Go to the ensuing essay on John O’Neill, read it and then make a real-world choice. Three thousand dead, or an American counterintelligence head who is paragon of sexual rectitude? Which is it? Make a hard choice. Because real life is full of them. Two or three generations ago, Kinsey researched American sexuality and found that 50 percent of men cheated in marriage and 26 percent of women did so. Those numbers today are certainly higher, not lower.
Do you really want to limit your pool of applicants for society’s key leadership positions to less than half of all men, and maybe two-thirds of all women? Do you not concede that some of the most talented and creative and committed Americans will, by dint of your sanctimony, not be available to serve society in the best way they can? Come on, brother, life is not theory. Life is real.
David – The Kinsey study was published in 1948. (The respondents answers were not written down but were remembered by the questioners and written down later. Doesn’t sound to this layman like a solid process) More recent studies estimate rates of infidelity at around 25% for men and 10% for women.
Your argument that I am ignoring reality is no more robust than a 15-year old’s argument: “Mom – Everybody is going to the party. Why can’t I?”
Just cause some people are doing something doesn’t make it right.
Kinsey’s numbers have always been believed to be provocatively high and his methods have always been challenged.
I am not so sure.
Infidelity is extremely hard to measure for obvious reasons and many studies have not maximized anonymity and thereby inhibited the reporting. The best study we have is the GSS, which shows 12 percent infidelity for men and 7 percent for women in a single given year. The study is not longitudinal, meaning that each year they pick a statistically viable sample and ask about infidelity. The question is, over the course of a modern American lifetime, what is the incidence? There we are into estimates of 28 percent for men and 22 percent for women. But again, as all of this involves self-reporting, and as so much discussion on this thread acknowledges the intense levels of personal deceit that accompany issues of sexual misadventure, I think those numbers are low. I look at 12 percent of men reporting sexual infidelity within a single year, I extend that figure over the lifetime of marriages, and indeed the male lifetime, and I further note the reluctance of Americans to admit to sexual misadventure even in controlled settings, and I think Kinsey may have been more judicious than not. Another interesting variable is that in recent studies, such as the GSS, infidelity is increasing significantly in cohorts where it remained the most stable, notable in males over 60 years. Meaning, that as lifespan and indeed, sexual lifespan increases, the possibility of experiencing sexual misadventures within the average American life is increasing, longitudinally. But overall, it’s anyone’s guess, isn’t it?
Certainly the high numbers are high. And the low numbers are still a significant plurality of the population.
Regardless, we are segregating a significant portion of the American population from public service and leadership if we make sexual misadventure a disqualification.
I don’t think snap shot stats speak to the salient point we’re discussing. How many people are doing the unauthorized deed this year or at any given point is not as important as how many are unfaithful over the course of their lives. Those estimates reach 60% or higher for men and 40% or more for women.
Right. That is what my previous post suggests. But your estimates are, in fact, estimates. The GSS is the most careful annual survey, but as you point out it is a snapshot. Over a lifetime, we can only guess. Clearly, if the GSS polled the same men and women every year in longitudinal fashion, it wouldn’t be a different 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women who cheated every year. There would be some fixed amount of repetition by participants and some new incidence of infidelity as well. But over the course of even longer sexual lifetimes and different lifestyles today — viagra, more travel than ever, higher rates of divorce than in 1948 — and given the reluctance of some respondents to answer even anonymous surveys honestly on this issue, I’m not ready to discount Kinsey’s estimates of 50 and 26 percent. I think infidelity over a lifetime might be higher. But that is, again, just an estimate. As are lower numbers that are offered.
It was very late, and it wasn’t “Henry Adams” but Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier of which occurred a the counterpoint to Lee’s line contemporary commonplace.
I have come to be very much a cynic in these matters; I mean that it is impossible to believe in the permanence of man’s or woman’s love. Or, that it impossible to believe in the permanence of any early passion. As I see it, at least, with regard to man, a love affair, a love for any definite woman, is something in the nature of a widening of the experience. With each now woman that a man is attracted to there appears to come a broadening of the outlook, or, if you like, an acquiring of new territory. A turn of the eyebrow, a tone of the voice, a queer characteristic gesture – all these thing, and it is these things that cause to arise the passion of love – these things are like so many objects on the horizon of the landscape that tempt a man to walk beyond the horizon, to explore. He wants to get, as it were, behind those eyebrows with the peculiar turn, as if he desired to see the world with the eyes they over shadow. He wants to here that voice applying itself to every possible proposition, to every possible topic; he wants to see those characteristic gestures against every possible background. Of the question of the sex instinct I know very little and I do not think it counts for much in a really great passion. it can be aroused by such nothings – by an untied shoelace, by the glance of the eye in passing – that I think that it might left out of the calculation. I do not mean to say that a reallly great passion can exist without a desire for consummation. That seems to me to be a commonplace, and therefore to be a matter needing no comment at all. it is a thing, with all its accidents, that must be taken for granted, as in a novel, or a biography, you take it for granted that the characters have their meals with some regularity. But, the real fierceness of desire, the real heat of passion long continued and withering up the soul of a man, is the craving for identity with the woman that he loves. he desires to see with the same eyes, to touch with the same sense of touch, to hear with the same ears, to lose his identity to be enveloped, to be supported. For whatever may be said of the relation of the sexes, there is no man who loves a woman that does not desire to come to her for the renewal of his courage, for the cutting asunder of his difficulties. And that will be the mainspring of his desire for her. We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist.
So, for a time, if such a passion come to fruition, the man will get what we wants. he will get the moral support, the encouragement, the relief from the sense of loneness, the assurance of his own worth. But, these things pass away as the shadows pass across sun-dials. It is sad but it is so. The pages of the book will become too familiar, the beautiful corner of the road will have been turned too many times. Well, this is the saddest story.
And yet I do believe that for every man there comes at last a woman-or not that is the wrong way for formulating it. For every man there comes a time of life when the woman when the woman who sets her seal upon his imagination has set her seal for good. He will travel over no more horizons, he will never agains set eh knapsack over his shoulders, he will retire form those scenes. He will have gone out the business
The italics did not take:
The above second paragraph et seq. is a quote form “The Good Soldier.”
The only flaw I see here is the omission of JFK as a smart president.
[…] to this quite excellent (albeit quite unsafe for work due to language) piece by David Simon on this absolutely ridiculous Gen. David Petraeus “scandal,” with an equally excellent followup about an FBI agent named John O’Neill. Even if […]
To be sure, hidden marital infidelity means a low more for someone with a security clearance. You assert that the affair did not compromise national security, but discovering hidden infidelity is sufficient cause to deny or revoke a US security clearance; for the director of the CIA to be exempt from an elementary requirement for maintaining US national security (which is an elementary component of his job) would be deeply unfair to the many people who have suffered the consequences of this rule in the past.
Nor is this a particularly unfair rule. Yes, Petraeus confessed to the FBI when confronted with evidence; would he have been as willing to disclose the affair publicly if someone had approached him discreetly with the same evidence and tried to blackmail him? Would you reasonably expect everyone with a security clearance to behave honorably, in the manner of Joe Alsop, an act which did not lose him his job, as anyone with a needed security clearance may rightly expect?
Therefore, I disagree with you on that one point: Petraeus was right to resign, and the government was right to be concerned that he had an undisclosed extramarital affair. (I do think the FBI should have stopped investigating when it was clear no laws had been violated; the matter should instead have been referred to the DOD and to the appropriate part of the Federal government—perhaps the office of the Director of National Intelligence, perhaps the internal affairs division of the CIA—for further investigation. I also think the FBI shouldn’t have been in a position to uncover the infidelity; Glenn Greenwald has reported on the paper-thin justification they had for reading reams of private correspondence before they uncovered the affair.)
On the lurid, lazy nature with which this story is reported—and honestly, it’s irrelevance to most of us, relative to the attention it’s getting—I’m right with you. There are far more important things to discuss, but people’s genitals sell ads, so the “news” organizations sell the genitals. The descent of journalism to a form of socially acceptable pornography is contemptible. There are important stories uncovered in this—Why is the media so callow? Are our civil rights an illusion?—but they won’t get much attention.
The mere acknowledgment of homosexuality was enough to deny a security clearance. Why? Because we lived in a culture in which discovery of homosexuality was presumed to be so onerous a shame that the victim could be subject to blackmail.
Is not the same dynamic at work with marital infidelity? As long as we perpetuate the extraordinary level of judgment against those who cheat — and conjure military codes against adultery and such — are we not leaning into the same punch?
Ah, you say, but someone caught cheating might still have to tell his spouse and risk divorce or disruption in their lives. Does that not make them vulnerable to blackmail regardless of how society views adultery?
An interesting theoretical point. And yet, in all the annals of modern spycraft and counterintelligence, can you recall a single instance in which anyone — anyone — betrayed their country’s secrets because their heterosexual marital infidelities would otherwise be exposed. For the life of me, I can’t.
I agree with you, up to a point, and that point is where someone is blatantly and unabashedly hypocritical about their public attitudes toward sexual behavior versus their personal behavior. Equating Gingrich with Bill Clinton doesn’t wash, because only one of those men belongs to the party that chronically and unabashedly appoints itself as the unilateral arbiter of public morality. Ditto for anyone who promotes homophobic legislation or policies, while carrying on a gay affair on the down-low.
And Herman Cain? Brief memory refresher here, he was accused of sexually harassing former employees and associates; one woman said that Cain “reached under the skirt of her suit for her genitals and pushed her head toward his crotch. When she questioned his behavior, Bialek said that Cain replied, ‘You want a job, right?'” (from Wikipedia) That’s not “f[inding] some happy moments”, that’s sexual assault.
You know what? You’re absolutely right about Cain.
My memory failed me — that was indeed a case of alleged sexual harassment. I had forgotten entirely. If I could have a second crack at that essay, I would substitute Weiner for Cain. That poor guy was in a consensual relationship in which no woman was even in the room. Dude was in digital fantasyland only and still, he had to be ritualistically purged from public life.
My mistake on Cain. Truly. Regrets there.
As to Gingrich, elsewhere I have made clear that I do not consider divorce — in this modern world — to necessarily be in direct opposition to “family values.” I am not here to advocate for a loveless marriage, or to be curious about why people stay married or fail to stay married. I understand that the timing of the Gingrich divorce can be made to seem cruel, given the wife’s illness. But again, I am not on the inside of that relationship, nor do I wish to be. And divorce itself can be, for some marriages, a necessary outcome in the end.
I’ve said elsewhere that someone who advocates for family values politically and then acts in contradiction to such is open to public critique, of course. Not the case with Petraeus, of course. And even Gingrich, in bringing the truth, however hard, to his wife, rather than cheating and denying — even he doesn’t meet my personal threshold for launching private lives into the public domain. I guess I’m just a little less judgmental about this stuff. And by and large, I’m a pretty judgmental fella when I wanna be.
Perhaps one can put aside Gingrich’s behavior in his first divorce, but there is also the fact that at the time he was excoriating Clinton publicly for the Lewinsky affair, he had just begun the affair with the lady now his third wife, while still married to his second. Given that he does indeed hold with being “morallt judgemental” on people in general and Democrats in particular, while himself adhering to a “different standard,” his hypocrisy is something to pay attention to in public and to take into consideration when considering him as a worthwhile and serious human being one would be willing to allow anywhere near the throttle and steering gear of the Ship of State.
Again, this falls under the guy who publicly claims This while privately doing That, which is a matter of concern policy-wise.
Personally, I have a lot more to complain about with Newtie the “Patriot” who married his first wife in order to avoid the draft in a war he publicly claimed to support (many others of the Republican Party are also on that list, see: Cheney, Dick.) As someone who served in that war and then came back and spent six years opposing it, I used to always enjoy having the local YAF detachment come to a speaking engagement and excoriate my patriotism. I would then ask the little generalissimo when it was that he was quitting school to volunteer for the Army, volunteer for the infantry, and volunteer for Vietnam, since he was such an obvious Patriot. The little assholes always shut up after that.
I think we can agree that that behavior is indeed more commonly associated with one political party than the other, which is why I personally love H.L. Mencken’s old comment “In this world of toil and trouble, there are many things to be thankful for; as for me, I am thankful I am not a Republican.”
Oh, and your namesake Roger Simon is a well-known, career-long talentless hack (well, talented at being a hack at least). It’s why he ended up at the wingnut disinformation project “The Politico.”
I sure do hate like hell to hear that the Treme season you’re working on is the last. I tell my friends that Treme and The Wire are TV that will make you smarter if you watch them, which in my experience in the same swamp is a definite Kiss of Death. But please keep it up.
Found you on Daring Fireball. You are now one of my go to blogs.
[…] lof of people have already blown this up, but this is David Simon’s response to our bizarre fascination with the sex scandals of our public figures. It is genius and a […]
I really appreciate the loss of a free and critically thinking press in the main stream media as a bulwark for democracy. The wandering penis argument and human fragility I can buy, to a point, though it sounds like an old boy’s club code to me and the fatal flaw that is decried is getting caught. And for sure knowing that if I had a penis in my life which wandered off and then lied about after making promises – that penis would not be dipping its wick in my vagina anytime soon. What troubles me though is hypocrisy. If a politician is publically building a career and earning the trust of the public while practising habits he publically decries – that IS a problem. Don’t sell yourself as a wife and family man and a model of fidelity, or self righteously decry homosexuality if you are a philandering cheat or a closeted gay. And that, I would argue is a fit subject for a critical media to cover.
I’m torn by this post. I hate the tabloid nature of mainstream media. I hate the sensationalist crap that is pumped out to drive up viewers especially when worthy news is pushed down. That being said, if a tabloid story has teeth then it needs to be ran. The Patreaus story has a Watergate type of feel that may take weeks or months to fully vet. Was there an security leak? Payoffs? Illegal privilege? It’s not like the man who was responsible for running the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was having an affair with a hooker. He had an affair with a woman with strong ties to the military. Certainly, the media’s investigation of this matter is justified. Maybe Patreaus and Broadwell had a garden variety affair and shook hands when it was over. I think most people (including myself) believes there is more to this story which will be discovered in the upcoming weeks.
First, I have nothing but respect for your work. My only wish is that there was more of it.
On your penis press argument, however . . .
While I agree with the larger point that the American media has some maturing to do (a lot), I find it difficult to fault them without holding their audiences at fault as well. Blaming the media for writing about penises and power is like blaming the guy at the state fair for making deep fried chocolate bacon strips. Nobody goes to the fair to eat a salad.
The circus that is the news media writes penis stories for the same reason that network television consciously aims at making 3rd grader sexual innuendo into 22 minutes sit-coms: because that’s how one sells air time for commercials about erectile dysfunction, indigestion, and credit cards. Because that’s what sells.
And France? France has it’s own version of this in the long distance titty-cam images of a princess bathing nude on what was once-upon-a-time a private balcony. If only they had had sex. imagine what those pics would be worth.
For me, your criticism is fair but incomplete. I don’t expect to see the journalistic equivalent of The Wire or Generation Kill on CNN or Politico because “there’s no mass market” for that kind of journalism in that channel. However, when it comes to power and penises, the American public’s appetite is something of a bottomless pit, as regrettable as that may be.
Thanks for writing this. I couldn’t agree more about the sad state of the American press.
Absolutely conveys my opinion on this subject.
This is the smartest written article by a journalist that I have ever read. Every news talking head needs to read this, we are tired of hearing about all of the sexual indiscretions of our leaders, sports heroes, Hollywood and the general public. Enough is enough. If your interest equates to someones sexual history and how it effects their performance in society, then you are a very small person. Go hide in a cave somewhere because we don’t want you in our society.
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Wow. A serious and thoughtful analysis of a situation in American politics. Who’d have thunk it possible anymore?
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Thank you for your lucid thoughts, yet again.
The absurdity perpetrated by the “mainstream” media daily; pandering to exploitative and cheap illation, accentuates its delinquency and abject failure to inform, illuminate and rationalise events for the general populace.
I’ve experienced just how dumb, vacuous and deceitful commercial television has become over the last 30 years from the inside, and it’s very, very depressing.
It’s a simple equation … Profit / Accountants / Leveraging / Debt leads to the marginalization of a discerning culture while propagating asinine and factious programming created by asinine and factious people for asinine and factious people.
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Very nicely put. The UK is similarly mired in such appalling journalistic double standards as these.
What passes for news just becomes more and more asinine, The day after the election, CNN breathlessly reported that a woman in Kenya had twins that she named Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Their source for this tidbit? Beats me — they didn’t share and, more importantly, who cared? As Rip Torn’s Artie said on “The Larry Sanders Show” when he decried what passes for news, “Two kittens fell in a well — who gives a shit?” At the newspaper where I used to work — no exaggeration — Anna Nicole Smith’s death got bigger Page 1 play than Gerald Ford’s did. Since “American Idol” winner Carrie Underwood came from our state, the paper used any excuse to get her on Page 1 in hopes of increasing newsstand sales (the top editors didn’t see the humor in my suggestion to replace the American flag with her face so she’d always be on Page 1 above the fold). Of course, they deluded themselves to believe that someone who would buy the paper for an Underwood story one day would return the next to see what the City Council did. Industrywide, the higher in the ranks of a news organization a person rises, their IQs drop two-three fold in points.
[…] much for the "inside job". Look up "John O'Neil" – oh, never mind, here: David Simon | Stray penises and politicos The relevant portion: […]
There are those of us who have learned what it is to face our sexual demons…the hell to pay if we keep them caged and the other hell to pay if we let them out to play. If we’ve come to terms with our own perpetual tragi-comedies, and survived how they’ve played out (hopefully in private) with spirits still somewhat intact; then I don’t see how we can not be on the same page as you, David, when it comes to public figures being exposed on the puritanical, prurient American uber-stage.
Having waded through the commentary, I’ve concluded that Petraeus demonstrated strategic (even preemptive) acumen in resigning immediately. My sympathies to the consenting adults involved…and especially to the non-consenting wife. Beyond that, and the discussion here, I’m weary of the folly fallout…much more compelled by the O’Neill story and Churchill’s high-functioning underbelly.
Just one hair to split – please don’t lump us all together as ‘the rest of America’ clamoring for the war in Iraq (while Patreaus forsaw futility)…it pushes all those buttons of frustrated disenfranchisement (my chads were NOT hanging when I voted in Dade County, FL 2000) and lingering helpless rage about our nation pissing up the wrong sand dune.
[…] David Simon (writer of, among other things, the Wire) I’m neither an admirer nor detractor of General Petraeus. But I am most definitely a detractor of what journalism has become in this country, of what passes for the qualitative analysis of our society and its problems. And I’ve paid enough attention to the human condition to no longer take seriously the notion that anyone who lets penis or vagina rub against the wrong person, who is indiscreet in doing so, and who then tells the truth about it when confronted by an FBI agent is unfit for either citizenship or public service. […]
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Found you via Gruber on daringfireball.net. I’ve never read you before. But you’ve now made my home screen on my iPad.
Thank you for showing me that there are other like minded adults in this country.
I was living in Japan when the Clinton situation occurred. I remember how they found it so difficult to understand the “problem”. If their leader needs a blowjob, they get on their knees and serve. It’s an honor to serve those who lead and guide them. They were confused that we shamed not only our leader but also Monica who was only doing what they saw as appropriate.
I’m looking forward to getting to know your mind.
Thanks again for keeping it real.
Well, that’s certainly no way to think. Seems like a little enlightment could go a long way in the East. God.
Yup, that’s exactly what the East needs, New Thinking and Enlightenment.
With regard to that depiction of how Japan views women and their role in society, if accurate, a little enlightenment would go a long way.
Yeah….. I wish i could have removed that comment just as i posted it. I thought it was a Commenter, not the actual genius who wrote the piece. It is Genius by the way. I do appreciate such eloquent writing. The comment just struck me odd, as someone who’s been raised/lived in California his entire life, being taught that “Thinking and Enlightenment” are products of the Far East, not the West. I know it’s not totally correct, but it is the general view…..
And, ‘how Japan views women…’, the same thoughts can be made at some point in the history of every Patriarchial-based society. Right or wrong, the general consensus regarding a Patriarchal- Matriarchal- society is that someone is on top, someone else is not. There may be an exception, but i’ve never seen a true “Equal” society or read that it actually does work.
But none of that is here nor there. This is why in 20+ years of a career in IT, this is my second or third post on anything, ever. I’m not good at it.
What I SHOULD have written was: Excellent Piece, Great writing, I have never read your work before, but I am now a fan, and will read more of your writings. I thank you for writing it, and Gruber for leading me to it.
Japan could certainly use a little enlightenment when it comes to its robot women . . .
Oh, the hu-bot-nity!
Pardon me if I mis-read your sarcasm here. I certainly hope that was sarcasm. If not, I find your need to take the supposed moral high ground here absolutely unbecoming. Was this beautiful article just your own guilty justification for your own past indiscretions?
Facts to be considered in regards to Japanese culture:
During the Fukushima disaster, there was no looting.
There were almost no children given up for adoption, because family is so important that if there is any, yes any, living relative they will take in and raise their blood.
Until we bombed the living hell out of them (still the only country to use the atomic weapon on another, mind you. Yeah. Go us. Enlightenment indeed.) the Japanese Emperor was in fact considered a direct descendant of God. So in their minds (be as wrong as it may be in your mind) they are servicing their deity.
While I found this article you’ve written here to be brilliant and spot on. I find your snap judgement to this comment and your follow up article for your friend John O’Neill (May he rest in peace) to be in stark hypocritical contrast. I guess it’s okay for white men to be womanizers and whore mongers as long as their job gets done, right?
Don’t be so quick to judge another culture through your moral compass.
If you think there needs to be enlightenment in the far East? Check out this site comparing our crime rates against those of Japan.
Oh and Happy Thanks for giving us your lands Native Americans’ day next week.
But someone else came to this site and posted an misogynist account of his own experience in Japan. I have no way of knowing if his account is accurate, or if it is accurate, if it is reflective of Japan and its gender dynamics.
I then have two choices on being confronted by this stark imagery that is not of my own creation. I can:
1) Remark that, “well, if that is the way it is, then that is the way it is.” In which case I am tacetly affirming the dynamic that he describes. As if I think such male-female relations are honorable and worthy, which I do not.
2) Remark that, “if that is the way it is, then that isn’t right.” Which is what I believe. If women and their aspirations and rights in any other culture are subordinate to men — or vice versa, if such a society exists anywhere — then I find no favor with it. I think the revolution in women’s rights is there to enlighten and to allow every culture to progress.
If you think this is some form of cultural tyranny on my part, I don’t know quite what to say. I also believe in racial equality. Not long ago there were South Africans willing to argue that in creating sanctions against apartheid, we didn’t understand their culture. Similarly, the Taliban wants us to know that we have the role of women all wrong. And Iran and Saudi Arabia, too, have very different ideas about gender equality. I disagree with all of those cultural anachronisms and I think advocates of such inequality do indeed need to be enlightened — as in politically enlightened, not in any cross-cultural way that implies Western superiority, but in a manner that simply insists on racial and sexual equality. You have taken the culture-neutral term of enlightenment and tried, wrongly, to imply that I was asserting for some kind of overall Western superiority. Not so. If the dynamic described by the original poster was part of a description of Iowans reacting to Clinton-Lewinsky, I would remark that Iowa is in need of some enlightenment.
If his descriptions of the response he encountered in Japan are not accurate, then that is another story. I took him at his word and said if that is the case, then it is wrong. And, well, it is wrong. Regardless of geography, or cultural origin, or any other variable. Equality among people everywhere is a prime directive, I believe.
While many people remember President Eisenhower’s comment on the military-industrial complex, few seem to remember the mention of the scientific-elite and how the ability to produce data would see governments run the country solely on data stripped of context.
Whenever I see someone throw out crime rates of other countries I am reminded of the idea that Eisenhower raised. Japanese citizens are cited for their honesty because they always turn in items they find. But that’s due to a practice that started fourteen hundred years ago where people were compensated for doing so and those that didn’t faced severe criminal punishment. It’s a system that still exists today.
It’s true there was very little looting after the tsunami. Some due to police presence but mostly due to the Yakuza syndicates (and some Chinese gangs) who roamed the streets protecting the areas. They also handed out millions in relief supplies. Then, three months later they started bidding on (and winning) the clean-up contracts which will make them massive amounts of money.
As far as the original comment about women servicing men, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an actual attitude that had been expressed. The Japanese culture concerning rape, sexual assault and domestic violence was one of silence. A woman’s place was one of obedience and speaking out brought shame to her and her family. It’s only in the last decade that laws specifically addressing these crimes have been written. And it is no surprise that the number of reported incidents have been rising. Not because they are happening at a greater frequency but that the stigma of speaking out is weakening.
I’ve stated before that it’s interesting to see where people stop reading and start reacting. And to see someone get offended over your statement that blind subservience is not an enlightened position borders on the bizarre.
I found that kind of amazing.
On being presented with that scenario by the previous post, what am I expected to say?
“Why that is delightful. Powerful men being serviced by dutiful women at the drop of their pants. What a lovely tradition.”
Yeah, I might have thought such a thing. But say it? The reptilian lobes of my brain aren’t quite that predominant, no.
And the next thing I know, I’m guilty of cultural hegemony.
re. Japanese culture. Being married to a Japanese (now in the middle of divorce) for 25 years,and living for 10 of those in Japan, I still have NO idea WTF their culture is all about… I wouldn’t do what the men do… I find the average ‘marriage’ to be bizarre… sick , even. However, that’s the way they do it. You might not like this next statement David, but the relief in being in a culture full of pleasant females who are not looking for power/personal gratification above all else/ANY reason to cut my nuts off, at the drop of a hat… is wonderful. Is it ‘morally correct’? I have no idea. Moral parameters are, historically, plastic… right down to homicide, let alone where I park my weiner for a few hours.
To me sex is just the journalistic version of arresting Al Capone for Tax evasion.
Coolidge might’ve run out for some strange too, if his wife took that joke he made about the rooster the wrong way.
So that leaves Nixon. And Truman. He and Bess use to snap bed slats in the Lincoln Bedroom.
And probably Taft.
David, how disappointing. A very clever headline followed by such flawed logic and a mean-spirited diatribe that I hardly recognized you.
As a long-time fan and admirer (I have nearly all your material in books or dvds and we met in New Orleans just before the Katrina disaster), I have come to appreciate your true genius as a thoughtful commentator and producer of stories that inform, inspire, and lift us just enough to see the both the trees and the forest in our urban jungles. You are the Charles Dickens for our times and I mean that as a complement.
But, oh you must have been tired to produce such bullshit as this blog. Do you actually equate Churchill and O’Neill? Do you equate FDR and Kennedy? Come on man! When did a leader with a mistress equate to a womanizer with a fuck-counter. When does an alcoholic equate to a cold-hearted bastard raining drones on innocents. Even you knew better when you wrote about the Corner, and Homicide, and The Wire, and Generation Kill, and now Treme. We’re all flawed but some are more guilty, more evil than others. Those with more power and authority do have more responsibility.
David Petraeus is no saint. Roger Simon is no charlatan. And David, you’re not a petty bully hiding behind his fiction because he can’t handle the investigative journalism anymore.
As they used to say on Hill Street Blues: “Be careful out there.” We wouldn’t want to lose you.
The point is not be involved in a voyeuristic game of judging whose personal life offends me the most or whose behavior I can rationalize. Absent any criminality on anyone’s part, the point is to get out of the business of assessing and judging the personal lives of others
Again, I don’t care about rectitude. I need competence and results.
And brother, if this mess is what investigate journalism has become and what we use it for then god help the republic.
I may have missed something, but do you exclude the powerful and hypocritical?
For example: the ever popular homophobic fundamentalist pastor who gets caught with his equipment lodged in a rent boy (or whatever it is you call them in the States).
Powerful people who wish to impose standards on others should be held to account when they violate those standards.
You missed something. We readily acknowledge that those who engage in sexual harassment are a separate category, as are those public officials who advocate for sexual moralism and standards of behavior that they themselves violate.
We’re just talking about sex between consenting adults in this critique.
Anyone ever read “Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Weiner? This guy is a saint compared to much of the prior Directors.
Funny of you to mention.
HBO has optioned it and I’m trying to develop with Ed Burns and Dan Fesperman. Too soon to tell if it gets a green light.
[…] Simon, creator of The Wire, breaks it down: Hypocrisy will never go out of style in American journalism or American life. But sitting there […]