Editorial | The private lies of public people

Public figures should be allowed to maintain a shred of privacy, but we should be wary when their aim is more to deceive than protect

August 30th, 2012 10:03 am| by admin

If you’re famous in Denmark and have financial problems, you are likely to be seeing yourself on the front page of the tabloids. Same if you have a drug problem. Whispers of infidelity, sexual impropriety and closet homosexuality, however, have for the most part been allowed to remain private. As long as no-one is breaking any laws, such rumours remain rumours.

Unfortunately for privacy-loving lawmakers, this gentlemen’s agreement with the media was shattered by the prime minister’s pre-emptive strike to quash rumours that her husband is gay.

The allegations themselves certainly are salacious, but even more notable is that Thorning-Schmidt felt the need to bring them up at all. In doing so, she sets a new low for what is in bounds when it comes to political attacks.

Although it is refreshing that the quality of people’s work is allowed to come before the character of their person, in the case of the prime minister and other important public figures, it is worth asking at what point we should begin prying into their private lives. 

Few today find homosexuality or promiscuity a reason to question someone’s ability to do a job, be they politician, executive, police officer or chimney sweep. But it is troubling if public figures throw up a facade to mask inconvenient details about their lives. If they lie to the public about what goes on in their homes, what does it say about their willingness to lie about what’s going on in parliament or the boardroom?

There was a time here when what public figures did in their free time was up to them. By expressing a need to defend her husband’s honour, the prime minister is telling us she feels that era has drawn to an end. Whether the blame for that falls on an increasingly aggressive media or a public that continues to pay attention to scandal is a matter of the chicken or the egg. What can’t be questioned, though, is that when the mud starts flying, it’s the discussion of the issues that suffers most.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, according to an American adage, but who politicians’ bedfellows are shouldn’t be a matter of public interest.

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