A Rating System for Public Scandals?

Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

New Orleans Reading this “opinion” piece in the Pilot, which must be a small but feisty newspaper in the descriptively named town of Southern Pines, population a shade over 10,000 folks in North Carolina pushing towards the South Carolina border, I couldn’t resist passing this pearl on.  I’ll be darned if I don’t really believe that we need a “science for scandal” much like that created by Bill James for baseball, so that we can start applying some perspective on all of the mischief of contemporary public life.  This piece gets at that by offering a starter point system so we ought to thank Dusty Rhoades for some real thought as well as a great sense of humor.  Ok, you probably think Dusty Rhoades probably has to be a put-on as well, don’t you?  Who knows, but the Pilot says he’s a lawyer in their neck of the woods, and either that’s true, or we ought to be willing to give both Dusty and the Pilot some points for that.

Needed: A Scandal-Rating System

By Dusty Rhoades

I confess, I really hadn’t been paying too much attention to the troubles of New York Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, who was accused of sending risqué messages to women via the online messaging service Twitter.

For one thing, the story was being promulgated by online muckraker Andrew Breitbart, who’d already been caught pushing supposedly scandalous videotapes of ACORN officials that turned out to have been “heavily edited,” according to the Brooklyn DA’s office and the attorney generals’ offices of both California and Massachusetts.

None of those offices found any basis for the allegations of criminal activity alleged in the videos, but by then the damage was done and ACORN was out of business.

Breitbart also was the dude who was pushing the video excerpt that got USDA official Shirley Sherrod fired for allegedly racist comments — until the entire video was played and the USDA offered Sherrod her job back, with apologies.

At this point, Breitbart’s credibility with me is such that if he tried to pay me in cash, I’d still ask for two forms of ID.

But lo and behold, it appeared that even a blind pig finds a truffle now and then, even if the swine in question is Andrew Breitbart.

Weiner broke down and tearfully confessed to sending “inappropriate” Internet messages to a variety of women over the Net. By Tuesday, he’d officially advanced to “disgraced” status, as news organizations began attaching the d-word to the title “Congressman” at all times.

Inevitably, people began comparing the burgeoning scandal to other congressional peccadillos, such as the story of Republican Congressman Christopher Lee, who resigned after sending a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he’d met on Craigslist, or Democrat Eric Massa, who resigned after a male staff member accused the congressman of “groping and tickling” him.

But how does that compare with former Democratic VP candidate John Edwards and his “love child,” or former Republican Sen. John Ensign and his affair with a staffer who was the wife of another staffer?

It occurred to me that maybe what we need is a ratings system for these things. Therefore, I’m working on a Bad Behavior Rating Protocol, or BBRP. The BBRP assesses points for various factors. The higher the total score, the worse the scandal. It’s still a work in progress, so feel free to make suggestions. I’ve broken the points assigned down into various categories.

— The act itself:

Flirtatious e-mails, 2 points. Slightly risqué e-mails, 3 points. Slightly risqué e-mails with pictures, 4 points. Sexually explicit e-mails, 5 points. Sexually explicit e-mails with explicit pictures, 10 points. Groping, 15 points. One-night stand, 20 points. Long-term affair, 25 points. Long-term affair resulting in child, 50 points.

— If the acts were unwelcome or unsolicited: Add 25 points.

— Marital status of the perpetrator:

Single, 1 point. Married, 25 points. Married to spouse suffering from terminal or debilitating illness, 50 points.

— Age of other party:

Underage, 50 points. Of legal age but young enough to be daughter or son, 25 points.

— Gender of other party:

Opposite sex, 5 points. Same sex, 5 points. Opposite sex, but politician blathers a lot about “traditional values,” 50 points. Same sex, and politician has anti-gay-rights voting record, 50 points.

— Reaction when story breaks:

Immediate mea culpa, minus 5 points. Immediate tearful mea culpa, minus 10 points. Evasion until confronted with irrefutable evidence, 10 points. Lame excuse, 15 points. Excuse so ridiculous it’s mocked by two or more late-night comedians, 25 points. Excuse so ridiculous it passes into common usage (e.g. “wide stance,” “hiking the Appalachian Trail”), 50 points.

So Weinergate, as it’s inevitably been dubbed, has a BBRP score of 59, to wit: Slightly risqué e-mails, 4 points. Multiply that times 6 different women for 24 points. (There’s some talk of more explicit e-mails and pics, but at the time of this writing, they’re still just rumors).

He’s married, so add 25 points. His wife’s a major babe, so I feel like there should be some added points there, but I’m trying to keep things scientific. He did do the tearful mea culpa, but he started by denying everything, so 10 points there.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for an ethics investigation to see if Weiner used government computers or facilities to send his raunchy Tweets. The investigation will probably cost millions, which raises the question: Will Eric Cantor and John Boehner demand deep cuts in Medicare to pay for it before the Republicans will agree? Stay tuned.

Dusty Rhoades lives, writes and practices law in Carthage. Contact him at dustyr@nc.rr.com.