03/13/2008 02:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How the Media Mob Got Eliot Spitzer

Too bad Spitzer was hounded out by the puritanical feeding frenzy of the media mob.

This moralistic fanaticism - fueled by the media's relentless exploitation of sex for ratings and profits - has happened too much of late and threatens to destroy too many worthwhile public servants for minor personal foibles.

Think of what would have happened had our present day, puritanical standards - enforced by the media's righteous indignation - been applied to some of our great political heroes from the past.

Should we have humiliated and impeached Jack Kennedy for Judith Exner, Angie Dickinson and Marilyn Monroe? Or Frankly D. Roosevelt for his relationship with Eleanor's social secretary Lucy Mercer? Or President Thomas Jefferson for his affair with Sally Hemming?

Almost every Democratic President since the Civil War has been implicated in some kind of sexual scandal. Would we really have wanted to dump General Dwight Eisenhower for his close relationship with his attractive driver, Kay Summersby, during World War II? Commander In Chief, General George Marshal, quashed that idea real fast. We had the Nazis to fight.

Today, driven by a voyeuristic media clamor, the public is being bombarded with salacious pictures of scantily clad women from the Emperor's Club VIP web site, and Kristen's My Space and Facebook pages - in the tabloids, on television and on web sites - which drives ratings, readership, and huge profits. Talk about exploiting prostitutes for money! The media delights in selling sex in the same way that the hookers do - only the women are not getting paid for their images.

Our country has a long history of sexually promiscuous Presidents.

The names of powerful political men who have strayed reels off the tongue: Presidents Grover Cleveland, Warren Harding, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon B. Johnson, and George Bush, Sr. (probably).

Indeed, Historian Stanley K. Schultz argues that the great and active Presidents tended to stray more than the mediocre Presidents: "History records few sexual peccadilloes or large moral lapses among most of the men whom historians regard as caretakers rather than as active law-makers or dynamic leaders in the office."

This instant media indignation, and high tech lynching, is a new phenomenon. Americans didn't used to be so hypocritical. Indeed, the rest of the world doesn't follow our straight-laced standards.

If the media hadn't made a big thing about it, nobody much would have cared. Spitzer could have admitted everything, stayed quiet for a few weeks, been humiliated, and the brouhahas would have blown over, soon to be enveloped in the next "scandal de jour." Bill Clinton's actions were even more sordid and illegal and he hung in there...and survived.

Spitzer would have done American politics a great service if he had refused to resign for the principle of the thing. Too many politicians have been forced out of office for victimless crimes and selective prosecution by an out-of-control law enforcement.

This is the latest effort - in a number of earlier historical attempts - to legislate "vice", and enforce religious dogma. Examples are the hysteria about gay sex, the war on drugs and liquor, the prohibition of abortion, and before that, the war on unmarried sex. These campaigns against victimless crimes have destroyed our Constitutional protections and our respect for law enforcement, without any benefit to society.

The same rules, about laying off victimless crimes, should apply to Republicans and Democrats - to Barney Frank, Larry Craig, and David Vitter. Bill Clinton, to his great credit, stood up to a firestorm of puritanistic, religious zealots. And most of the country applauded.

People said it was because Clinton lied or had relations with an employee (something that Spitzer did not do). But that's a lot of crap. He was persecuted because of the sex.

Spitzer, elected by voters, should have resigned only if he were guilty of "high crimes and misnomers."

What he did certainly does not qualify as a high crime or misdemeanor.

The Mann Act from 1910 is a relic from a bygone era. Johns never get prosecuted federally. They usually get a small fine, like a speeding ticket.

But Spitzer broke the law, the moralists will clamor - of course it's a crime. But so is jaywalking...or playing in a Friday night poker game, or smoking a joint, or public drunkenness, or having gay sex, or speeding at 100 miles per hour and causing a crash (Corzine). Do we want to hound every politician for every moral lapse?

This is the lowest of low crimes.

Some worse things that Spitzer could have done:

He could have dallied with any one of hundreds of attractive lobbyists (think Corzine and McCain and half the Senate) and certainly his position, as governor, would have been compromised by the appearance of trading sex for access and influence.

He could have had relations with a state employee; his enemies could argue that he was exerting undue influence over subordinates.

He could have picked a young volunteer or intern, and the same logic would apply. And this might rise to some kind of sexual harassment crime.

He could have kept a mistress in an apartment in Albany in an ongoing relationship that would certainly reflect more disloyalty to his wife and daughters. Having your husband sharing his life and emotions with another woman is certainly more distressful than having a two-hour sexual relief.

He could have had an affair with one of his wife's friends in her social circle and had it get back to her.

He could have dumped his wife and family of twenty years into the trash bin, "to marry whatever new Twinkie works your male menopausal pink," according to Cindy Adams.

Spitzer didn't lie about it to a bunch of busybody policemen or a Congressional committee or an investigating committee.

So out of all the possibilities of moral deprivation, Spitzer picked the one with the least possibility of compromising his government position or threatening his marriage.

He did it out of town and clearly was not intending a continued relationship. Perhaps he turned to prostitutes precisely to avoid any marriage-threatening, romantic entanglements and stayed away from women in government ....who could have demanded a quid pro quo.

If any crime is a victimless crime, this one is it. The hooker was a willing adult getting highly paid for her charms. If she didn't want to do it, nobody was forcing her.

A caveat...of course Spitzer exhibited the narcissistic, arrogant hubris of a conflicted and self-destructive man. Sex addiction is a serious disease and millions of men...and women...suffer from it and need treatment, akin to the kind of rehab treatment that drug and alcohol addicts receive.

But bottom line, Spitzer, and other public servants, should be shown more mercy than he allowed those he excessively prosecuted, convicted and sentenced under his regime.

"Hypocrisy is a fashionable vice, and all fashionable vices pass for virtue," according to Molière.

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