Cains’ Sexual Scandals Show Uneven Effect for Public Figures

Posted: December 6, 2011 in Reputation
Tags: , , , , , ,

It was bound to happen. After the accusations of affairs and harassment continued for another week, Presidential candidate Herman Cain announced the suspension of his campaign.

I heard an assessment of the initial charges against Cain put in an interesting context:

1. You can expect these kinds of charges if you are a political candidate;

2. Sexual charges will be levied against political, business and personal rivals in a blanket fashion whether they are true or not. Just like when someone sprays for pest control — if there are no roaches, everything still looks the same, but if there are roaches hiding somewhere, the spray flushes them out.

Ashton Kutcher

Ashton Kutcher (Image via

The outcome shows how completely uneven and somewhat capricious sexual charges can be in terms of how they stick.


Cain gets hammered for his alleged affairs, but Newt Gingrich has at least 2 well documented affairs and he is currently leading the Republican field in Iowa. Tiger Woods has traveled a long public image road (not to mention professional road — having just won a tournament for the first time since 2009) after multiple affairs broke up his marriage, but Ashton Kutcher has multiple affairs which break up his marriage and there is hardly a peep out of the press.

Maybe it’s the Two And a Half Men syndrome, because Charlie Sheen, formerly star of the same show, has a well-documented career of semi-scandals. In Gingrich’s situation, the element of time has probably helped “age” the news to the point where it is not so relevant anymore. I think he has done a good job of explaining his position in the past. He has said when asked about the stories that he’s not proud of what he’s done and he has not run from the story. He acknowledges the story and then bridges to a message he is trying to communicate. In addition, the fact that he has been married to his third wife for more than 11 years also takes a lot of the newness factor out of the equation.

I’m also of the opinion that there are also a couple of other factors that come into play which affect the public interest/disgust meter:

1. The Holier Than Thou Hypocrite. You portray yourself as a highly religious or moral person who has

DES MOINES, IA - OCTOBER 22:  Republican Presi...

Newt Gingrich

condemned others for the same behavior in which you are currently engaging. Think Jimmy Swaggart or Newt Gingrich here. (Gingrich was having an affair while he was publicly taking Bill Clinton to task for his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky). Or you work hard to build an image of yourself as a family man while carrying on with prostitutes and various other women. Think Tiger Woods here. If you are a genuine and long-standing bad boy, you are not going to be

attacked for your actions. Think several sports and movie stars here.  Or if you are single. You already have your reputation and your actions are completely consistent with it – you’re not vulnerable. Otherwise, people love to see a hypocrite get their just desserts.

2. Feeding the ‘Men are Pigs’ Stereotype. This is more of a measure of public revulsion – particularly by women – to your antics. Think John Edwards here who was having an affair while his wife was in the hospital battling cancer. Or, come to think of it, Newt Gingrich who did the same thing with his first wife, Jackie Battley, who was also fighting cancer. Another side is to cheat while you have the ‘perfect’ family; the young Swedish model wife with two beautiful children. Tiger Woods – again — fits this bill as well.

If you are a high-profile individual, you are at risk of this type of attack. The charge is easy to make and is often hard to disprove.

However, in the end, you are most vulnerable to this type of attack if you really are cheating.  If you are not, the story has no legs and dies.

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