Few things these days get the gossip going, the water cooler conversations flowing, and the internet blowing up, as well as a good and juicy scandal. Whether a personal scandal involving a celebrity or public official or an official scandal surrounding boneheaded or corrupt governmental actions, people can’t seem to get enough of scandals. The spicier, the more salacious, and the more sensational, the better. Our grandparents, great grandparents, and their ancestors probably going all the way back to when our species first mastered communication, were just as interested in scandals as we are today. It is just human nature. Luckily for the celebrities and public figures of the way back when, the media in their days was far more restrained about covering the foibles of celebrities, public figures, and officials.
Scandals did occur in the past, and quite a few did blow up into media and public firestorms, but not as often as today. Not because celebrities and public figures were better behaved, but because the media gatekeepers were fewer, more powerful, and more staid. Also, because those gatekeepers usually came from the same class and moved in the same circles as most public figures, so there was usually an Old Boys Club protective ethos, and a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I empathy. And the public did not have the internet as a means for getting around gatekeepers and disseminating underreported or unreported stories, real or imagined, to an unlimited and potentially global audience.
Following are ten scandals from history that would cause a media firestorm and probably break the interweb if they happened today.
JFK’s and RFK’s Affairs With Marilyn Monroe
Presidential hanky panky is an irresistible magnet for the media and the public: just ask Bill Clinton about the firestorm of interest in his affairs before and during his time in the White House. Or ask Donald Trump about the accusations that dogged him during the 2016 campaign and continue dogging him today. However, those firestorms would probably look like flickering candles compared to what would have erupted if the affair between JFK and Marilyn Monroe had happened today.
Rumors had swirled for some time about an affair between President John F. Kennedy and America’s most iconic sex symbol. Marilyn’s sultry “Happy Birthday” performance for JFK on his 45th birthday – in the presence of his wife, no less – did nothing to squelch the rumors. Although tongues wagged and the gossip flowed, JFK was extremely lucky not to have his affair turn into a firestorm, because the media of his era was nothing like ours today.
If it happened today, the aftermath of the JFK and Marilyn Monroe affair would have added more fuel to what would have already been a raging inferno of insatiable media and public interest. After JFK tired of Marilyn Monroe, he essentially passed her on to his younger brother and the United States’ Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy. Robert F. Kennedy, or RFK, was widely viewed as the most straitlaced and family-oriented of the Kennedy brothers. RFK’s image was that of a happily married and devoted husband, raising a large and steadily increasing family that would eventually number 11 children. The jarring contrast between that public perception and an affair with the world’s greatest sex symbol would have kept the scandal going and made it grow.
Then add to it Marilyn’s unexpected death in 1962. The Los Angeles coroner’s office ruled the death a probable suicide via barbiturates. But conspiracy theories swirled, alleging that JFK or RFK had been involved. The sudden death of a former mistress of the President, with whom he had an affair while in office, and who then became the mistress of his brother, the Attorney General and the President’s right-hand man? That scandal would have broken the internet if it had happened today.