Can Extortion Make Us All More Candid About Infidelity?

It’s happened three times in the last three months. A high-profile and hugely-successful man comes forward to admit to dalliances outside his marriage. The first was legendary basketball coach Rick Pitino, followed in short order this week by both Senator John Ensign and talk-show host David Letterman. Their inspiration in each case? Being shaken down for big bucks.

Pitino’s confession came long after the fact, after the FBI allegedly investigated a woman who had threatened to go public with their affair.  Letterman’s extortionist was asking for $2 million while Ensign’s sought $8.5 million. In both cases, each man went public, Letterman after testifying in front of a grand jury.


While these confessions generally came after police investigations and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted his dalliance after being caught in a lie, perhaps there’s a possibility that public people could start becoming somewhat more candid about their extramarital affairs, eventually trickling down to how the common person deals with such situations. In Sanford’s case, the public outrage wasn’t so much over his affair as it was over his lie and use of public funds to carry on the affair. So coming clean has to be easier than lying about hiking the Appalachian trail.

Granted, some political affairs end in tragedy, mostly because those involved refuse to come clean. But the past few years have seen an unheard of level of candor about affairs. Shortly before leaving office and without much prodding, French President Jacques Chirac admitted his affairs. And in an unheralded move in the United States, years after President Clinton's big lie, former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani discussed secret service protection for the president’s mistress. These are the kinds of discussions we’re simply not used to having and we’re seeing more and more of them entirely because of the greed of others. No one’s saying we’re all suddenly about to come clean about infidelity, but it sure is easier than writing a check.  

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