Our subject today is the five building blocks of any good column: seduction, thongs, sexism, politics and hypocrisy. And thongs. Or did I already mention thongs?
It began a few weeks ago when I was reading a story summing up the trial of John Edwards, the former Democratic senator, presidential candidate and vice presidential nominee.
Edwards was charged in 2011 with six felony counts of violating campaign finance laws to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter. The charges were stupid, and the trial was a waste of millions of tax dollars. Edwards was found not guilty on one count and the jury deadlocked on the rest, resulting in a mistrial on the remaining charges.
There's no doubt that Edwards behaved despicably to his late wife, Elizabeth, and his family and acted like a thorough rat, which he admitted after the trial.
“There is no one else responsible for my sins,” Edwards said. “It's me and me alone.”
But not quite. The story I was reading contained the officially accepted version of how the Edwards-Hunter affair began. Hunter went up to Edwards one night as he was walking back to his hotel and said to him, “You are so hot.”
And that's all it took, we are to believe, for Edwards to plunge into the depths of sin. Just one of the lamest pickup lines ever.
The exchange fed a familiar theme, however, in the accounts of many high-powered affairs: The woman is a nobody, the man is famous and powerful, yet the woman comes on to the man, seduces him and, therefore, is actually to blame.
Wasn't it Monica who seduced Bill? I looked it up in the Starr Report, a government document so sexually grisly that I'll deal just briefly with what took place on Nov. 15, 1995, the first of seven “sexual encounters” between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton as reported by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr:
“According to Ms. Lewinsky, she and the President made eye contact when he came to the West Wing to see Mr. (Leon) Panetta. … At one point, Ms. Lewinsky and the President talked alone in the chief of staff's office. In the course of flirting, she raised her jacket in the back and showed him the straps of her thong underwear, which extended above her pants. En route to the restroom about 8 p.m., she passed George Stephanopoulos' office. The President was inside alone, and he beckoned her to enter. She told him that she had a crush on him. He laughed, then asked if she would like to see his private office.”
I will draw the curtain here. But again we see the theme: A 22-year-old intern shows her underwear to the 49-year-old President of the United States, and he's seduced.
My research assistant (Wikipedia) came up with this historical analysis of that moment: “According to feminist commentator Carrie Lukas, Lewinsky 'with her thong-snapping seduction, forever changed the image of the D.C. junior staffer from aspiring policy wonk to sexual temptress.'”
Let's go to the present day: Gina Chon was until recently a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. In 2008, she was covering the Iraq War and exchanged some naughty emails with a source who was in Baghdad with her, Brett McGurk, a top national security adviser to then-President George W. Bush.
According to Wednesday's Washington Post, “McGurk and Chon apparently were married to others at the time that they struck up a relationship; they obtained divorces and recently married.” McGurk is President Obama's nominee to become ambassador to Iraq. But the emails were leaked last week, and on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal pressured Chon to resign even though, according to one published account, the Journal “found no evidence that (the affair) affected her reporting.”
I can understand this. In journalism, the rule has always been: “If you want to cover the circus, you can't sleep with the elephants.” But getting rid of Chon may have been a little harsh considering her reporting was not affected. She could have been suspended for a time, instead. Though I can see why the owner of The Wall Street Journal would insist on extreme dignity, absolute propriety and utter decorum. He's Rupert Murdoch, after all.
Brett McGurk also may be in some trouble. The Senate must vote on his nomination, and there are rumblings that some Republicans are upset with his affair. (Republicans never have affairs. Except when they do.) But there is a double standard here: The woman gets caught, and her career gets destroyed. The man gets caught, and he may get to avoid one of the worst jobs on earth: U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
I will end with an excerpt from Larry King's extraordinary interview with Monica Lewinsky on Feb. 28, 2002. Let it be a lesson to temptresses everywhere.
KING: Seeing nice people?
KING: Anybody serious?
KING: Nobody married?
LEWINSKY: No. Oh, gosh, no.
KING: That's done.
LEWINSKY: Never again.
Roger Simon is POLITICO's chief political columnist.