Politicians, scandals and the Internet: Oh, my

The incentive to be an honest person has never been greater in human history.

It is harder to lie than ever before. Things can be documented and shared like never before. If the editing of the Watergate tapes couldn’t protect a corrupt presidency in the 1970s, the even more ubiquitous nature of the Internet today should wag enough fingers to those who seek to publicly lie.

I recall during the 2008 election when many of my friends refused to vote for John McCain after seeing the video commonly thought of as “John McCain’s YouTube Problem,” which was a calm reminder of the power of the internet to show a politician’s flaws.

I was reminded of this power recently when news began to generate about U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., picking up underage Dominican prostitutes.

Rumors about the famous and powerful circulate all the time. I shrugged off the news, especially after the senator made it clear that the rumors were being generated by partisan blogs. My shrugging stopped when the FBI got involved.

Partisanship also curiously ended when the apolitical, nonpartisan “Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington” gave credibility to the matter. The authorities have begun to sniff around his personal life and even the lives of some of his campaign donors.

I am a firm believer of innocent until proven guilty, but the similarity of Menendez’s defense strategy is reminiscent of what U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., tried nearly two years ago.

For those of you who don’t remember, he was caught sending naughty photos to young women via Twitter. When he accidentally made one of them public, his escapade was made viral by political opponents. His defense was to claim that he didn’t do anything and that those same political opponents hacked his Twitter account and sent out the photo.

Hacking the personal hardware of a sitting congressman is a serious offense. The FBI had to get involved, which pressured the congressman to come clean.

People always get a laugh whenever they see a YouTube montage of Weiner’s jovial denial of his behavior, which then fades to his somber expression at a press conference where he states that the naughty pictures were indeed of him and sent by him. He was also forced to apologize to those who exposed him for trying to ruin them.

If Weiner has just come clean from the start, he might have been able to avoid resignation. The hilarity of seeing complete denials caught on tape, juxtaposed with a complete admission of guilt with apologies to political enemies, paints a scarring picture that will never be erased from the Internet. The Internet never forgives, and it never forgets.

America doesn’t need to see this played out again. If Menendez is innocent, then he should keep declaring his innocence. But if he is guilty, he should seriously consider pleading the Fifth throughout the investigation.

The silence may convict him in the court of public opinion, but silence hardly convicts the way a viral video can. He should also be careful, because if he claims those who expose him are lying, and they are proven to be correct, he will end up lionizing them as the extra spotlight of his protests bolster their credibility.

The preliminary evidence of this story is dated to last April and yet The Daily Caller chose to make the information public three months after Menendez’s re-election. The claim of it being strictly politically motivated does not hold much water and reeks of desperation.

Only the truth will set Sen. Menendez free, whatever the truth maybe. Anything less will cause the Internet to entrap him.

Reach the columnist at crgavin@asu.edu or follow him at @coltongavin