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Reporting on Public Figures’ Extra-Curricular Sex

| January 13, 2018

politicians sex lives reporting ethics

Frank Gertsch’s ‘Marina Making Up Luciano’ (1975).

The reporting of Sen. Anitere Flores’s affair with Rep. Oscar Braynon this week raises a few questions worth answering: should it be news? Why is it news? Are public figures’ sex lives fair game for reporting?

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive As the editor of this site I’m not particularly interested in who screws whom, whatever their sex, title or predilection. I wouldn’t care if a legislator, married or not, liked to hop porn shops, solicit prostitutes or developed carpal tunnel syndrome from swiping through dating apps.

Nor would I care—nor should any of us care—whether a lawmaker of either sex, married or not married, has sixteen flings on the way to a committee hearing: as long as the acts are legal, consensual, off the clock and hopefully virally contained, they’re not our business, they have nothing to do with government business, and no, none of it says a whit about character anymore than if another legislator prayed five times a day and listened to Schumann on the way to a committee hearing, or an execution.


That goes for any figure, public or private, federal, state or local. So yes, county commissioners, school board members, council members, constitutional officers and what have you: feel free to indulge your every extra-curricular sexual inclination on your own time. Whether we’re learning about them or not, as we sometimes do, FlaglerLive isn’t interested. (That goes for you gutter-minded tipsters as well.)

But that rule isn’t without exceptions.

Exception one: if a supervisor of any sort is screwing or trying to screw a company or organization underling, then it’s an issue, a serious issue at that, and fair game as reporting. It’s not about sex. It’s about harassment, power, blackmail, litigation, and it’s very much about character.

Exception two: when either screwer or screwee have turned their alleged family values into propaganda, then their affairs, so lubricated with hypocrisy, are an issue and fair game for reporting. Political and religious offices are so full of those they remind me of the great crowded-cabin scene in the Marx Brothers’ “Night at the Opera” when somebody finally opens the cabin door and everyone inside cascades out. Something along those lines is happening now with harassers and predators, with one notable exception at the very top.

Exception three: using the workplace as a motel à la Lauer, or using the public or company till for room service. That raises a conundrum with such places as legislatures and lobbying firms that make Caligula-style meat markets look like Tiffany’s picture windows, but reporters have traditionally given those a pass either because you can’t claim virtue from a whorehouse or because enough reporters are hipsdeep in debauchery themselves. Considering the affinities between the act as metaphor and legislators’ day jobs, I’m not sure I can blame them.

Exception four: while I don’t begrudge priests their sexual desires (there’s nothing more unnatural and vice-inducing than clerical celibacy for either sex), I do think they have a special place in hell, next to Pope Alexander VI and so many of his predecessors and successors, when they go after children instead of, say, the Mary Magdalen next door or, like Father Tom in Updike’s “A Month of Sundays,” willing congregants. Same rule applies to teachers, professors and obviously anyone else, starting with parents and individuals in close familial relationships with their victims, who account for over 90 percent of such abuses, as these pages reflect with dispiriting frequency.

There are other exceptions (like moonlighting on a porn set when you’re a city manager), but you get the idea, and stating the obvious is tiring. Which begs the question about the Flores-Braynon story. It does not seem to fall under any of these exceptions. The positioning of surveillance cameras to catch Flores going to Braynon’s room is tawdry and ridiculous as was their “outing.” They are not worse legislators because of it, and if anything they may well be better legislators, wearing their bipartisanship on their disrobed sleeves as they do. But it became news when it turned into, as the News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam—no fan of tawdriness herself—reported, a sideshow to the Legislature’s opening day, paired as it was with the more serious and revolting acts of the unrepentant Jack Latvala. (Sunshine State News’s Nancy Smith hints Latvala could be behind the part-time couple’s outing.)

Editors may not be thrilled at having to report something (and if so, they’re in the wrong business), but it’d also be silly and irresponsible not to report a perceived scandal when the situation around it—the distractions, the reactions, the unraveling duplicities—is newsworthy. Not reporting it would then amount to the sort of condescending editorial judgment that reeks of moral overtones that have no place in news, like Anderson Cooper’s refusal to name high-profile mass shooters and terrorists on the assumption that it gives them undue publicity. It becomes a showy affectation masked as high-minded journalism.

Put another way, we don’t need to position surveillance cameras where they don’t belong. But nor should editors act like sanctimonious Mother Superiors (as when, say, a racist president calls entire countries  “shithole” and some editors feel compelled to protect him, or readers, with dashes and asterisks).  Creating a scandal is not the same as reporting on it. Readers do an excellent job of confusing the two. We can only hope that editors don’t pander along.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.

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35 Responses for “Reporting on Public Figures’ Extra-Curricular Sex”

  1. Fernando Melendez says:

    What happened to moral values, these Representatives must go. How can we trust them with real issues that are concerning our well deserved community.

  2. Mark says:

    While I agree with most of your principles, who gives you the right to publicize any of it? Why do you get to draw the line in the sand? When the perfect candatiate shows up, let me know!

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Mark, should a priest boffing a choirboy or a teacher going after an eighth grader be allowed to keep boffing unmolested? Should a company exec or a government director using his power to screw his way through cubicles, at the risk of litigation and cost to taxpayers, be exempt from exposure? Should politicians using their junkets as sexcapades have their jollies funded by you and me? Is abuse of power any different because it’s about sex and not money or other kinds of favors? It’s not a right to expose that sort of thing but a responsibility.

  3. K says:

    Mark, if someone is running on a family values platform, uses Christianity as part of their descriptor, or parades their family into the public to garner votes… or tries to rescind freedoms for others to live their lives their way (reproductive choice, same gender marriage, LGBT adoption, etc) while lbreaking their own marriage vows, they deserve to be exposed as hypocrites.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Flagler County has been known for years to be Patten Place…anyone that has been here any length of time well knows who got to the top from being on the bottom. We know too that you can’t rape the willing….. This kind of stuff has been going on since time began…..this is nothing new and it isn’t going to stop now.

  5. Nancy N. says:

    What about the risk that someone engaging in sexual conduct that they don’t want public is vulnerable to blackmail, which can lead to corruption? Does the public have a right to know that about their elected officials? Those cameras could just as easily have been planted by someone who wanted to use the footage to get something from one of the legislators.

  6. Really says:

    Hypocrites and only sorry when they get caught. Power snd control.

  7. Mark says:

    So why does Trump boffing some pron star get put in the news? When did he run on family values? Where is the line? Who gets to set the line?

  8. Mark says:

    Let the first one who hasn’t sinned throw the first stone. Report the news Please. It is my responsibility to know who I am voting for. If they are shtiheds (sp) shame on me.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Mark–and I say this as a born sinner, being a Catholic, a liberal and a slut through and through (what journalist isn’t?)–I’m not telling you who to vote for, but don’t tell me how to edit FlaglerLive, either. Given that you’re among by the most addicted readers to this site, you seem to be casting stones from a glass snifter.

  9. Sherry says:

    @Mark. . . moral codes of behavior are and should absolutely continue to be “regulated” by our society. It’s called creating a healthy civilization. Each one of us contributes to the construction of what is morally and socially acceptable in our culture by our words and by our behaviors.

    We should all be proud of an editor that shines a reflective spotlight on such things as “ethics”, “integrity”, “honesty”, “abuse of power”, “justice”, “equality”, “prejudice” . . . etc. Hopefully Pierre’s thought provoking article can help you to find your lost moral compass.

  10. Fredrick says:

    Very good editorial Pierre. You get a gold star and a smiley face.

    K… If we exposed all the hypocrites in public office there would be no one in public office, on either side of the aisle……

  11. Mark101 says:

    Pierre , nice job on the article.

  12. Wishful thinking says:

    If you cheat on your spouse then you will also cheat the taxpayers. Nothing is more disrespectful than adultery. I am from the old school. If you are single no big deal -but marital cheating is not ok in my book and never will be.

  13. Mark says:

    Sherry,

    My compass is just fine, thank you. Please tell me again why it’s news that Trump boffed a porn star.

  14. Mark says:

    Flaglerlive,

    You obviously have the freedom to edit how you please. Remember, no bull, fluff or smudges. How’s that love affair with hillary going?

  15. MannyHMo says:

    Discreet. Be discreet.

  16. beachcomberT says:

    Pierre, thanks for attempting to explain the criteria you use in culling reports of infidelity and sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the exceptions to privacy that you lay out are as sweeping as the Patriot Act’s allowed invasions of our personal telephone and Internet activity. I think 99 percent of politicians include bio material in their campaign materials asserting how happily married they are. Spouses, kids and family dogs are standard campaign props. So, in essence, any politician’s violation of marriage vows becomes fair game for the media. Then, moving on to workplace culture, the phenomenon of a staffer dating his or her boss is widespread, despite whatever the HR manuals might say about fraternization with the troops. How can the media determine what is consensual or not unless the harassed victim files a police report, discrimination complaint or a lawsuit?
    I agree the public has a right to know about rape convictions among adults, as well as the less serious degrees of sexual abuse involving minors. But opening the media doors to all types of allegations, such as Twitter comments about incidents that occurred 20 or 30 years ago, is, in my mind, going too far. A few days ago, I read someone’s comment that the recent celebrity cases since the Weinstein exposes stands at 77 and rising. We have to stop and think about how that focus affects the rest of the media’s reporting. The media has only so many employees, and so much news space, even in online formats. To the extent the media operate as sexual watchdogs, they are neglecting other potential stories that have nothing to do with sex. Coverage of the Legislature’s opening day, dominated by details of two legislators’ somewhat-admitted affair, is an example. How many outlets bothered to tell us what the big issues will be this session, what the state government’s financial situation is like, what’s the latest cost-cutting plan facing Medicaid, will state college tuition go up again, etc etc. That’s the information I want to know — not who is sleeping with whom.

  17. Old Hammock says:

    ABSOLUTELY. The voter’s have the God-given right to know what our elected officials are doing 24/7. If it’s immoral, they need to step aside and live that lifestyle outside of the political realm.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Be extra cautious of those public figures who claim to have been raped. You can’t rape the willing. Look at the track record and make up your own mind………

  19. just saying says:

    If 2 candidates were vying for the same office and the only difference we were aware of was that one of them honored their wedding vows and one did not, it makes sense to vote for the one who does honor their vows.

  20. John Yankovich says:

    The fact remains that if an individual cheats on their spouse they won’t think twice about cheating on you!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Do some of these revelations come out years later in an effort to destroy one for being able to move and and for being successful? Who and when someone sleeps with someone does not define the person and should have no impact on their leadership ability. There needs to be a separation between public and private lives. What goes on behind closed doors is private and should remain that way.

  22. Traveling Rep says:

    It would appear that MLK jr. would normally be subject to exception #4, but I believe it would be a cold day in hades before any mainstream or liberal news source reported on it. It simply would not fit with their agenda of perpetuating widespread guilt for atrocities that predate current generations. Useless peddlers of propaganda, every last one of them!

  23. Pogo says:

    @noblesse oblige

    Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.
    – Jose Ortega y Gasset

  24. Bc. says:

    Good read 👍

  25. Sherry says:

    Nancy N makes an excellent point that bears repeating:

    “What about the risk that someone engaging in sexual conduct that they don’t want public is vulnerable to blackmail, which can lead to corruption? Does the public have a right to know that about their elected officials? Those cameras could just as easily have been planted by someone who wanted to use the footage to get something from one of the legislators.”

    Not something this occurred to me immediately. . . thanks so much, Nancy! You are spot on!

  26. Sherry says:

    @Mark. . . non sequitur. . . I’ve said nothing about trump boffing a porn star. . . Geez!

  27. Sherry says:

    Actually, Mark, now that I think about it. . . Nancy N’s post does a great job in explaining why the level of immoral behavior of those entrusted with public power is “vitally” important.

    “Entrusted” is the seminal word here. When we voters put someone in public office, we place our sacred “trust” in them. Certainly, we all realize they are flawed human beings, just as we all are. BUT, we rightly hope and expect those we have placed in power to conduct themselves in a “trustworthy” way.

    When those in power step outside what society considers to be morally correct, that “trust” is broken, and as Nancy says. makes that elected person vulnerable to all kinds of blackmail, in addition to destroying the trust of their constituents. . . making their position in office untenable.

    That is why trump’s conduct “should” be vitally important to ALL intelligent, thinking, moral citizens of our nation.

    Thanks, Mark, for posing the question. :)

  28. Daphne says:

    Providing Blackmail fodder isn’t wise. I prefer wise public officials, who do nothing to shatter the trust the voters place with them.. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the “crime” ???

  29. Richard says:

    The MSM along with most news media outlets always wants to be the first with the BIG story and from what I have seen will do anything to get it including lie, cheat and steal. Publishing fiction seems to be the norm these days BUT then maybe do a rollback with a less than sincere apology when the real truth comes out. I guess that’s our first amendment in action!

    The days are gone where news was REALLY truthful news. Hell, even back when I was a teenager (60’s) there was an article written up in the local newspaper about when I turned up missing while out swimming in Lake Ontario which had almost ALL of the information incorrect. I was there so I should know.

    News today is not news, it’s more like reading the magazines you see at the supermarket checkout line.

  30. I Be Erudite says:

    The standard for moral behavior for elected officials went out the window a long time ago. If they can’t be true to their spouse how can they be true to the public they represent? The remedy is the ballot box. If we as a society choose to allow this than we get what we deserve. I for one will not vote for someone who lacks moral values according to my standards. I don’t need anyone telling me what should be allowed and what should not. That’s my decision and I get my one vote. Hint, I did not vote for Trump or Hillary because they both lack the character and integrity to be President. The voters nominated perhaps the two worst human beings that ever ran for President and guess what? We got what we deserved.

  31. MannyHM says:

    Consenting adults, just don’t do it on government time, for goodness sake !

  32. Chris A Pickett says:

    Personally I do NOT care of your own values or your political party, If you are one of those scum bags that commits infidelity and are a public person, especially a politician, the public has a RIGHT to know. If you cannot keep your word to your partner, what makes you think public should not know that, after all, where politicians are concerned, I have a RIGHT to know WHO I am voting for. If you can’t keep your pants on, and you can’t control your bodily DESIRES I want NO part of you.

  33. hawkeye says:

    can you say Paula Jones ,Jennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinski

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