The Washington Post

McAllister video offers up another iconic scandal image

In a video obtained by "The Ouachita Citizen," Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) is allegedly seen kissing a female member of his district office staff last December. The congressman has since issued an apology saying, "There's no doubt I've fallen short and I'm asking for forgiveness." (The Ouachita Citizen)

That grainy black-and white surveillance footage of Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) smooching a staffer is more than a collection of pixels that launched a political scandal — it’s the latest addition to the National Gallery of Politicians’ Shame.

The Gallery is an ever-expanding visual catalog of lawmakers behaving badly, pictures shared on Facebook pages and blogs, or perhaps turned into memes, offering photographic evidence of scandal that transforms politicians’ misdeeds from the abstract to the corporeal.

“In a visual culture, the image is almost everything,”  says Scott Talan, an assistant professor in American University’s school of communication. “You almost don’t need anything else.”

The Gallery’s early works include a beaming Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) with Donna Rice perched on his lap, wearing a shirt bearing the name of the yacht, “Monkey Business.”  Recent years have seen an influx of the selfie genre: Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) in his undies. Weiner shirtless. Weiner with cats. Former Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.), also bare-chested, flexing in the mirror in a photo he emailed in response to a personal ad on 

McAllister’s contribution to the Gallery isn’t flesh-exposing, but it is action-packed, showing the married congressman engaged in a passionate lip-lock with a woman who’s been identified as his (also married) staffer. (McAllister has apologized, vowing “to do everything I can to earn back the trust of everyone I’ve disappointed.”) 

Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston professor who has studied political scandal, says that flaps involving a photo  — and in McAllister’s case, a video — often have more of an impact than those left to the imagination. There’s a “stark contrast,” he notes, between the buttoned-up image political figures project and the seamy doings depicted in their scandalous snaps.And then there’s the old maxim: seeing is believing.

“It’s the way we are hard-wired to process political information,” he says. “People can believe something that they can Google-image search for on their phones.”



Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.
Next Story
Emily Heil · April 8, 2014

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.