The Other Women

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009 9:16 AM

It seemed like Mark Sanford had slowly and painfully let it all hang out.

Turns out he hadn't.

Now we're into the drip-drip-drip portion of the scandal. Sanford admitted to more contacts with Maria Belen Chapur -- not just in Argentina -- and "some physical contact" with other women.

First lady Jenny Sanford, the ball is in your court.

I know, none of this is as important as the U.S. military completing its pullback from major Iraqi cities yesterday, but that has been all but overshadowed in the post-Michael Jackson media.

The Sanford saga has sparked more of a national conversation about public officials and infidelity than just about any episode since Monicagate. I mean, who can still remember what John Ensign did? (For the record, he slept with a former campaign treasurer who was married to a former top aide.)

But the South Carolina governor has struck a nerve for several reasons:

a) His "Appalachian Trail" disappearance

b) His choice of an Argentine lover

c) His stream-of-consciousness press conference

d) His wife hanging him out to dry, especially after he asked permission to visit his gal pal

e) His endless apologizing

f) The e-mails

More on that in a moment, but first, Sanford's apology after acknowledging that he considered resigning last week:

"A long list of close friends have suggested otherwise -- that for God to really work in my life I shouldn't be getting off so lightly. While it would be personally easier to exit stage left, their point has been that my larger sin was the sin of pride. . . . Their belief was that if I walked in with a real spirit of humility then this last legislative term could well be our most productive one -- and that outside this term, I would ultimately be a better person and of more service in whatever doors God opened next in life if I stuck around to learn lessons rather than running and hiding down at the farm."

All right, humility is good. But then came this bombshell from the AP:

"South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Tuesday that he saw his Argentine mistress more times than previously disclosed, including what was to be a farewell meeting in New York chaperoned by a spiritual adviser soon after his wife found out about the affair.

"In a lengthy and emotional interview with The Associated Press in his State House office, the governor described five meetings with Maria Belen Chapur over the past year, including two romantic, multi-night stays with her in New York before they met there again intending to break up.

"He said he met her two other times -- their first meeting in 2001 at an open-air dance spot in Uruguay and a coffee date in New York in 2004 during the Republican National Convention. He said neither time was romantic."

What a relief!

Except the AP soon put up a new lead: "Gov. Mark Sanford says he 'crossed lines' with a handful of women other than his mistress -- but never had sex with them.

"The governor says he 'never crossed the ultimate line' with anyone but Maria Belen Chapur. . . . He says that during the other encounters he 'let his guard down' with some physical contact but 'didn't cross the sex line.' He wouldn't go into detail."

I'm sure he'll be going into detail by tomorrow.

And yet his heart is still torn: "This was a whole lot more than a simple affair; this was a love story. A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day."

In the Hollywood version, he would abdicate and move to Buenos Aires.

The debate about his conduct continues, with the Nation's Eyal Press cutting the Republican considerable slack:

"My first thought when I heard the news about Sanford was the same thought I always have when a story breaks about a politician's personal life: namely, so what? Why is it our business to track who a politician is sleeping with so long as no laws have been broken? Why should press conferences be wasted on such matters? Sanford's case was an exception because he disappeared for five days, a matter of public significance, some would argue. Fair enough. But as a friend of mine pointed out a few hours after the story about his escapade to Argentina broke, the inevitable result of showering attention on such matters is to humiliate the individuals involved and to reinforce the puritanical strain in our culture. It's somehow newsworthy that (shock!) a public figure has been unfaithful to his or her partner, that a marriage may be unraveling, that lies have been told.

"The underlying assumption is that it actually is our business to know these things and that any public figure who strays from the norm has serious, potentially unpardonable character flaws. Let's retire this assumption and heed the words of Governor Sanford's lover, who, in a letter sent to an Argentine television station, wrote, 'I won't speak about my private life as it just belongs to me. It has already been made too public during these last days, bringing to me even more pain.' "

Meanwhile, the State reports, "Six of 27 members of the conservative Senate Republican Caucus Tuesday night issued a letter calling on Gov. Mark Sanford to resign. Two additional senators considered among Sanford's staunchest allies, also said they want him to resign though they did not sign the letter. Two other senior senators who spoke to the State said Tuesday's revelations moved them closer to asking Sanford to step down."

Sanford has taken responsibility, but look at the reaction in comments posted on South Carolina newspaper sites:

"In the Myrtle Beach Sun News: 'Like most married men, he got caught involved with a woman of ways who seduced him . . . His biggest mistake was getting involved with a woman that when he tried to end it, sent copies of emails to his wife and the press anonymously and all knows she did it'-- tooclassy4you.

" 'This gal is having the time of her life. She's enjoying a sexual encounter with a governer in the US, AND most likely has another local stud on call for quickies. WOW! Ladies and gentleman this gal is a professional COUGAR' -- ibshagn.

"At the Charleston Post and Courier, blaming the woman was also a theme in the online comments: 'She is a jaded divorcee and a gold-digger, a climber. Sorry mr Sanford, she 'loved' you as much as she loved other 'strong' men, not afraid to get close to mafia, in Argentina' -- AnaLaura."

So it's all that vixen's fault.

Neely Tucker had a smart take in The Post about the literary subtext:

"Their electronic epistles are startling and something rarely seen anymore: adult love letters. They are possessed of maturity, passion, angst and the recognition that they are devolving into an adulterous relationship that both acknowledge is wrong and yet seem helpless to stop.

"They make you stop what you're doing and wonder if you are as alive as the people writing these across continents to each other. They make you vaguely embarrassed to have read them; as if, after the funeral, you discovered love letters from your beloved aunt Polly to the church deacon, and you read them all before you could stop.

"She to he, last June (writing in English, not her native tongue):

" 'I do love you, I can feel it in my heart, and although I don't know if we'll ever be able to meet again this has been the best that has happened to me in a long time. You made me realized how you feel when you realy love somebody and how much you want to be beside the beloved. Last Friday I would had stayed embrassing and kissing you forever.'

"He to she, the next week, in a note that tried to resolve the adulterous state of the affair:

" 'I also suspect I feel a little vulnerable because this is ground I have never certainly never covered before -- so if you have pearls of wisdom on how we figure all this out please let me know. . . . In the meantime please sleep soundly knowing that despite the best efforts of my head my heart cries out for you, your voice, your body, the touch of your lips, the touch of your finger tips and an even deeper connection to your soul.' "

Danielle Crittenden engages in a bit of self-reflection:

"When I was a young, mouthy conservative, I expressed a lot of strong ideas about marriage. Now, twenty-one years (to the day) into my own marriage, I have to concede that if I've learned anything over time, it's that the so-called traditional marriage is anything but traditional. When it works, it's a bloody miracle.

"When (yet another) middle-aged, married politician is caught with (yet another) hotter, younger thing -- and we endure (yet again) the sad spectacle of a once-spectacular wife relegated to the best-supporting actress role in Sordid Scandal: Part 9,182,798 -- I have to admit that the first thing I do is look over my shoulder. Still being married at this age makes you feel a bit like a soldier charging the beaches on D-Day. The bullets are whizzing past, your comrades to the left and right are falling, mortally wounded. Will you be next?"

They Really Like Him

All right, it's an anticlimax, but Al Franken will become the 60th Democratic senator. It took a mere eight months, but Norm Coleman finally conceded after the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Franken's dazzling, 312-vote victory. Too bad Bill O'Reilly is off this week.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune takes the high road: "The national critics may have faulted Minnesota for a tedious, time-consuming process for deciding close elections. But they have to admire the result: a clear decision, arrived at with thoroughness and care, and with no evidence of fraud. That makes it possible it will be accepted by people of all political persuasions as the legitimate outcome."

Sixty votes sounds like a slam-dunk, but anyone who's seen the Senate operate knows the Dems are divided on various issues and that won't change once Franken arrives. As Huffington Post's Sam Stein notes: "Not everyone is convinced that his presence will make a huge political difference. The reality, which few in the Democratic Party are willing to talk about openly, is that there are really only 58 caucusing members. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-MA, has been out for nearly all of the current Congress on medical leave. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, while released from the hospital on Tuesday morning, continues to face health issues of his own. Meanwhile, moderate Democrats like Mary Landrieu, D-La, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., have made it almost a point of pride in not allowing their votes to be taken for granted. And on specific issues, the party has proven strikingly allergic to philosophical unison."

Still, failure will be hard for the theoretically filibuster-proof Dems to explain away.

More on Milbank

By now, half the Web sites in America have weighed in on the Dana Milbank-Nico Pitney faceoff on my CNN program. In the New Republic, where Milbank once worked, Jason Zengerle reminds us that he had an earlier career in which he was not exactly popular with the right:

"I disagree with Dana Milbank's criticism of Nico Pitney and the process by which he got to ask a question at last week's White House presser. That said, the attacks on Dana from other Pitney defenders (and Pitney himself in this CNN clip) are getting kind of ridiculous . . .

"I think it's worth remembering, though, that before Dana wrote his 'Washington Sketch' column, he was a White House correspondent for the Post, and he was one of the best in the business -- he broke news, he informed, and he afflicted the comfortable. Indeed, he was a constant thorn in the Bush administration's side, not because of any partisan allegiances, but because of his allegiance to the truth -- which, ironically, made him a hero not so long ago to some of the people now attacking him.

"In a 2004 piece for the New Yorker about the Bush White House's press operation, Ken Auletta wrote:

"After September 11th, the briefings became less contentious, the press coverage of Bush and his leadership more adulatory. Another phase began around the fall of 2002, and was marked by somewhat more aggressive coverage of the Administration's march to war with Iraq. The White House was enraged by an article by Dana Milbank, which appeared on October 22, 2002, under the headline 'For Bush, facts are malleable.' "

According to the piece, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and Ari Fleischer all complained to Post editors about Milbank's coverage.

Lack of Originality

Editor & Publisher reports: "A column on planning for retirement that appeared in an Arizona daily nearly two weeks ago has also shown up, with a different byline, in a Texas newspaper.

"Both columns, interestingly, were not written by staff writers, but by financial experts who are among many penning such pieces for newspapers in these cost-cutting times.

"This particular column first appeared in the East Valley Tribune of Mesa, Ariz., on June 19. Titled, 'Don't let economy threaten retirement plans,' it carries the byline of Rebecca Warren. She is identified as a financial planner for Warren Financial Services.

"The second column, which ran in The Huntsville (Tex.) Item on June 25, is almost identical, word by word, to the first. It carries the byline of Brian Smith as an Item correspondent. Publisher Dennis Garrison confirmed to E&P that Smith is a financial adviser for the local office of Global Financial Partners and writes a regular column for the paper, but does not receive a fee."

Summer Strategy

Some breaking news from Politico:

"President Barack Obama and his family plan to vacation next month on Martha's Vineyard, Democratic sources said."

The Vineyard? Is that the island of choice for Democratic presidents? Shouldn't Obama have taken a poll and settled on a purple state?

Wall to Wall MJ

The Jackson coverage has become utterly inescapable on television, and this Us scoop, trumpeted by the New York Post, tangles the story even further:

"Michael Jackson's skin doctor was more than just a father figure to the star's kids -- he also allegedly sired two of them.

"Celebrity dermatologist Arnold Klein yesterday was identified as the sperm donor for Jackson's son Prince Michael, 12, and daughter, Paris Michael, 11. The doctor's office assistant, Debbie Rowe, was the surrogate mom.

"Klein's baby-daddy status 'was common knowledge and what was assumed by people in Michael's inner circle,' former Jackson publicist Stuart Backerman told The Post. 'It didn't really . . . factor into who was raising the children.' "

The go-to Jackson site says: "Sources tell TMZ an extremely dangerous and potent drug used for surgical anesthesia was found at Michael Jackson's house after he died. We're told the drug Propofol was discovered at the residence."

What a mess.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company