Mom Was Right
Spreading rumors is wrong


Only God, the governor and Ginny Wolfe know whether the rumors of an affair are true. And that is how it should be. Truth is, it's nobody's business but theirs. I'm sorry that we made it ours.

POINT was the first newspaper to give the rumors ink in its June 1996 Loose Lips, a gossip column with a special affection for politicians.

For months stories had been circulating that Gov. David Beasley was having an affair with his press secretary, whose office attire raised eyebrows on the Right, and whose large salary raised questions on the Left.

After lengthy deliberation, we decided to run the piece because:

  • A former Beasley staff member, who we know and trust, told us she had witnessed behavior that caused her to believe there was an inappropriate relationship between the governor and Wolfe.
  • While we generally disapprove of meddling in people's private lives, the governor supports policies that meddle in ours, which we argued makes him fair game.
  • Loose Lips is a gossip column, and the rumors about the governor and his aide were widespread and persistent. We prefaced the item with "It is rumored." We argued that people have a right to know what their legislators and policy makers are talking about.

Sounded good at the time. In retrospect, we made a bad editorial decision. Although we had heard stories from credible sources, and had obtained travel records that looked fishy, we had no proof that the governor and Wolfe were having an affair.

In fact, those sorts of allegations are hard to prove. Barring a special prosecutor and a multimillion-dollar budget, we'll probably never know. Nor should we. Because even if we could prove that the governor had been unfaithful -- if we had transcripts of office e-mail and taped phone calls -- even if we had a stained cocktail dress, it would tell us nothing we need to know.

So why bring all this up again?

Well, we didn't; in fact, we wish the story would just go away. But late last month, the Governor's Office called a press conference to accuse the Democratic Party of reviving the rumors, which were about to go national in Time magazine.

In the eight years POINT has been publishing, we had more interest, by far, in this one cheesy item in our gossip column than anything else we've ever done..

Appearing with his pregnant wife, as well as George and Ginny Wolfe, Gov. Beasley said, "This is nothing but an organized effort to distort the truth and spread lies about my family. I hope this blows up in their face."

The Democratic Party denied reviving the rumors, and said the governor was just trying to deflect attention from his fall in the polls and his decision to drop his opposition to a statewide vote on a lottery.

The press conference struck some as bizarre. One political scientist called it "unprecedented" for an incumbent governor to go before the public to deny he was unfaithful to his wife, and thought that it indicated the governor knew he was in a very competitive race.

After the press conference, Gov. Beasley's numbers jumped in the polls. The press hashed and rehashed the story for days, mentioning POINT often (but not once talking to us) and making political connections that don't exist and ascribing motivations that never were.

For the record, the Close family is not a benefactor of POINT, nor is the newspaper in cahoots with the Democratic Party. In fact, POINT has long been critical of Democrats for their lack of vision and backbone, and for being virtually indistinguishable from Republicans.

At POINT, we have tried to get beyond party, to think larger than labels, and to look at the Big Picture and what's wrong with it. Our position is that both of the major parties are bought and sold by corporate interests, and that without profound changes in the way this country finances elections our democracy is in serious trouble. But that's another story. (See pages 12-14.)

The point here is simply that the private lives of people should remain private. Public figure or not, nobody's personal affairs should be up for public consumption -- whether president of the United States or governor of South Carolina -- no matter how much we dislike them, disagree with them or would like to dispose of them.

That's not to say that character doesn't matter; it means that you don't need to invade politicians' private lives to know which way their moral compass points.

Take Gov. Beasley, for example: He lied to children. He sold the state out to the hazardous and toxic waste industry. Once a Dukakis Democrat, he now panders to the Christian Coalition. His belief system is built upon the shifting sands of public opinion. Again and again, he has invoked God's name for political gain. I'd say we know something about this man's moral fiber without getting into his personal habits.

In the end, this fascination with zipper politics tells us more about ourselves than about the politicians whose lives we expose. In the eight years POINT has been publishing, we had more interest -- by far -- in this one cheesy item in our gossip column than anything else we've ever done. It is a sad and sobering thought.

Truth is, sex does sell. It is why Ken Starr led with it in his report, and why the press ran every lurid detail he served up. And why many of you read it.

My hope is that I am not alone in thinking we have gone too far. It is time to consider the impact our collective voyeurism is having on the political process. Instinct tells me it isn't healthy.

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© Copyright by POINT, 1998