October 2, 2006

Minor Distinctions


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I was curious about this piece on the fallen Representative Mark Foley in Sunday’s NYT Week In Review.

The media seems to be having an easy time publishing the sexually-oriented IM transcripts between Congressman Foley and a 16-year old male intern.  At the same time, however, I wonder just how comfortable the media is in more constructively dealing with what effectively involves child sexual abuse.

The subject of this giggly-toned piece is politicians who have self-destructed.  (Of course, silliness has always been a good cover for awkwardness and embarrassment.)  Up front, the article places Mr. Foley in what it calls its “Sex Scandal subcaucus,” featuring:

Wilbur Mills (D-Tidal Basin), Gary Hart (D-Monkey Business), Bob Packwood (R-Senate Elevators) and, of course, Bill Clinton (D-Oval Office).

Reviewing the company, however, I don’t see any members of “the caucus” who were guilty of having, or soliciting sex with a minor.  (If you’re wondering, Monica Lewinsky was 22.)

This subcaucus, by the way, is a division of the “What On Earth Was He Thinking?” Caucus.  To somehow liken Mr. Foley’s problems — like the others, in this case — to simple impulsivity or momentary loss of judgement, however, is irresponsible.  Sexual philandering, taken to the point where it ruins one’s career, is evidence of a serious character defect.  The compulsion to engage in sexual contact with children is indicative of far more serious psychopathology.

(To be technical about it, the 16 year-old boy in this case is of the age of consent in Washington, D.C.  In a state like California, however, it’s the age of the other party that determines criminality, and in Foley’s case, it’s not even close.)

It’s only at the end of the piece that the writer identifies Foley’s closer company.  Referring to the website, “Political Graveyard,” a comprehensive catalog of politicians notable for misconduct, four examples are noted (although not ascribed to “a caucus”).  Of those four, three are Congressman who had sex with minors, two involving pages.

The accompanying image is also curious.  It’s offers the most distant example out of the “subcaucus” (a black-and-white 1974 pic of Wilbur Mills with stripper Fanne Foxe).  Reinforcing the discomfort, the photo is a farcical one with Ms. Fox, also a subject of exploitation, seeming to be a joyful partner.

It’s hard to see how the image bears much relation at all to the far more covert and far more ill Foley situation.  Perhaps the boy in the background, in Mills’ shadow, somehow attracted the interest of the Times photo editor?

(image:  Bettmann/Corbis.  undated.  published October 1, 2006. nyt.com)

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Michael Shaw
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