Before his election, President Jimmy Carter admitted to Playboy magazine he had “lust in his heart” for other women. Scandal. 1988’s Democratic frontrunner Senator Gary Hart was photographed with a model sitting on his lap. Scandal. President Bill Clinton lied to Congress about an affair with a White House intern. Scandal–and impeachment. President Donald Trump’s lawyers paid off porn star Stormy Daniels to keep silent about a 2006 affair. Yawn.
“The Stormy Daniels story should be a bigger deal,” wrote CNN’s Chris Cillizza. “And yet, while it’s drawn some attention… The reaction seems to be something like, ‘Sure, there’s another allegation that Trump behaved badly. What else is new?'”
Perhaps purposeful distractions are keeping the scandal from the public’s consciousness. While the Washington Post was reporting that his lawyer paid $130,000 just before the 2016 election in exchange for the porn star’s silence, Donald Trump was heard making racist remarks in the Oval Office, which consumed the media for several days. When that furor quieted down, Trump’s doctor released seemingly exaggerated results from the president’s physical. That was followed by mixed messages and flaccid negotiations which led to a government shutdown. As a result, there’s little focus on the affair and the hush money. One could argue that Trump’s often outrageous behavior and near-maniacal tweeting is cleverly diverting us from the affair which, under normal circumstances, should have become a huge political scandal. This tactic might also apply to the ongoing Russia investigation and other alarming presidential controversies.
Many PR students are shown the film “Wag The Dog”, a cautionary tale in which an imaginary war is created on a Hollywood set to sidetrack public attention from a presidential sex scandal just before Election Day. It shows a dark side of public discourse which takes form as “weapons of mass distraction,” a term used to describe constructing an issue to shift attention from another. However, when you yell “squirrel!” while a dog is eating, the dog may become excited for a while but it’ll eventually lose interest and return to its food. America’s attention may yet focus on this scandal.