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Is Spitzer Worse Than The Others?

Corporations have revved their engines back up for round two of the smear campaign against Eliot Spitzer, the former Governor of New York who recently announced that he would run for New York City Comptroller. With headlines such as “Here We Ho Again” and “Lust For Power,” news outlets are again pigeonholing Spitzer as a depraved sex addict, more loathsome than the average politician gone wrong. 

In the last couple of decades, there have been many scandals in politics, most sex-related. Remember Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford, Chuck Robb, Newt Gingrich, Barney Frank, David Vitter, Ted Kennedy, Ken Calvert, and Bill Clinton, etc? But none of these politicians have ever faced the same kind of criticism that destroyed Spitzer. Indeed, the careers of Frank, Calvert, and Vitter, all of whom had sex with prostitutes, were largely uninterrupted.

The reality is that Spitzer was targeted not because his actions were any more despicable, but because of the hard line approach he took towards financial institutions when he began his political career in 1998 as the New York State Attorney General. He turned a position that, for years, had not held much meaning into one that frightened Wall Street and held companies accountable for a lot of corruption that had been largely ignored or settled with meager plea deals.

In a state of amnesia, speaker of the City Council Christine C. Quinn, a Democrat, said to the New York Times that “the question with both Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer is, what have they been doing to earn a second chance?”

Quinn, like most Americans, has eaten up the story that the corporate media fed to the public. She forgets about the other politicians listed above, some of whom are still serving as Senators and House members. And she has also conveniently forgotten that Spitzer continued to rail against big banks that, months after his resignation, would bring the economy close to a halt.  

In 2002, Spitzer sued several investment banks as Attorney General for inflating stock prices. When executives tried to sweep the issue under the table and keep the information secret, which had become common practice, Spitzer refused.

“I said no,” Spitzer recounted in Alex Gibney’s film, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, “because my job as Attorney General is to change the system so that it’s fair and honest. And if we seal the evidence and you pay with a check and we don’t change the system, I’m basically being bought off.”

It was this unwavering conviction that prompted Wall Street to scrutinize every aspect of Spitzer’s life. When a prostitution ring called the Emperor’s Club was suddenly uncovered, it was outsiders who pushed for an investigation of “client 9,” even though clients, the NYPD admitted, are usually not prosecuted in these cases.

Everyone says that “Eliot Spitzer brought himself down,” Gibney said in an interview about his documentary. “Actually, there were other forces at work that, though he was the one who made himself vulnerable, were there very much to use their power to make sure he went down as hard as possible, so that his fall was a kind of freefall. And he would never be able to be picked up again.”

Gibney’s Client 9 cleverly uses the scandal to entice Wall Street players like ex-NYSE Director Ken Langone and former CEO of AIG Maurice Greenberg into sitting down and talking about -- not the scandal itself -- but what lead up to it. The film becomes a kind of mystery-thriller and exposes the lies and tricks that top executives use to destroy people like Spitzer – the film suggests that it was a Roger Stone, a wealthy Wall Street playboy with a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back, that got the scoop on Spitzer’s sexual affairs and relayed the news, probably to Langone.

“You know we all have our private hells,” an ecstatic Langone told a reporter after the Spitzer scandal broke in 2008. “I hope his private hell is hotter than anybody else’s.”