Scandal has always dogged men in power. Some cynics might even consider the terms “cheating” and “politician” synonymous. But in 2011, after looking to the Yahoo! Search box for details, some people turned to science to see if hubris was an essential component in a power player’s DNA. Sexual compulsion? Megalomania? Narcissism? Weren’t these politicians paying attention to the travails of Kwame Kilpatrick, the trendsetter for social networking mishaps, or to the newly prosecuted John Edwards?
How else to explain the case of the married New York congressman cruising Craigslist? Representative Christopher Lee, R-N.Y., couldn’t resist one woman’s ad and sent a bare-chested photo of himself — face included, name intact (though he said he was a single lobbyist). Even more mind-boggling was Anthony Weiner, who proved that Democrats were not immune to Twitter fails. His suggestive photo was, at least, briefs-only, but then the usually savvy social networker accidentally tweeted the pic to all his followers. It didn’t help that Weiner enjoyed playing cat-and-mouse in the spotlight for a while, nor that he was newly married with a pregnant wife who happened to be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s right-hand woman.
And on the other side of the country, seven-term Congressman David Wu faced unanswered questions about a possible sexual assault. The woman in question didn’t want to go public, and her wish was inadvertently gratified by another distraction: a Halloween photo of Wu in an orange-and-black striped tiger suit. The Oregonian Democrat generously shared this image with fleeing staffers already nonplussed by his erratic behavior.
Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s betrayal was far more traditional. In his first year back as a civilian, he returned to the scandal sheets when his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, filed for divorce after learning that he had fathered a child with their housekeeper while he was in office.
Far less straightforward was the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund president accused of sexual assault by a hotel maid. A very public arrest, necessitated in part by New York law and Strauss-Kahn’s impending return to France, outraged the French. Charges were later dropped, but a few more cropped up back home.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faced his own charges of having sex with an underaged prostitute. Months later, WikiLeaks surfaced reports of the prime minister bragging about his stamina during what could best be described as orgies. Stepping down to restore confidence in Italy’s economy exposed him to prosecution.
And Herman Cain, a newcomer to the political world, didn’t even have a chance to become an elected official before years-old sexual harassment charges surfaced. Cain quickly learned what others already knew: A faulty recollection is not a defense, and the Godfather’s Pizza CEO went on the offensive as the crowd of accusers grew.
Unless allegations in Joe McGinniss’s biography about Sarah Palin are to be believed, all of 2011’s scandal-plagued politicians were male. The New York Times pondered this lopsided state of affairs, pointing to differences like the motivations behind why women run for office versus men’s motivations, higher expectations for women, and the sheer preponderance of men in politics. Might future gender parity change the equation?
Who knows? What’s more likely is that there will be other scandals, even more unbelievable than the last, coming soon to a headline near you. In the meantime, read on for the head-thumping details of the year’s political transgressions, confessed or disputed, that caught our attention online.
Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for five years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events and search trends and shares the why behind what’s hot online. Before Yahoo!, she worked as a features/A&E reporter for Bay Area newspapers and magazines. On Yahoo!, her writing can be found on Buzz Log, News blog, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog, Fast-Talking Dame.