The Sex-Erazzi: Stalking The Body Politic
By Arianna Huffington
December 03, 1998
"Do I have a right to ask you about your sex life?" Diane Sawyer asked Ken Starr during her "20/20" interview. Was I ever amazed when he answered back: "No, you don't have the right to ask me about my sex life unless I have the right to ask you whether the rumors that you slept with Richard Nixon are true."
No, no, that's not what he said. Instead, he predictably answered: "No, I have not been unfaithful to my spouse." Not only that, but he referred to it as "the answer to the big question." I thought the "big question" for the body politic was about the breaking of laws, not marriage vows.
By answering Sawyer's question, Starr did immeasurable harm in two ways: He fed the public's fear that the Independent Counsel considers delving into private sex lives a legitimate pursuit; and he abetted the damaging trend of public figures' sex lives dominating the political discourse.
Let's flash back to the dawn of the decade when in April, 1990, Diane Sawyer (again) asked Marla Maples about a tabloid headline in which she had reportedly referred to sex with Donald Trump as "Best Sex I've Ever Had." "All right," Sawyer asked, "Was it the best sex you've ever had?" Maples had more gumption than Starr: "Diane," she replied, "this has nothing to do with why I'm here."
Five years later, Sawyer tied herself in knots trying to find out on national television whether Michael Jackson and his wife Lisa Marie Presley had ever done it. "I didn't spend my life as a serious journalist to ask these kinds of questions," she apologized, "but I'm not oblivious to the fact that your fans have one question they most wanted to ask of you ..." Maybe she can close out the decade by interviewing Milton Berle: "This is not the kind of topic I would ever bring up on my own, but my viewers simply must know if what they say about you is true ..."
We are clearly not going to be able to stop the media from asking inappropriate questions about the sex lives of public figures. So it's up to the figures themselves to stop answering them. Why does Bob Dole have to go on national television and answer Larry King's question about using Viagra? Why does Elizabeth Dole have to go on CNN that same week to confirm the fact? And why does the distinguished former Sen. George Mitchell, fresh from brokering a historic peace treaty in Ireland, have to answer the same question before the National Press Club with, "No, I've got a 6-month old son to prove that I don't need it!"
The fact that Bill Clinton speaks in public about his underwear and the AstroTurf in his pickup truck doesn't make sex an appropriate topic for politicians. Typically, the media's rationale for asking these questions has been to expose hypocrisy. Do you espouse "family values"¿ Have you ever been divorced? Gotcha! But that defense rings hollow in an age when politicians of every stripe, from Barney Frank to Bill Clinton to Bob Barr, are busy touting the importance of the family.
There are far too many candidates getting ready to run in 2000 who feel obliged to answer the "big question." They should resolutely resist the urge. Whether they have a spotless marriage or have strayed, they should echo the answer Bill Clinton gave eight months too late: "This is between me, my spouse, our family and God. It is none of your business."
Yet according to Bill Bennett, we should expect the sex lives of politicians "to be an issue" in 2000. "My guess," he said, "is that if adultery is part of your baggage, forget it, because after the Clinton business I think that the country is going to want to take a bath." Get out the soap: One of the candidates for Congress this year, Gary Mueller, felt compelled to release a notarized, legally binding document in which he swore, among other things, that he had never had an extramarital affair or a homosexual encounter. Mercifully, he lost.By narrowing our definition of morality to sexual morality, we disregard the major moral issues of modern politics: the immoral disregard of those the Bible calls "the least among us," the corrupt selling of public policy to the highest donor, the surrender of principles to polls. Where a politician stands on these matters is infinitely more significant than whom he lies with after hours. The latter, while profoundly important in the private realm, has no place in the domain of politics. It's time that we render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God and those we have made our vows with -- that which is theirs.
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