The Reputational Curse of Political Sex Scandals: The Impact of Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn Scandals on Bill Clinton (and Monica Lewinsky) Reputation

We are covering the media impact and perception of Strauss-Kahn sex assault accusation. We also learn that former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commited adultery. This second case is receiving also substantial media coverage mainly in US newspapers.

In precedent posts we analyzed the impact of Strauss-Kahn scandal in the institution managed by him, the International Monetary Fund.

Now we turn our attention to a personality which has no conection at all with any of these two sex scandal cases, but who is nevertheless directly affected: former US President Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton was faced to a major scandal during his Presidency as it was confirmed that he had intimate relationship with sexual content with the President, while the President denied having had “a sexual”, “sexual relations,” or “a sexual relationship” with Lewinsky (Starr Report, from Wikipedia). Clinton was called before a grand jury.

This was 1998. It created a massive media storm that tarnished his last term. It was expected that the scandal stigma followed Bill Clinton’s public opinion and media perception in the aftermath of his Presidency.

Now, thirteen years later, new prominent sex scandal emerge. They receive a sustanined global media coverage. We can check and answer to which extent current sex scandal act as a boomerang putting on the front line the Lewinsky case and by this still tarnishing today Bill Clinton’s reputation.

The results that we show below are quite conclusive: Bill Clinton reputation is marked by the sex scandal and it will re-emerge each time that a new relevant political scandal appear.

We show in the following figures the news about Bill Clinton published these las 15 days. We compare news mentioning Bill Clinton but not Monica Lewinsky against news where both appear in the body of the article.

We check first negative reputation vectors.

References to Lewnisky notably increase Bill Clinton’s media association to “Scandal”. This affect mainly component vectors scandal, scandalous, harm and corruption.

Association to “Tragedy” is also increased in news about Lewinsky affaire. It affect all vector components, and especially componentys tragedy, harm and failure.

Mentions to Lewinsky scandal do not only increases Bill Clinton negative reputation vectors. It also tarnishes positive image vectors. We show as examples how association to “Excellence” and “Talented” are seriously lowered when references to Lewinsky appear.

Being a public personality affected by a public personal scandal is in terms of reputation somehow burdening a chronical disease like malaria. In normal times Bill Clinton is judged and perceived by present actions and performance. But when a political scandal erupts somewhere, it directly affects Bill Clinton’s present reputation, even if it is a case completely unrelated with the former President.

Is Lewinsky scandal still relevant for present Bill Clinton’s image?

We have shown that references to Monica Lewinsky references seriously damage former President media reputation. But it is also required to measure to which extent this kind of news are really relevant in the sense that they become a strong component of Bill Clinton’s present stoyline. In the other extreme, they could be just anecdotical references used marginally by some media. So, it is important not only to measure the reputational impact of Lewinsky news in quality, but also in quantity.

We show some results cocnerning this issue (data collected by Enric Gallemí).

First figure shows the number of media references to Lewinsky scandal (also with an explicit mention to Bill Clinton) since the beginning of May 2011, by group of five days.  Number of references to the scandal were basically marginal at the beginning of May: some 4 references per day. They experience a sharp increase in the next ten days, jumping to some 50 references per day. These last five days the number of media references to Lewinsky scandal moves around 125 per day.

The origin of the increase of mentions to the scandal was the announcement by Newt Gringrich to run for 2012 US Presidential nominations. References to the scandal where connected to the fact that Gringrich politically attacked Bill Clinton behavior while later it was learnt that Gringrich had an extramarital affaire that ended in a divorce. Later on references moved to linkages with Strauss-Kahn assault, and right now they are part of the storyline of Schwarzenegger’s adultery.

We have the evidence of the sharp increase of mentions to Lewinsky scandal, and that they are originated by other politicians’ sexual scandals. Now we need to show to which extent these references are relevant in Bill Clinton’s media reputation.

Next figure provides the answer. It shows the percentage of all news about Bill Clinton that refer to Monica Lewinsky scandal. We show here the series for news since the beginning of May 2011. In “normal times”, some 5% of Bill Clinton’s media impact is linked to the scandal. This prevalence jumps dramatically to represent 30% of all news referring to Bill Clinton in the junction of the Presidential nomination anuncement by Newt Gringich (May 9), the accusation of sexual assault by Strauss-Kahn (May 14) and the announcement that the cause of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver separation was that the former Governor commited adultery and fathered with Mildred Baena, the family housekeeper (May 17).

The conclusion is that when relevant political sex scandals emerge, it affects substantially Bill Clinton’s present media reputation, even if his affaire took place and was strutinized more than 10 years ago.

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