Thursday, June 9, 2011

Famous Cover-ups

Ever since Watergate, it has become commonplace to see situations in which the cover-up gets people in worse trouble than the original transgression. Two recent situations come to mind. The first is OSU football coach Jim Tressel. All of the ESPN commentators agree that had he reported it like he should have when he first learned that his players were violating NCAA rules, he could have kept his job. But instead he did nothing (except alert Terrell Pryor's mentor and consult an FBI agent friend), and then when the NCAA eventually got wind of it and investigated, he lied to the NCAA investigator. That put him in an untenable situation, and he did the only honorable thing possible at that point and resigned.

Now we have the pathetic case of Anthony Wiener. Wiener spent a week denying he had sent the lurid picture of himself to a female internet friend, claiming he had been hacked or punked, whatever term you want to use here. When asked if it was a picture of him, he said he could not deny that it was, because pictures can be doctored and "who knows what all is out there". This convoluted gobbledygook of an answer made it obvious he wasn't coming clean, and Monday he called a press conference and said he had indeed sent the original photo, and he apologized repeatedly and profusely. In the three days since then, more photos have emerged, and some of the Twitter interactions between himself and his female "friends" have come to light; in one, he coached her on how to deny if asked. In others, he uses sexually explicit language in every tweet, like when the woman says she saw him on a TV show yesterday, and he asks if she was watching naked, stuff like that.

Wiener could have saved himself (and his wife) a lot of grief had he come clean from the beginning, but, as he says, he was too embarrassed.

Politicians and others in the public eye should follow the example of Grover Cleveland during the 1884 presidential campaign. In the biography of Cleveland by Henry F. Graff, the author describes how the headline on July 21st blared out: "A TERRIBLE TALE, A Dark Chapter in a Public man's History, The Pitiful Story of Maria Halpin and Grover Cleveland's Son". The story alleged that Cleveland had seduced Halpin and then forced her to commit the baby to an orphan asylum. The author says that the actual facts were vastly different; he asserts that it was possibly Halpin who had seduced Cleveland, and that after the birth she began drinking heavily and neglecting the baby, which caused a concerned Cleveland to ask a judge friend of his to look into it, leading to the woman being committed for treatment and the baby going to the orphan asylum.

The original report was largely ignored, because it was published by a paper known as a scandal sheet. But then a respected Boston paper sent a reporter to Buffalo to check the story out, and this follow-up story quoted a Buffalo pastor as saying Cleveland was a "noted whoremonger", and made other accusations against Cleveland. Cleveland's response when asked how the campaign should respond to the allegations was simple and to the point: he said "tell the truth".

As we know, Cleveland got elected twice despite these scurrilous allegations against him. The author says that Cleveland never returned to Buffalo for the rest of his life, except for three ceremonial events which he could not avoid. Cleveland's forthright response helped to cement the reputation for honesty and integrity that he had for the rest of his life.