I do have some sympathy, though, for the subject of my next biography, Doris Duke (due out in May 2020), who was pursued by the slime journal of her day, Confidential, eventually closed down on obscenity charges.
The difference between the two cases is clear. For Doris, the Confidential invented stories with impunity, capped by a cover photo of Doris with her supposed “African lover”—in reality her chauffeur, the man’s face clearly pasted next to hers.
After years of this kind of harassment, Doris made the mistake of considering a lawsuit when the Confidential, in one of its more harmless jabs, accused her of kicking off her shoes in a New York nightclub. Fortunately, she reconsidered, possibly because of a Supreme Court decision, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which said public figures had to prove reckless disregard for the facts in order to maintain a libel suit—making it very difficult for what were termed “public persons” to win.
Doris never agreed that she was a public person, but of course she was, against her will, because of the size of her fortune and the way she chose to use it. Her support of the Democratic party, and later, of Democratic women running for office, would also have riled the the Confidential. Like the National Enquirer, it was linked to Conservative political issues—such as those championed by columnist Walter Winchel—funneling adverse stories about left-leaning actors in L.A in the hope of injuring their careers. Often, the slime was generated by fake stories of these public persons being sexually involved with African Americans. The mag was eventually closed down on obscenity charges but of course by then the harm was done.
I doubt if Jeff Bezos wants to be a public person, but unlike Doris Duke, the appellation makes sense. His sense of self-importance is perhaps best expressed by a “below the belt” nude selfie—when will this kind of boasting stop? In addition, he owns Amazon and the Washington Post, and so is in the business of creating and passing on information, true or false. In a position of such ungovernable power, the only rein on his behavior is supplied by public exposure. Travel by private jet with his woman friend did not shield him, nor was he protected by hosting her “across five states and 4000 miles” at five-star hotels. Even limousines have windows.
So although I respect his decision to “stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out”—especially if the worms are likely to be White House inhabitants who abhor Jeff’s Washington Post—I still can’t see why I should feel sorry for this man. And I doubt if anyone will. After all, if you cheat on your wife, someone is going to notice, although usually not someone with a sleaze journal on-hand.
I’m more concerned about what will happen now to the woman he was taking all over the place, Lauren Sanchez, who may never have anticipated a version of the fate that has overtaken hundreds of illegal immigrants hired to service Trump at his golf resorts: immediate firing.
Of course in Lauren’s case, it won’t be an actual firing, but the ending of a relationship we can all imagine, in which an apparently contrite man says that it has all just become too difficult now that it is public—and of course his wife will finally have a chance to weigh in.
One of the most notable differences between women and men in public life is we seem to know better how to avoid scandal. It’s been a long time since President Dwight Eisenhower said that anyone in public life must be “cleaner than a hound’s tooth,” which depends on a knowledge of the condition of dog’s teeth that may also have passed into oblivion. But most women in public life, exposed to every kind of indignity, know the value of remembering the commandment:
JUST DON’T DO IT.