How Much is Too Much Information?

Okay, here we go again, another politician has been sacrificed at the altar of public opinion.

And, on a day when Jenny Sanford, wife of Appalachian Mountain Trail’s very own South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, appeared on “Larry King Live” to detail the demise of her marriage, and bolster her book sales came word that the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Illinois dropped out of the race on Superbowl Sunday after scandal broke about his alleged altercation, and abuse of a former girlfriend.

Evidently, extramarital, and domestic transgressions are a bipartisan affair.

Democrat Scott Lee Cohen, an Illinois businessman, lost his bid for his first elected post as word broke that he was arrested five years ago for allegedly shoving then-girlfriend, Amanda Eneman, into a wall, and threatening her with a knife. He was charged with domestic abuse, and a trial date was set to which his girlfriend was a no show, so charges were dropped. Repeat, charges were dropped.

This is by no means meant to minimize domestic violence, but only to point out that it was the Illinois Democratic Party, terrified by the idea of losing the midterm election, that pulled the plug on Cohen’s campaign which is less than a week in the making. This rapid political demise was hastened by head honchos in the Illinois Democratic Party who are in a hurry to “find a strong replacement.”

But, whose background is so lily white, to borrow a phrase, that it won’t falter when subjected to intense, and intensifying scrutiny?

One has only to look at the parade of politicos who have been rolled over the coals over the past few years, a list that includes former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, aforementioned South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, and a mounting campaign to unseat current New York governor Patterson. Whatever happened to “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”

In this age of instant information, the larger question is — how much information is too much? It was lying before a Grand Jury about an extramarital dalliance in the White House that caused the last impeachment of a U.S. president, Bill Clinton, but lying to Congress about weapons of mass destruction didn’t prevent another president, George W. Bush, from a dignified retirement.

There’s nothing wrong with information, per se, but why would anybody care to know the name Rielle Hunter, or to see photographs of a former presidential candidate’s love child? Does it make us feel better to witness a moral lynching?

To add insult to injury, Cohen’s ex-girlfriend, a woman once charged with prostitution, actually had the chutzpah to issue a statement through her attorney in which she said that the Illinois nominee for lieutenant general “isn’t fit to hold any public office.” Is Ms. Eneman any more fit to judge his worthiness for public office?

More importantly, how did this country allow a tabloid mentality to metastasize such that we can no longer distinguish those who seek, or hold political office from the lotharios of dimestore novels? If things continue at this rate, we have begun our descent into demonocracy.

Bottom line: when boundaries between what is private and what isn’t dissolve, there can be no serious discussion about free speech.

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.


JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.