I’ve confessed before my unfortunate love of a good scandal — and a good sex scandal all the more. A couple of days ago, I had gotten a tip about what would happen with regard to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s confession of adultery. And as I read accounts of his groundbreaking press conference (on Twitter, yes), I reacted with delight. I’d hoped for something very dramatic and I’d gotten it. A few days ago I read the following C.S. Lewis quote over at Gene Edward Veith’s blog:
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils.
As my reporter friends and I traded excited emails about Sanford’s demise, I couldn’t help but think of that. Not that Sanford is my enemy but I have a tendency to dehumanize people going through infidelity scandals.
And yet what struck me about the media coverage was how it seemed to miss what I found most interesting about the press conference. Sanford will get what he deserves, I’m sure, but have you ever seen such a display of real flesh and blood and torment? Usually when politicians confess to cheating on their wives, they remind me most of robots. I’m still not convinced that John Edwards, Larry Craig, Elliot Spitzer and Jim McGreevey are actual humans. All the emotion seems manufactured. If the speeches aren’t scripted by a high-priced damage control firm, I’d be shocked. But this? This was real. It was downright uncomfortable to watch someone be so honest about their horrendous moral failings. He was visibly shaken by the damage he’d caused his family.
Sanford’s press conference was also deeply religious. But most of the reports couldn’t care one whit about that. They care about his career, his presumably dashed presidential aspirations, his governorship. And sure, those are very important and interesting things. But sometimes I wonder why reporters can’t see a tremendous story when it’s melting down right in front of them! This is human drama.
The only report I read that seemed to get it was a blog post by Ann Godlasky at USA Today:
Gov. Mark Sanford’s announcement that he had an affair may have sounded more like a confessional than a news conference, dripping with religious language.
She provides quotes about his views on Christian community and forgiveness. But this was the one that got me:
On sin and God’s law:
“It’s not a moral, rigid list of do’s and don’ts just for the heck of do’s and don’ts; it is indeed to protect us from ourselves …
“Sin is, in fact, grounded in this notion of ‘what is it that I want’ as opposed to somebody else …
“There are moral absolutes, and God’s law is indeed there to protect you from yourself, and there are consequences if you breach that. This press conference is a consequence.”
When was the last time you heard a politician talk this way at a press conference? I don’t know what it means, necessarily, but I do know that this is terribly fascinating stuff. I know the media will focus on all of the political angles — Did he visit his Argentinian mistress on the taxpayer dime? Will he be impeached or resign? Even the religion reporters are focused on those angles — but I find the human drama so much more fascinating.
And speaking of that, you should read Mrs. Sanford’s statement about the affair. It’s got a lot of religion in it, too.