It was pure serendipity. We were making the long drive from Greenville to Laura’s sister’s house in Florida, and I had downloaded several podcasts from NPR’s This American Life to listen to along the way. At random I selected the episode “Leaving the Fold”, and was treated to a story that has many parallels with the story of Gov. Mark Sanford’s fall from grace.
The first part of the episode tells the story of Jerry Springer. If people think of him at all, they know him as the host off the off-beat TV talk show where idiots yell at each other about ridiculous things. The truth is, he was a very promising politician in the Democratic party in the late 1960’s, working with Robert Kennedy’s campaign. It looked like he had a bright political career of his own ahead of him. That was all brought to a crashing halt by an indiscretion similar to Sanford’s.
Springer graduated from Tulane, and got a Juris Doctorate from Northwestern. After Kennedy’s assassination he worked for awhile as a lawyer in Cincinnati. In 1971 he was elected to the Cincinnati city council. This is where things started to go wrong for him.
In 1974 police raided a “massage parlor” in Kentucky. There they found a check written by Springer for prostitution services from the parlor. Springer admitted his guilt, and resigned from city council. According to Wikipedia…
Springer came clean at a press conference. His honesty helped him win back his seat in 1975. In 1977, he was chosen to serve one year as mayor by the City Council.
According to the NPR story, the way in which Springer handled himself and the incident only caused his constituency to encourage him to get back into politics. Springer was able to recover, then go on to serve the city of Cincinnati several more years after the initial disgrace.
It was after this political career that Springer got into television journalism. He served as a TV anchorman for 15 years, then began his now-famous show. This show originally was supposed to be a serious show, along the lines of Phil Donahue. However, in 1994 the format was changed to get more ratings, and the redneck battles that we know today became regular fare on the show.
There are several parallels between Sanford and Springer. Dismissing party differences for a moment, both held strong convictions, and were often at odds with their own parties. Both got caught in sexual indiscretions that damaged their political careers. However, there are also major differences. Springer came clean and resigned. Sanford became wrapped up in a bizarre cover-up that has taken on a larger life than an affair alone would have have done.
It remains to be seen what will happen with Sanford. His recent confessions and candor seem to be doing more harm than good, revealing more damaging character flaws than than giving the impression of honesty. Who knows, though? Perhaps if Sanford does resign now, he can come back. Or perhaps, there might yet be a career for him in exploitation television.