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Digital era ends hushed affairs

world Updated: Nov 12, 2012 00:15 IST
Michael Wines
Michael Wines
Hindustan Times
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Alexander Hamilton, Warren Harding, FDR, Ike, LBJ, Representatives Mark Souder, Chris Lee and Anthony Weiner, Senators Gary Hart, John Ensign and David Vitter. Maybe a first lady, Grace Coolidge. And now, David H Petraeus.

There would seem to be nothing new about the weakness of otherwise powerful Washington figures in the face of temptation. But that is not precisely true: the difference these days is that it is virtually impossible to get away with it.

CIA director Petraeus quit on Friday after admitting an affair with his biographer.

His is but the most recent in an embarrassment of splashy scandals: Senator Vitter of Louisiana, exposed in 2009 as the client of high-priced prostitutes; Representative Weiner of New York, who confessed in 2011 to sending explicit photographs to women; senator Ensign of Nevada, who resigned last year after admitting to an illicit affair with a staffer. Representative Souder of Indiana quit in 2010 after an anonymous tipster exposed his relationship with a staff member with whom he had taped a video promoting sexual abstinence.

Representative Lee of New York left office the same year after e-mailing a photograph of himself, shirtless, to a woman he met on Craigslist.
“It shocks me how people continue in this type of reckless behavior, even in prominent leadership positions, and don’t seem to think there’s going to be a consequence,” said Wesley O. Hagood, who wrote a compendium of presidential dalliances. “If they’d just turn on the news, they’d know there’s going to be a consequence.”

Petraeus was tripped up by an FBI probe that stumbled on his extramarital relationship. But in a digital era when the details of even average citizens are cached for public view, the odds of exposure have become exponentially greater. NYT