Vitter's Prostitution Scandal: One Network Seeks the Lesson, Another Slams an Ideological Enemy

As Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter's prostitution scandal continued to unfold last night, ABC chose to emphasize his hypocrisy, while CNN looked at the broader issue of why the public is so quick to forgive the sexual indiscretions of the nation's lawmakers. 

During the July 10 broadcast of World News with Charles Gibson, ABC's Senior Political Correspondent Jake Tapper clearly relished the opportunity to expose transgressions committed several years ago by a “self-proclaimed defender of family values.” Tapper observed, “Just days ago, Vitter sent this letter to senators, urging them to support abstinence education, to teach teenagers that saving sex until marriage and remaining faithful afterwards is the best choice for health and happiness.” 

The details of Vitter's indiscretions were juxtaposed with video of Vitter saying “It's often said, but it's very, very true, and worth repeating.  Marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history.”

John Dickerson from Slate magazine weighed in, saying “some voters are generous with politicians and their peccadilloes but what voters hate is hypocrisy.”

Why is Vitter under the microscope when so many politicians have indulged in illicit sex?  Tapper blatantly stated, “Vitter's actions got more attention because he's a conservative rising star, and led a charge against same-sex marriage.” 

Tapper ended the segment by saying, “Tonight, it's unclear how understanding the voters of Louisiana will be.  Or his wife.”  Apparently Vitter's wife is fairly understanding, or perhaps forgiving, as he's still married several years after the incidents took place. 

In contrast, CNN's Anderson Cooper used Vitter's story to discuss the role sex scandals play in politics.  During his July 10 show, Cooper reported that a recent Gallup poll shows that 91 percent of Americans say cheating on your spouse is morally wrong.  This falls right in line with CMI's National Cultural Values Survey, which showed that 83 percent of Americans believe adultery is always wrong. 

So how do sexual indiscretions by politicians play to the voters?

According to CNN's Anderson Cooper, voters will be forgiving and politicians have Bill Clinton to thank for it. 

Cooper interviewed Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics:  “I think the rule is that if Bill Clinton could get away with the things that he did while sitting in the Oval Office as president, then it's very, very difficult to force other politicians out of a campaign or out of office when they also fall victim to sexual indiscretions.” 

Sabato reconciled the difference in attitudes toward adultery and voting behaviors by observing that people “have very low expectations of most politicians.  So they'll accept a lot from politics, because they've had a lot of experience with politicians.” 


Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.