Watergate, Weinergate, Wampumgate, Wheatgate—just a few of the 100-plus real or alleged scandals with the suffix “gate.” Watergate started it all (see Watergate hotel in Washington D.C., at right, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons). From a bit of political espionage at the Watergate, President Nixon eventually resigned.
Weinergate is the most recent scandal, which we discussed yesterday. The other two are obscure. Wampumgate was a controversy about a rejected Native American gambling project. Wheatgate involved illegal payments by an Australian wheat exporter to Saddam Hussein. The list goes on and on, compiled for our convenience by Wikipedia.
Can these “gates” actually be useful? Can they serve a positive purpose? Sociologist and media specialist John Thompson says they can in his influential book, Political Scandal: Power and Visability in the Media Age. Thompson points out that publicized scandals illuminate corruption, conflicts of interests, and abuses of power, and can lead to reform and greater accountability. This is especially true for financial and power scandals.
But this is less true for sex-related scandals. Often, he says, these scandals “hinge solely or overwhelmingly on revelations or allegations about the private lives of public figures in ways that do not have any demonstrable connection to broader issues of legitimate public interest or concern.” Nonetheless, some agents and organizations have “perfected the art of exploiting personal indiscretions.” They mobilize “symbolic power against political leaders whose private lives may not concur with certain conventional norms and expectations.”
Can a “gate” have positive value?
How about Weinergate? Is there a greater value in that “gate”?
Does Weinergate have a demonstrable connection to broader issues?
Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.