Tuesday, June 1, 2004

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How do young women react to political scandals?

Back in February I blogged about the rumors of John Kerry having an affair, the possible impact on his presidential campaign. Although I was somewhat ambivalent about whether it was a bloggable topic, and I quickly posted the subsequent flat-out denials by all involved, I still feel a sense of queasiness about the whole episode.

So in fairness, here's a link to Alexandra Polier's New York cover story on being at the eye of the media storm, and her subsequent efforts to find out how she got sucked into it. The key graf:

It was becoming clearer: No single person had to have engineered this. First came a rumor about Kerry, then a small-time blogger wrote about it, and his posting was read by journalists. They started looking into it, a detail that was picked up by Drudge—who, post-Monica, is taken seriously by other sites like Wonkette, which no political reporter can ignore. I was getting a better education in 21st-century reporting than I had gotten at Columbia J-school.

Read the whole thing. David Frum and Matt Drudge come off as appropriately contrite. Wesley Clark spinmeister Chris Lehane and The Sun’s Brian Flynn come off as officious sleazebags.

Noam Scheiber and Mickey Kaus have further thoughts on Polier's Kerry experience (links via Glenn Reynolds)

There's an interesting parallel contrast to be drawn between Polier's scandal experience and reaction, and that of Jessica Cutler, a.k.a. Washingtonienne, who was fired from the office of Senator Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) for blogging about her scandalous sex life on government time. Her brief blog was immediately embraced heartily by Wonkette.

Cutler is a bit younger than Polier, but not by much. They're both attractive young women who have plugged themselves into the worlds of politics and the media. They both became the center of media attention. They have both capitalized to some extent on their media notoriety. However, Cutler's reaction to the whole brouhaha has been much more... enthusiastic than Polier, according to the Washington Post's Richard Leiby:

[Cutler] once aspired to be a journalist and says she is not ashamed in the least of her behavior. "Everything is true," Cutler told us in an interview. "It's so cliched. It's like, 'There's a slutty girl on the Hill?' There's millions of 'em," she said, laughing. "A lot of my friends are way worse than me."....

Slim and 5 feet 2, she primped herself for photos ("I have good cheekbones. . . . I have good teeth") and said she would probably move to New York to find work because of her notoriety in Washington. She's setting her sights on the book publishing industry: "They'll totally hire me if I say I got fired from my job on the Hill because of a sex scandal."

So as I said, there's an interesting parallel comparison to be drawn here.... but I can't think of what it is. All I keep hearing in my head is Homer Simpson saying "There's no moral. It's just a bunch of stuff that happened!!"

Readers are hereby invited to do so.

UPDATE: A few of the commenters misread a poor word choice of mine. I was not trying to equate Polier's behavior with Cutler. It was the similarity of their positions, contrasted with the divergence in their behavior, that I find so interesting. Sorry for the confusion.

ANOTHER UPDATE: James Joyner is probably correct in his analysis:

1) people like to read about sex involving 20-something chicks and people connected in some way to power; 2) Drudge and Wonkette especially like to write about sex involving 20-something chicks and people connected in some way to power; and 3) one of the quickest way for a 20-something chick to get rich and famous is to have sex with people connected in some way to power.

I'd amend #3 to include "people accused of having sex with powerful people."

posted by Dan on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM


The relationship between your title and your post is not clear to me. I have a sense that you are somehow making a connection between scandal mongering and young women, but the info provided in your post clearly shows a higher number of males participating in the dissemination of false rumors about Kerry.

posted by: agrippa on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

Dan, you are WAY out of line trying to draw a parallel between Alex Polier and Jessica Cutler, and even bringing up the parallel only further smear's Polier.

Polier is just a young journalist who found herself sucked into a whirlwind political scandal through absolutely no fault of her own. In fact, she didn't even dignify the rumors with a comment until there was no way out of the limelight.

Cutler on the other hand is obviously just a young publicity hound who sleeps around. Frankly I wouldn't be surprised if she engineered her own "outing" for the sake of publicity. Stranger things have happened.

And you want to draw a parallel?

Well hell, how about Abraham Lincoln and GW Bush...there's an interesting parallel to be drawn there too but I'm not sure what it is either.

posted by: Kent on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

I feel really sorry for poor Polier.

However, in terms of Scheiber's story about how it doesn't reflect well on Kerry, I don't see that at all. Kerry didn't hit on her, he didn';t flirt with her, he didn't do anything. He was just friendly to her, and so was Teresa Heinz Kerry. Undoubtedly the fact that she's attractive induced him to be a little friendlier to her, but on the whole it seems like Kerry was actually chatting politely with someone from his state -- in short being what he's accused of not being (aloof).

posted by: Jon Juzlak on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

I was with this column until the (funny?? wry? ) comparison between Alexandria Polier and Jessica Cutler.

What the heck??

The poster above spells it out - in what world is there a parallel here? Why did you pull THIS particular comparison here? Other than the fact that they are both sexy, beautiful women?

At any rate, the only real parallels are they are 1) both beautiful and 2) were sucked into a maelstrom in Washington political gossip circles - but to draw comparison, is draw a slyly unfair comparison, as far as Polier goes.

Why in the world would you do this?

posted by: JC on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

Little correction - "is TO draw a slyly unfair comparison"...

posted by: jc on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

“My final call, inevitably, had to be to Matt Drudge, who said he couldn’t talk for long as his father had just arrived for the weekend. In fact, we spoke for nearly 40 minutes. “In retrospect, I should have had a sentence saying, ‘There is no evidence to tie Alex to John Kerry.’ I should have put that,” he told me.”

Matt Drudge admits his single mistake. Other than that, the blame is entirely the fault of John Kerry’s fellow Democrats---some who are also closely tied to Bill Clinton. Wait a minute, isn’t this the same former president who is soon releasing a book that will almost guaranteeably push Kerry into the public background? Doesn't Clinton want Kerry to defeat President Bush in November? I’m so confused.

posted by: David Thomson on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

Polier's statement that none of this would have happened if she had been a man made me laugh. You think she'd have gotten an audience with John Kerry in the first place if she'd been a man?

She is pretty, but she didn't impress me as someoone who was particularly insightful.

posted by: Dexter Westbrook on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

As other commenters have indicated, the Cutler-Polier comparison reveals more about the persons making the comparison than it does about the women in question.

And Kaus doesn't just have "further thoughts on Polier's Kerry experience" -- he insinuates that the rumours are true (or wants them to be).

posted by: P O'Neill on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

Kent, JC, ad P O'Neill: Wow, clearly I used the wrong word in "parallel." I was not trying to say that Polier and Cutler's behavior was morally or ethically equivalent. I fully agree that Polier and Cutler's reactions to their predicaments have been very different -- see my update above.

Jon -- er, Polier says flat out that "The senator was flirtatious and funny." Scheiber specifically quotes that passage. I agree with Kaus that Kerry's behavior was harmless, but it sounds like he was more than just "polite"

posted by: Dan Drezner on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

I'm still confused. One woman had an untrue rumor floated about her and John Kerry. Another was blogging about her sex life when she was suppose to be working for a United States senator. Your still attempting to compare the different reactions both of these women had to their very different situations.

It's like: Bob jumped from the roof of his hotel into the pool and broke his leg. John was slightly side-swiped by a motorcycle that swerved onto the sidewalk. (John WAS standing in front of a motorcycle shop). Bob says, "Another hotel has invited me to jump off its roof for the publicity." John says, "Wow, I guess you really have to watch where you stand."

posted by: agrippa on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

It was the similarity of their positions, contrasted with the divergence in their behavior, that I find so interesting.

How on earth are their positions so similar? One actually did the actions in question and decided to ride the tiger of noteriety. The other actually was smeared and didn't actually do anything.

Why on earth would it be surprising that they had different reactions? Isn't there more than just a little subtext that both of these women are guilty as charged and that one woman came clean and the other went into denial mode?

I mean, what else are we to take away from this post?

posted by: Hal on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

Okay. Thanks for the update. Still a strange choice for comparison - as Hal comments, their respective situations were very different. But anyway, to give you the benefit of the doubt here, what is interesting, new and yet similar about their behavior? I suppose one thing you can say is, they both are not afraid of the limelight? Or at least, are willing to speak their voice strongly? One embraces the limelight (Cutler) with none of the traditional "shame", and the other, who actually was VERY wronged and smeared, finds a rather creative and tough way to turn the tables. So, in their own VERY different ways, they are similarly outspoken, tough, and unafraid of what people think of them.

Would similar women have existed 20 years ago? Would the avenues that these two chose to respond (Cutler -"yeah, I did that. So what?" and Polier "those bastards did this to me! I'll beat them at their own game!") been thinkable 20 years ago?

But Dan, it is VERY easy to think the wrong type of comparisons, by using these two as examples.



posted by: JC on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

If there's no moral to the story, perhaps there's an immoral to the story. How's this:

Loose lips sink ships, whether you're a slut on the Hill or a whore in the press.

posted by: chsa on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]


Yes but if Kerry wasn't a politician and he wasn't married I bet he'd gone for her, wink wink nudge nudge. That's just as bad really. Monty Python always seems to catch the essence of the Bush administration.

Oh. (leeringly) Still, mooooooh, ay? Mwoohohohohoo, ay? Hohohohohoho, ay?

posted by: dispassionate on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]


Yes, I saw the 'flirtatious and funny' comment (although it didn't say that he was flirting with her, but thats just nitpicking), but it was just one comment among a fairly large article detailing her experiences with Kerry. I've no doubt that the fact that she was a fairly attractive woman made Kerry pay more attention to her than otherwise, but not necessarily inordinately more -- after all, she was also a constituent, and this was before Kerry had a large staff for his Presidential campaign.

One more comment on the New Yorker article -- at one stage, a columnist says to Polier that she didn't think of Polier as real so she felt free to make comments about her. Its easy for all of us to forget that there are real human beings, not just cardboard pin-ups that we write about or talk about.

posted by: Jon on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

3) one of the quickest way for a 20-something chick to get rich and famous is to have sex with people connected in some way to power.

I'd amend #3 to include "people accused of having sex with powerful people."

Mr. Drezner - You have added 2 updates, including the latter line above. You are sticking to this illogical topic like Perle to Chalabi. So, like the inexplicable P to C, we are forced to look for something sinister. Have you perhaps recently been bested or some such thing by a 20 something female whom you felt used her attractiveness to ...get a story...beat you at poker...get your promotion...??? It really feels personal and bordering on creepy.

posted by: agawam on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

What's strange is that she still doesn't answer where the rumor started when it looks rather obvious it's Lehane... this is being portrayed to this day as "Republicans smeared her."

posted by: HH on 06.01.04 at 04:44 PM [permalink]

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