Just Another Something Or Othergate

June 9, 2011

I’m sure that the suffix, “gate” has been around for the last couple of centuries to describe a scandal and cover-up but I don’t recall it being attached to every news story until after the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972.

Like most people in America, I, too, was glued to my television set to watch the Watergate hearings that led to the resignation of President Nixon.  The original “gate” scandal got its name from the Watergate Hotel where the politically motivated burglary had taken place.  And for a short period of time, it was even understandable that scandals and cover-ups would have “gate” as part of the title of every news item.

But almost forty years have passed and surely some of the journalists can come up with something more original to describe the story they are covering.

In recent times, there have been at least 131 of the more widely recognized news stories that end in “gate.”  It seems we can’t read a story or hear a news item on television that doesn’t use the same hackneyed words to describe whatever is being reported.

The only creativity that seems to be coming from the news media is when they air a story without checking their facts and it turns out to be false.  After they damage the person’s reputation, they might issue a retraction with just a ho-hum apology that gets buried in a short paragraph on page 9 after their mistake has come to light.

It was well-known that FDR had an adulterous affair with Lucy Mercer, his wife’s social secretary, that lasted several decades, yet none of the news media tried to ambush him in his wheelchair to confront him about it.  Many of our presidents have had affairs while in office but it isn’t until only recently they have assumed such monumental importance.

Politicians have always lied to us, especially about their personal lives, but now when the newspeople uncover some unknown piece of disgraceful personal information, it’s enough to end someone’s political career.

But not quite.  It seems that if you lie to a reporter or lie to the Grand Jury or any kind of investigative committee, your career will be in tatters and people will say you got what you deserve.  But if you answer honestly at the time you are caught, shed some tears, and apologize for all the harm you have caused, you will be forgiven and allowed to continue in your career.

The big difference in shedding some tears and apologizing for your transgressions lies in the amount of time it takes to nail you.  If you continue to stonewall and deny that you violated a moral or legal code and then it’s discovered that you did, the odds are that you have signed the death warrant to your career.  But if you take responsibility for your transgressions at the time someone asks you about it, and then you cry and beg forgiveness from the people you hurt, the chances are that you will be exonerated both publicly and privately and allowed to continue in your career.

People don’t like to be made fools of.  If they believe in you and they go to bat for you, they expect honesty from you.  When you are interviewed on television and you come across as being unjustly accused of an offense, and then it is found that you were lying during that interview, you can kiss your career goodbye as well as any of the relationships you’ve built through the years.  

Even with all the cynicism in the world, people still want to believe in their heroes; they still want to believe in the goodness of others.  When something is done to violate that trust, they feel foolish and humiliated and they don’t forgive and forget easily. In fact, they may never forgive you for making them feel dumb enough to get hoodwinked by you.

A word of advice: if you do commit an offense and get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, at least admit it, immediately and publicly, before a reporter can add the suffix “gate” to your story.

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