Chinese News published an article two weeks ago seeking MP Geng Tan’s response over his alleged extramarital affair. The community reacts to the article with a soaring demand for the MP to answer. However, the story concerning an MP’s ethics behavior has also sparked partisan outcry, with some attacking it as over-the-top sensationalism and degrading it as tabloid reports. They’ve asked: “why, Chinese News, the paper enjoys a reputation of quality reporting engaged in tabloid journalism?”
In North America, a politicians’ extramarital affair has been highly controversial. Some believe that the personal struggles should not break or make a candidate – because they are not elected to be a moral authority but a legislative one. Indeed, journalists in America looked away from the sexual scandal of politicians historically, regarding such things as off-limits in their reporting.
However, today, most of the public care as much about politicians’ characters as their political platforms and expect them to hold a higher ethic standard. They believe that politicians’ private life is an issue in politics, giving insight into his moral qualities. Politicians’ act of infidelity undermines public trust. A violation of a lifetime commitment to their spouse erodes our confidence that they will fulfill their promise to their constituency. As such, the characters, ethics, and integrity of public officials have increasingly been under the public radar.
But the public intolerance over politicians’ immorality has not happened overnight, with the Watergate scandal being the turning point of that transformation. The scandal that exposed a president’s petty and dishonest character had shocked the nation, raising public awareness over the impact of political leaders’ private life on politics. Meanwhile, women’s liberation and the equal rights movement had led to the changing social attitudes about an individual’s private behavior, particularly in adultery.
At the same time, profound changes have taken place in the Western media, with the examination of public officials’ private conduct and character becoming part of political journalism. If politicians’ private matters were left out of bounds decades earlier, they have now become the focus the media reports, and “tabloid journalism” was turned into mainstream and serious news reporting.
It was the story by Tom Fiedler of the Miami Herald that played a significant role in this transformation. As a great political reporter, he exposed Gary Hart sexual scandal in 1988 that destroyed the political ambition of Hart, a husband and the leading contender for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. The story came out at the time when Hart’s political campaign was gaining traction, and he was poised to become the next US president. However, the exposure of his extramarital affair with a young woman named Donna Rice had led to a media frenzy that eventually sunk his campaign.
To track Hart’s infidelity, a group of Herald reporters staked out of Hart townhouse residence in Washington and followed him on the deck of a boat in the Bahamas. Their camera captured the image of Hart with Rice on his lap. While Fiedler’s story spurred a national debate about whether the sex lives of public figures were fair game for the press, Fiedler believes he was doing the right thing, and so do most of the American public.
“If the press didn’t ask these kinds of questions (concerning politicians’ sex sandal), who would?” said Fiedler. “The voters needed a way to test the abilities and the character of the candidates... I don’t think the Herald’s story was about his sex life but was really a test of Gary Hart’s authenticity. It went to the heart of his credibility: Who was he?”
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