Adding the suffix “-gate” has become an easy — and misleading — way to denote political scandal. There have been multiple troopergates (imperiling Sarah Palin, Eliot Spitzer and Bill Clinton), Climategate, Rathergate, and the list goes on. Now there’s Weinergate .
But by using "-gate" to describe just any investigation or scandal, journalists muddy the distinction between serious breaches of public trust and less alarming — often personal — episodes. They also fail to distinguish between allegations of misconduct or illegal activity and corruption deemed so by the legal system or other official institutions.
Watergate involved centrally-directed fraud in the White House. The violation of laws, from high crimes to misdemeanors, implicated an entire branch of the federal government. How is it that implicit comparisons between this and the Weiner affair have become journalistically valid?
Writers run the risk of trivializing Watergate, diluting its meaning, and giving silly scandals disproportionate weight. Weiner’s misdeeds — while deceitful and personally unflattering — don't merit the suffix.