Alex Blaze

Breaking: Traditional media sensationalizes sex scandal

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 22, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Politics
Tags: Al French, beau breedlove, Gordon Smith, John Kerry, mayor, oregon, oregonian, portland, portland tribune, Sam Adams, sex scandal, swiftboat

Both the Portland Tribune and the Oregonian published editorials calling for Portland mayor Sam Adams to resign. Two days ago it came out that Adams had a relationship with a male 18-year-old former intern, Beau Breedlove, and then lied about it during his campaign when his opponent accused him of having sex with Breedlove while he was 17.

Sam_Adams_Portland.jpgI know, I know, it's a crazy world where we believe that 18-year-olds are mature enough to make sexual decisions on their own. It's a crazy idea that people's morality might not center around what's going on in their pants. And it's even crazier still to wonder about why pundits only call for politicians to resign for lying if their lies are related to sex.

Society has some seriously fucked up ideas when it comes to relationships between people of different generations, especially if one of the participants is under the age of 25. Without fail, the older partner is portrayed as either a bumbling old fart who's desperate for a lay or a sexual predator seeking to take advantage of the virginal youth, while the younger person is usually portrayed as a doe-eyed dummy who got taken for a ride or a gold-digger.

And we're seeing that same dynamic here, mainly because in our sexual paradigm, youth is valued as a commodity. Any young person who'd give it away to someone who has nothing to offer has to be stupid or looking for money, and those old men and women/cougars without any value are really out of place for looking towards the younger generation for love.

The Portland Tribune's editorial is far more honest than the Oregonian's since it focuses on the sex and tacks on some indignity about the lying for good measure. I say that it's more honest because every time one of these sex scandals comes out, invariably pundits start saying "I don't care what he did, but the lying is unforgivable" and all I can think is "Liar, liar, liar, liar!"... about the pundits themselves.

It was a lie then that Clinton was impeached because he lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky (it had far more to do with bitter partisanship and typical Republican obstructionism), and it's a lie now that the biggest reason these folks are calling for Adams to resign is because he lied.

The Tribune can't tell the difference between 17 and 18

The Tribune editorial makes a statement so stupid, so clearly illogical and divorced from reality, that the entire editorial is worth discarding.

We don't believe the public makes much of a distinction when it comes to a man over 40 having sex with either a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old. And it makes no difference if the teenager is male or female -- it's sexual opportunism, pure and simple.

Really? People don't make a distinction between sexual behavior with a 17- or an 18-year-old?

I'm sympathetic to arguments about how the sexual majority laws are based on a silly distinction that results in people going from being children who can't decide what's best for them one day to completely mature adults the next day. I really am. It's hard to come up with a certain date that works for everyone.

But the people of Oregon came together and decided that the 18th birthday was the day. And to say that they don't "make much of a distinction" is completely laughable - they draw all sorts of jagged, hard lines to divide those below and those above the age of 18.

163.315 Incapacity to consent; effect of lack of resistance.
(1) A person is considered incapable of consenting to a sexual act if the person is:

(a) Under 18 years of age;[...]

163.415 Sexual abuse in the third degree.
(1) A person commits the crime of sexual abuse in the third degree if the person subjects another person to sexual contact and:

(a) The victim does not consent to the sexual contact; or

(b) The victim is incapable of consent by reason of being under 18 years of age.[...]

163.435 Contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor.
(1) A person 18 years of age or older commits the crime of contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor if:

(a) Being a male, he engages in sexual intercourse with a female under 18 years of age; or

(b) Being a female, she engages in sexual intercourse with a male under 18 years of age; or

(c) The person engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another person under 18 years of age or causes that person to engage in deviate sexual intercourse.[...]

163.445 Sexual misconduct.
(1) A person commits the crime of sexual misconduct if the person engages in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse with an unmarried person under 18 years of age.

Sounds like the public in Oregon has made a pretty clear distinction about which age group is able to consent and which isn't!

The Portland Tribune's statement is even more ironic considering that Breedlove could be prosecuted if he had sex with someone under the age of 18.

I'm still waiting, though, for the Tribune to write an editorial decrying the fact that 18-year-olds are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the public doesn't make much of distinction between 17- and 18-year-olds, the US is clearly sending children into battle.

I'll also be waiting for the Tribune editorial that decries how 18-year-old murderers are tried as adults. If 18-year-olds aren't old enough to make decisions about what they want to do with their bodies yet, then clearly they can't be held responsible for the mistakes they make when making those decisions. Right?

It's not about the lying

Here's a bit from the Tribune's editorial. (I do like how they say that they don't care that Adams is gay - I was in a writing workshop once and the professor mentioned, in response to one woman's essay, that anytime someone prefaces what they're about to say with "I'm not racist, but..." then it's a red flag that they're racist.)

We don't care that Adams is gay. But we care -- and believe that Portlanders deeply care -- that Adams engaged in incredibly inappropriate actions and then lied about them for 17 months. In doing so, Adams created an irreparable breach in trust with the people who elected him.

Notice how the "incredibly inappropriate actions" are completely separate from the alleged lies? That's shockingly honest for a traditional media outlet when it comes to a sex scandal. Usually, after ignoring government lies and discussing why it's not their job to call out the lies, they have a few fainting spells and call on people to retire, without any awareness of the fact that the only lies that count are ones related to sex.

The Oregonian, though, says it's all about the lying.

But, when former Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) lied in a series of campaign ads last season about his opponent, did they call for him to resign? Did they ask him to resign when he admitted to lying about his travel time in in Oregon? A search of The Oregonian's site shows they didn't. In fact, they endorsed the liar.

When Swift Boater and Clackamas County (OR) district attorney Al French admitted to having lied about events in John Kerry's life in order to slime him in 2004, did The Oregonian call for him to resign? It seems important enough of a lie, and a DA should be held to a higher standard when it comes to honesty. But if you answered yes, you'd be wrong. He lied in a sworn affidavit and on camera to advance his political agenda, and the Oregonian didn't call for him to resign.

And what about Bush? He lied to start the war in Iraq, lied about his illegal wiretapping, lied about Social Security solvency, lied to get his tax cuts through.... He was a liar among liars, and anyone with a purist view of honesty who thinks that a politician should resign if he lies about anything should have called for Bush's resignation long ago. Bush was president of every state, including Oregon, and yet The Oregonian never called for him to resign, nor did they call for impeachment.

Those are just a few examples that I remember off the top of my head; I'm no expert on Oregon politics. But it seems that if it truly was about the lying that The Oregonian would be printing quite a few more editorials calling for various pols to resign.

The (lack of) value of intergenerational relationships

The only way that Adams's actions can be read as morally wrong is if we start with the assumption that sexuality, especially homosexuality, is an attack on another human being. If we think that there's something wrong with it, that it's inherently exploitative and that we need to protect ourselves and be old enough to adequately defend ourselves from sexuality, then, yeah, there might be an issue here.

But a sex doesn't have to be about taking, and there's no reason to assume that this relationship was "sexual opportunism" when there's no evidence that it was.

Perhaps, as someone who's only been in relationships with men at least 15 years his senior since he left college, I'm biased here. I've heard it all, about being a gold-digger (even when I dated poor older guys), that the relationship is "inappropriate" (read: I'm uncomfortable with your relationship so I assume it has to do with morality), that people of different ages are incompatible, usually with a little you-don't-understand-life paternalism thrown in for good measure.

Older gay men aren't sexually worthless and younger gay men aren't the airheads we're rumored to be. We can all make our own decisions about who we want to be with and it doesn't mean that someone's being taken advantage of. More importantly, these relationships are none of our business and they don't define people's morality in other areas of their lives.

Ahem... my morality is up here

I would hate for any of the older men I've dated to be immediately thought of as immoral or creepy just because they dated someone younger than they were, just as I hate that anyone's morality is determined by what's going on in their pants. If it could be, then George W. Bush would be one of the most moral people in the US.

The idea that someone's morality is determined by their sex life sells papers, I'll admit. In our tabloid media culture, it's hard to get people interested in the ins and outs of FISA provisions, and it's hard to get motivated to do so when a sexy story will instantly get people interested.

But that doesn't mean we have to buy into it, nor does it make the original idea correct. Morality is complex and there are moral people who have sex outside of marriage, who have sex with groups, who have sex with people significantly younger than they are, who have sex for money, who have sex with people of the same sex....

Point is, both papers seem to think that Adams would be a great mayor if it wasn't for this little issue. But instead of acting like the moral magistrates of the city of Portland, protecting the peasants from the immorality of some members of the ruling class, they could just, um, put the material good of the people first and discuss city policy instead of the sex lives of the rich and famous.

Because, when it comes down to it, that's their motivation. As Peter Griffin so eloquently put it: "Ooh, it's fun to watch rich people be naughty!"

But can't we ask for a little restraint from the traditional media, or at least a little fairness? Apply the lying=resigning standard across the board or butt out of people's sex lives. Otherwise, all it displays is a poverty of thought on the part of those folks who let politicians off the hook on matters of policy but gather the pitchforks and torches at the whiff of a sex scandal.

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Until we finally overcome the sex=shame puritanism that has defined American morality for far too long, non-issues like this will dominate over substantive issues like whether or not Adams is a good mayor.

Also, the whole question of the relationship is inappropriate. How can we ask for privacy in our own personal sex lives, but demand that a politician divulge details of a consensual and legal relationship that lasted a very short time years ago?

Great post.

My partner actually sided with the "18 year old's are still children" crowd. I was kinda stunned. Almost led to a household argument.

That said, the mayor should be booted just for his sheer political stupidity.

I came over to Bilerico today expecting an Alex Blaze post on this topic, and you delivered. Very well, I might add.

I hope a lot of people read this.

Thank you for such an excellent post! I appreciate your thoughts a lot!

Alex Blaze, great article.

These attacks on Sam Adams are 100% anti-gay.

Beau Breedlove was an ADULT. Breedlove worked for the Oregon state legislator in congress and Adams worked at the Portland mayor's office, 60 miles away. There was no abuse of power. What they did was ok. The reason Sam and Beau mislead was because of reaction just like this.


You took me for a wild ride with this one. Honestly, I only read this due to the insanely handsome old fart pictured above. After reading this, though, I am floored by the level of depth and consideration you gave to this subject. Obviously it is something you have thought about before the construction of this article, but it is nonetheless well researched and brilliantly written.

Yes yes -- delicious, thoughtful post, indeed!

Michael Reis | January 23, 2009 4:15 AM

If the mayor had sexual relationships with an 17 year old person, he has violated the Oregon law. All politicians and leaders are expected to obey the law - regardless if they agree with the law or not.

Leadership has a price in private lives. You will remember that New York governor Spitzer had to resign because of using call girl services in Washington D.C. Spitzer may not have violated any laws, but he lost credibility. That made him a much less effective leader.

Supposedly if Breedlove was over 18 years old, it would not look good upon Sam Adams to have a sexual relationship. That may not have violated any laws, but Sam Adams has lost his credibility.

Of course, the actions of the mayor reflect upon the city. The State of Illinois is completely embarrassed by Governor Blagojevich, so he has to go!

I concur; this is well done.

I've always had personal questions about the so-called "statutory rape" laws. How, in the end, is one supposed to know for certain, the age of their partner, gay, straight, or otherwise? The law assumes that it should be obvious. It rarely is. I know that I was in bars and clubs, underage by several years, long before I was 21. People lie about their ages, and get away with it, all the time.

Example: a good friend of mine was dating a woman while in college in the mid-1980s. He was 18+. She was.......representing herself as 17, which was backed up by her mother, who thought he was the perfect boyfriend for her. Still, he kept wondering why she didn't have her learner's permit, let alone drivers' license. She was attractive enough, since the 1980s styles allowed her to cover up her immaturity with ratted hair, leg warmers, and heavy makeup. Well, y'all know the answer: she really was 15, barely so. He broke it off, in a fairly ugly way, worried about whether there'd be repercussions legally.

Ultimately, how do you really know how old your partner is? If the person says they're 18, do you card them? I don't think so. I don't know how gay/lesbian folk do that, but straight folk don't generally card their dates, and transpeople definitely don't!

Mayor Adams made a mistake, but not a mistake of malfeasance, of misappropriation of public funds, say, or of city resources. He should apologize for it, admit that he's bi at least (gay if he really is, questioning if nothing else), and carry on as mayor. It will pass, particularly if he's doing a solid job otherwise.

Polar, Sam Adams is openly gay and has been for years. So he doesn't have to come out as anything--thankfully! Thus the homophobia in the scandal is much more subdued than it would have been if Adams was closeted.

Alex, what do you make of Portland's glbt paper Just Out calling for Adams' resignation? (My computer is being abominably slow, or I'd grab a link for you.)

Traditional media sensationalizes sex scandal

Surely, you jest.

One quick point too as a personal friend of Alex's:

I would hate for any of the older men I've dated to be immediately thought of as immoral or creepy just because they dated someone younger than they were...

I thought of your ex as creepy, not because of his age, but because he was/still is one creepy-ass mofo. Just sayin'. :)

Too true, too sad of a case. We've only been broken up, for what, like 8 times the amount of time we were together? And he's still fuming?

Some people said it was because of our age difference, but I'd beg to differ. He's just psycho.

Michael Reis, I get the feeling from your comment that you didn't read Blaze's post because you didn't address anything as you toed the line of dominant shaming culture. Adams doesn't compare to Governor Blagojevich — there is strong evidence, according to the government, that Blagojevich broke serious laws. Adams broke no laws. He lied about sex, and the fact that so many people are throwing a fit that he lied about sex says a lot more about our culture of shame than about Adams himself.

Thanks for writing this, Alex.

We need more of these honest conversations about intergenerational sex/morality/sex, period.

P.S. - I especially like your points about the lethal lies about war getting a pass.

Let face it, if the mayor was female this would not have been the same story. Also, if the 18 year old was a female, this also wouldn't be as glamorized. I am not honest about my age because I look 15 yrs younger than I really am. If I didn't lie, almost nobody would notice me while I am online. The people my real age look really old, don't have my zest for life or my energy. Being with younger people keeps me young, mentally and physically. Let's be honest, we all lie about something.

It seems that everyone is blaming Adams for being so dumb to have an affair with an 18yo guy. Many forget that it takes two to tango and unless Breedlove was raped then it was a consensual LEGAL relationship between 2 adults. No law was broken. Also most states feel that a 16 or 17yo is old enough to make a consensual decision on sex.

Howcome a 15yo can be tried as an adult for murder but a 17yo (in a few states) isn't mature enough to make a decision who he/she can have sex with? Our legal system is screwed up.

We seem to be a nation filled prudish people basking in their so-called morals based on draconian principles with a Bible in hand. Give me a break!!

I remind you that congressman Vitter from Lousiana cheated on his wife, broke the law by having sex with a whore and is still in office. He refused to resign. Why isn't he being thrown out of office for breaking the law?

Why the hell should Adams resign for having consensual sex with an adult and lying about it?

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | January 24, 2009 7:53 AM

This raises two questions. First GLBT folks have absolutely no business criticizing gay men having sex with each other. There is nothing scandalous about their relationship. Nothing at all.

Or about lying to protect themselves. I hope Adams can tough it out and avoid resigning.

Secondly their relationship would have been perfectly legal in many states including neighboring Washington and in my home state, Nevada.

We should push for a uniform and probably lower age of consent across the US. I'm not talking lower as in NAMBLA or the archdiocese of Boston’s versions of lower, but a reasonable law that acknowledges puberty. We want to insist that any discussion take into account the views of GLBT teens and youth.

Of course ruthless penalties should be established for forced polygamous marriages and to deter the predations of cult priests, rabbis and ministers.

In Europe the countries that most recently changed their laws are setting the age of consent at 14 with one at 13 and a couple adopted 15. Most are former soviet bloc states or members of the Warsaw Pact. And for some mysterious reason Vatican City's is the lowest at 12. Perhaps it has something to do with the widespread availability of altar boys.