What’s so scandalous about a scandal?

Decades of political scandal. Rebecca Duce.
Decades of political scandal. Rebecca Duce.

We have all heard enough of these political scandals getting fed on by the media, but have we considered that the politicians are the ones reaching out with the food? Let us take a closer look into what it is that makes a political issue a scandal, and how the ones to blame handle the aftereffect.Before you run away at the mention of the over-talked-about Rob Ford, consider looking deeper into a different perspective, not of the scandal itself, but of the way he handled the scandal. He seems to have a repetitive tactic: deny, deny, deny, get proven guilty, apologize and move on to the next one. But is he really doing that bad? Yes, he has been stripped from most of his duties, but his ratings have stayed relatively the same. In late October, the month before he admitted to smoking crack cocaine, his ratings were at 39 per cent and in late November, after his admission, his ratings were at 42 per cent. Even after all the additional embarrassing videos and allegations, Ford’s ratings have averaged between 42 and 47 per cent throughout January. But, why?

Journalism and Democracy professor George Wootten explains that Ford differs in a big way from most other politicians that come under accusations. Although he does follow suit with the initial denial, Wootten says that, “None of his remarks appear scripted because he just does stuff and I think people appreciate that … I think they find the Rob Ford style or whatever to be refreshing.” Wootten explains that Ford portrays himself in a way that he is not looked at as a politician, because he actually seems genuine, whereas other media frenzy scandals such as the Lewinsky scandal, or the Watergate scandal, all obviously have public relation specialists writing out their speeches for them.

Although Ford is now only mayor by title, Wootten thinks that he will not back down like most politicians would because of spite. Spite towards council and the media, but also a good type of spite. “He’s there to defend the interests of the people that voted for him— or what he perceives to be the interests of the people that voted for him. Which you have to admire to a degree,” Wootten admits. But this means he is continuing to feed the scandals. Wootten says that if he were to resign, the scandals would soon follow suit.

Wootten describes Ford’s scandals to be at the second degree; the act of the scandals do not directly correlate with his political position. Whereas the act of a scandal at the first degree breaches laws involving the political position directly.

Previous President Bill Clinton related to Ford in that he had a scandal at the second degree, but Wootten explains that Clinton’s tactic, or at least his public relation’s tactic, was an intelligent strategy of differentiation. After Clinton did the usual denials, his damage control was getting himself out of the media and having his wife, Hillary, speak for the issue. She put the people in the position of having to differentiate between Clinton, her husband and Clinton, their president. Clinton’s public relation specialists literally put the person most affected in the spotlight in order to prove the point of this being a personal matter. This pretty much shut the media up, and de-scandalized the scandal. Who was to say anything bad about Clinton when the main person affected was not?

Now if we head backwards about four decades, previous President Richard Nixon showed us a scandal on the first degree with the Watergate scandal. Public money was used by political members of the White House for politically illegal actions. Nixon was never proven to be directly involved in the acts themselves, but he was later proven to have been aware of them and to have assisted in the cover-up. “The lesson of that is that the indiscretion or the allegation of wrong-doing itself doesn’t necessarily bury you, it’s trying to cover it up that gets you really into trouble,” Wootten says. He explains that Nixon should have immediately prosecuted the ones involved and came clean to the people. Even if he was not involved in the situation in any form, Wootten believes that he should have also resigned as soon as he became aware. Although he did nothing wrong, the wrong-doings were completely to his benefit and there was no going around that.

Nixon did the worst job of handling his scandal in Wootten’s opinion, and yet that may have been one of few scandals that the one to blame was not actually at fault for the initial act. But Wootten does admit that his one smart decision was resigning before the council’s impeachment.

Many of you may recall Ford saying, “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” or Clinton’s famous line, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” You may even recall Nixon’s denial, “I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in; I neither took part in nor knew about any of the subsequent cover-up activities.” Wootten puts out a good point; it is not easy admitting wrong doing, it may even be an instinctive reaction to deny. But he explains that if these politicians were to have come clean right away, they would have surely been news, but they would not have been as scandalous. “What happens is— and you see this a lot with Rob Ford— the denial feeds the story,” says Wootten. But denial is also the first instinct…. Can we really blame them?

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