It's astonishing to hear so many Charlotteans react to the Gen. Petraeus/Paula Broadwell revelations by repeating the same old theme: Who'd-a thought buttoned-down Charlotte could be entangled in such a high-profile sex scandal?
To which I say, "You haven't been here long, have you?"
Conservative Southerners often tout this area as a bedrock of religion, morality, wholesome families and right-wing politics, but the facts say otherwise. People in this region may flock to churches by the millions and vote for teaching abstinence in schools, but the South still leads the nation in divorces and out-of-wedlock births. Sex scandals? They're as common as cornbread.
This city has generated its share of lurid, sex-driven outrages over the years, but rather than rending our garments over someone else's private life and railing against the lust in our citizens', er, hearts, we decided to make the most of it. This week, CL offers "Rate The Sex Scandals," in which we determine the city's all-time greatest by rating each of the five major scandals of the past quarter-century on a scale of 0-5 in a variety of categories. The scandal with the most points wins. Here we go ...
Gen. David Petraeus & Paula Broadwell
The Scandal: David Petraeus, America's most famous general and creator of "the surge," apparently surged right into an affair with his worshipful, official biographer, Paula Broadwell, who lives on Mount Vernon Avenue in Dilworth. Broadwell followed the general around for months in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and before they knew it, lessons in fighting an insurgency were shoved aside for demonstrations of traditional American bed-rasslin'. Let's face it, though: If you had to spend day after day traipsing around Afghanistan, without being able to forget your misfortune by sampling the country's top-shelf heroin, you'd probably be looking for some extracurricular activity, too.
The oddest thing about the Petraeus/Broadwell affair was how it was discovered. Jill Kelley, a Tampa socialite and military hanger-on, told an FBI friend that she had received threatening emails. The agent traced the emails to Broadwell, and more snooping revealed the Charlottean's affair with Petraeus. The agent then notified FBI director Robert Mueller, who took no action after the bureau concluded that national security breaches had not occurred. Kelley's FBI agent pal, when not sending shirtless photos of himself to Kelley, concluded that the Obama administration was covering up for the general. He contacted U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who told the FBI about the call; soon after, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, urged Petraeus to resign.
Number of Participants: 2 (Plus a supporting cast) = 2
National Publicity Score = 2
International Fame: A Pakistani Taliban leader joked publicly about the affair = 5
Length of Scandal: Ongoing, although affair only lasted about 8 months = 3
Might Have Been Understandable If: Petraeus were a hottie, But he's not = 0
Intangibles: Cast of characters is increasing by the day = 4
Disgust Minus Titillation Plus Absurd Humor Score: 4 – 3 + 3 = 4
TOTAL SCORE = 23
The Participants: John Edwards & Rielle Hunter
The Scandal: The U.S. senator from North Carolina was a good-looking guy who had a lot of people fooled. In the end, Edwards suffered the most precipitous fall from grace of any presidential candidate in living memory. His wife Elizabeth's public battle with breast cancer had earned her national fame and empathy, while increasing her husband's chances in the upcoming 2008 presidential race. Then came revelations that he'd had an affair, and a child, with Rielle Hunter, a graceless clod and filmmaker for Edwards' campaign. At first, Edwards denied having an affair; he later admitted to the dalliance but denied being the child's father. Andrew Young, a close Edwards aide, said later that Edwards had called Hunter a "crazy slut" and asked him to "steal a diaper from the baby so he could secretly do a DNA test to find out if this [was] indeed his child." Nice touch, huh? By early 2010, Edwards admitted to having fathered the child, at which point Elizabeth Edwards had enough and left him. If that wasn't bad enough, a few days later, reports revealed that the lovely John-Rielle pairing had also produced a sex tape. Hunter moved to a house in Dilworth in 2009. Elizabeth Edwards died in December 2010. In May of this year, Edwards was acquitted of one charge of campaign finance fraud and a mistrial was declared on five other counts.
Number of participants: 2 (plus Young and Elizabeth Edwards playing roles later) = 2
National Publicity Score = 2
International Fame = 4
Length of Scandal: 5 years, including Edwards' Trial = 5
Might Have Been Understandable If: Forget it, there's no way this one could be understandable = 0
Intangibles: No one has yet explained what Edwards saw in Hunter, other than sex = 2
Disgust Minus Titillation Plus Absurd Humor Score: 5 – 2 + 4 = 7
TOTAL SCORE = 25
The Participants: The Rev. Jim Bakker & Jessica Hahn
The Scandal: Ah, the meteoric rise — and the train-wreck collapse — of PTL, the evangelical TV ministry run by the Howdy Doodyesque Rev. Jim Bakker and his wife, a walking mascara tube named Tammy Faye. From the mid-'70s to the late-'80s, the couple made fools of themselves and their viewers by building their Heritage USA complex in Fort Mill, peddling a ludicrous version of the "Prosperity Gospel" and defrauding their viewers/contributors out of millions. The scandal that finally pushed Bakker out of his pseudo-religious empire, though, was his admission that he and another preacher had had sex with Jessica Hahn, a 21-year-old church secretary from New York, in 1980 – and had paid her hundreds of thousands to keep quiet. How sleazy was Bakker? Well, Hahn says that during sex he tried to ease her "concerns" by telling her, "When you help the shepherd, you're helping the sheep." Later revelations about Bakker included the time a PTL worker found Bakker and his aide David Taggart in bed at the Heritage Grand Hotel. Bakker was naked and Taggart was massaging Bakker's testicles — presumably with neither Tammy Faye's permission nor the Lord's blessing. No word on whether Taggart got a bonus. Meanwhile, Hahn made a career out of her extended 15 minutes of fallen churchlady fame, appearing in a Playboy spread, becoming a semi-regular on Howard Stern's radio show and guesting on the popular TV sitcom Married... with Children.
Number of Participants: 3 (with the other preacher) = 3
National Publicity Score = 5
International Fame = 2
Length of Scandal: 7 years = 5
Might Have Been Understandable If: Hahn was a sex worker and Bakker wasn't a preacher = 0
Intangibles: Bakker's scandals-within-scandals = 4
Disgust Minus Titillation Plus Absurd Humor Score: 5 – 3 + 5 = 7
TOTAL SCORE = 26
The Participants: George Shinn & Leslie Price
The Scandal: Call this the Case of the Rehab Meat Market: In September of 1997, Leslie Price met George Shinn — then-Charlotte Hornets owner and self-righteous homunculus who portrayed himself as a model Christian — at Amethyst Behavioral Health Center. Price was in an outpatient drug-treatment program. Shinn was visiting a nephew at the center. Price alleged that Shinn offered to drive her to his lawyer for help with her child-custody problems. Instead, she charged, he drove her to his home in Tega Cay, where he pushed her onto his bed and forced her to perform oral sex. Price claimed Shinn later offered her $200 and told her they'd have to "do this again sometime." A few days later, Price went to the police. Shinn, married at the time, claimed the romp was consensual. Prosecutors didn't file charges against Shinn. Price later sued Shinn for kidnap and sexual assault in civil court in a trial broadcast on Court TV, during which Shinn also admitted to having sex for two years with a Hornets cheerleader. Shinn's lawyer, Bill Diehl, in Johnnie Cochran-style rhetoric, uttered the infamous line, "If she wasn't bitin', she wasn't fightin'." The jury ruled in Shinn's favor, but his reputation in Charlotte was toast from then on, particularly after Price's husband committed suicide. When Shinn later started demanding more money from the city for an arena, the answer was no. He left town shortly after.
Number of Participants: 2 = 2
National Publicity Score = 4
International Fame = 1
Length of Scandal: 2 years = 2
Might Have Been Understandable If: Shinn didn't know Price was just coming out of rehab = 0
Intangibles: The damage to public support for the Hornets = 4
Disgust Minus Titillation Plus Absurd Humor Score: 5 – 1 + 4 = 8
TOTAL SCORE = 21
County Commissioner (and Rev.) Bob Walton
The Scandal: Walton was a respected politician who did much to plug Charlotte's African-American community into local government — a trailblazer and a mover and shaker from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. He also had a thing for young men, and that got him in trouble. In 1987, he was found guilty and served time for sexually assaulting an 18-year-old high school student. Walton had picked up the young man on The Plaza and drove to his office at St. Paul Presbyterian, where Walton was pastor. In graphic testimony, the young man described how Walton took his briefcase out of the trunk of his car and opened it in his office, revealing a towel, a jar of Vaseline and a camera. Later that year, the incident inspired a local rock band to change its name — for one gig only — to Bob Walton's Briefcase. The commissioner/preacher served 30 days in jail, refused to resign as commissioner, and kept on getting re-elected. Today, one of the county's largest office buildings is named Bob Walton Plaza. He died in 1994.
Number of Participants: 2 (plus the briefcase) = 2
National Publicity Score = 1
International Fame = 0
Length of Scandal: A few months = 2
Might Have Been Understandable If: The victim had been a Consenting adult and not a teenager = 0
Intangibles: Officials tiptoed around the case, as Walton was the only black member of the board = 4
Disgust Minus Titillation Plus Absurd Humor Score: 4 – 1 + 4 = 7
TOTAL SCORE = 16
As you can see, Charlotte's no shrinking violet when it comes to high-profile sex scandals. Each of these cases created a big stink, but for sheer durability and comic potential — and, of course, the score in our contest — the prize goes to the Jim Bakker/Jessica Hahn scandal. Don't be surprised, though, if the Petraeus/Broadwell brouhaha outlasts them all.