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A disgrace to the honest profession of whore

I had long intended to write a post on the issues thrown up by the Max Mosley case. Basically I was going to ask the readers of the post to help me come up with a principled justification for thinking what I do think, namely that the News of the World did not have the right to sneak a camera into Mosley’s commercial sex session and yet the New York Times did have the right to expose Elliot Spitzer’s commercial sex session. “Private citizen versus politician” looked like it was giving me the answer I wanted, but the post kept off veering into the issue of the implied contract of confidentiality between prostitute and client. As it happens, Spitzer was not betrayed by his prostitute but what if he had been?

I strongly disapprove of adultery. I disapprove, though much less strongly, of fornication. (I confess that I take a certain transgressive pleasure in writing that last sentence on Samizdata.) I strongly approve of people having the political right to commit adultery and fornicate, including the right to employ prostitutes or be a prostitute. Did I really want an outcome whereby a person became fair game for being spied upon and betrayed simply because he was a politician?

Then along came this Jill Greenberg thing and made me want, no burn, to write an almost completely different post. Shame to waste a good title, though.

Some readers may be angered by my comparison of Senator McCain trusting a photographer to deal with him honestly with Mr Mosley trusting the prostitutes to deal with him honestly. There is no need to be offended. If the thought of the shabby treatment that Mosley suffered made me uneasy, the thought of the treatment that McCain suffered made me… let me find words… made me finally start to want him to win.

I had long thought I ought to want him to win. After all, the policies pursued by the President of the United States have an effect beyond that country, and if Senator Obama becomes President he will pursue policies of socialism and appeasement. Yet I had never warmed to McCain. Yes, I respected his courage. Yes, I appreciated his wisdom in choosing a reasonable person with some knowledge of the world to be his running mate rather than a man who thought it might be a good response to the attacks of September 11 2001 to send a no-strings-attached cheque for two hundred million dollars to Iran because he thought the Iranians were Arabs and the Arabs needed to feel reassured. But no, all these sensible arguments were not enough to get me over the barrier of the McCain-Feingold restrictions on free speech, and other discontents.

It may not be sensible, it may wear off, but today this was enough:

She delivered the image the magazine asked for—a shot that makes the Republican presidential nominee look heroic. Greenberg is well known for her highly retouched images of bears and crying babies. But she didn’t bother to do much retouching on her McCain images. “I left his eyes red and his skin looking bad,” she says.

After getting that shot, Greenberg asked McCain to “please come over here” for one more set-up before the 15-minute shoot was over. There, she had a beauty dish with a modeling light set up. “That’s what he thought he was being lit by,” Greenberg says. “But that wasn’t firing.”

What was firing was a strobe positioned below him, which cast the horror movie shadows across his face and on the wall right behind him. “He had no idea he was being lit from below,” Greenberg says. And his handlers didn’t seem to notice it either. “I guess they’re not very sophisticated,” she adds.

The thought of the sophisticated little simper with which she must have said those words reached clear across the Atlantic Ocean and put me in a rage. I do hope it has the same effect, only more so, on many Americans, and particularly on American swing voters. Part of the reason I hope this is that the affair is unlikely to do Ms Greenberg any net harm with the other sophisticates she hangs out with: any loss of custom from her respectable clients (such as the unfortunate Atlantic magazine) is likely to be more than compensated by the prospect of, as the late Bernard Levin once said of the British counterparts of Greenberg and her circle, “every poodlefaker in the business swooning, cheering and commissioning.” So the only way I can envisage her paying a price is to hope that she will at least experience chagrin at the thought of her role in the election of President McCain.

I may not get my way. The odds, they say, are even. Yet what a fool Greenberg is to tempt fate when the contest is indeed so close, and what fools are the substantial numbers of commenters to early reports of the story who supported her action. Do they really not see that when they mock McCain for trusting Greenberg they suggest that people like them are not to be trusted? That when they boast of having manipulated the media they confirm that they do manipulate the media? Do they not see that when they fault McCain or the Atlantic for being so naive as to employ a Democrat as photographer, they give the voters reason to believe that they might be naive to employ a Democrat as President?

In this post I have twice admitted to non-respectable habits of thought. In the case of Mosley and Spitzer I had decided upon my opinion first and only then looked for reasons to justify it. In the case of McCain and Greenberg I wished for the most powerful office in the world to be filled by one man rather than another merely to make a spiteful woman sorry. Stuff it, I bet most people think like that most of the time, and sometimes I think that these instinctive decisions have the silent sum of many unconscious observations behind them.

19 comments to A disgrace to the honest profession of whore

  • Midwesterner

    I don’t know if it had that effect on me, Natalie.

    If she hadn’t been such a slime then we would never have this really cool poster. I’ve already emailed it to several of my friends.

  • nick g.

    I think the line should be property rights. The camera was brought into private property without permission, as was the ‘reporter’ who used it. Whereas they could have found out about the politician and the prostitutes simply by following him around on common public property after being tipped off. One case clearly invades private property to spy on a private person- the other case seems to involve no invasion of private property, and they are reporting on a public official who is being shown to be a hypocrite. One has no relevance to the person’s job- the other has a direct link.
    Anything else you want help on?

  • Excellent, this is Rathergate all over again, enhanced and multiplied. The Democrats are not stupid, but they are blinded by their thirst for power, and by their rage over the fact that it is slipping away.

  • Max Mosley didn’t actually shag any of the birds, and they in turn also take great exception to the idea that they are prostitutes, in that sexual relief wasn’t, and isn’t, part of the deal.
    I wonder if what took place therefore qualifies as adultery.

  • Midwesterner, that poster is so cool it superconducts. Another good thing is that Greenberg can scarcely sue for copyright infringement, although I wouldn’t be so sure about the Legion of Doomlawyers.

    Nick g., that’s sort of what I thought, only better expressed – but some questions do remain. Just thinking aloud, what if the questions of property invasion, hypocrisy and the special legitimacy of exposing elected officials do not all fall on the same side? Imagine two cases identical in all respects concerning the circumstances in which they came to be reported, yet the man in one case was leader-writer of a privately owned newspaper pressing for criminal sanctions against certain forms sexual behaviour and the man in the other case was a libertarian-inclined MP?

    I also had some thoughts about how or whether we can avoid a Ferengi-like society where everyone needs to insist on non-disclosure contracts before any transaction involving trust.

    Alisa, as to the description, yes. Only I am taking no bets as to whether victory really is slipping away from them this time.

    Peter, I stand corrected, as Mr Mosley might have put it. You made me say that. Still, the distinction between “sex sessions” and “sexual roleplay sessions” is a little Clintonesque. While not strictly (you made me say that, too) adultery, it is not exactly the sort of behaviour that most wives would welcome in their husbands.

  • Eamon Brennan

    There’s another mean trick in that shot which she doesn’t mention. The camera angle.

    Shooting from a low angle like that forces the subject to look down at you. For someone of McCains age that means that the skin beneath the chin and on the neck sags. It does nothing bad for young people but over the age of 40 it just adds years to the subject.

    If you do a shoot like that you have to get the subject to raise their head, not look at the camera. Greenberg would definitely know all this

    All that said, the shot is actually quite good, which is a testament to McCain’s photogenic qualities (Any one who has ever selected models for a shoot will know that beautiful and photogenic are not the same thing) that the shot actually looks quite good.

    Its arguable that he comes across as looking tough, rather than sinister. In the prevailing climate I am not sure if this photo would instrinisically damage McCain at all.

  • Only I am taking no bets as to whether victory really is slipping away from them this time.

    Neither am I. Their setback, while very real, may indeed be temporary. But their big problem though is that they don’t deal well with setbacks. They feel that they are entitled to power (for the greater good, obviously), and that it has been unjustly taken away from them (FL 2000, Swiftboaters, etc.). And they are becoming more and more arrogant and careless. Look at this as a good example of this attitude (especially the end).

  • Pa Annoyed

    Another line to take on it is the distinction between the public and private sphere. Society defines a boundary (sometimes a little vague) between what is “in public” and therefore subject to others scrutiny, and what is considered private. If you walk through the shopping mall, that’s public. Your own home, or indoors on your own property is private. Press statements and interviews and blog comments are public. Toilets and changing rooms are private. The inside of someone’s clothing, the contents of their baggage, their family life, their personal diaries. It’s instinctive – the idea of public/private is wired in at a very deep level of the brain, like the idea of ownership – but at the same time it’s remarkably variable with complicated rules.

    Personally, the only way I would consider a politician’s private sphere to be any less inviolable is if they either invite the public in for their own benefit, or if they advocate in any way for the violation of other people’s private spheres in the interests of the state/their office/the public interest/the common good. You earn the right to privacy by supporting it. (And I would apply the same idea to non-politicians too.) But I’m something of an idealist with regard to such matters. Judging from the popularity of the gossip rags, society generally has different rules for “celebrities” who have to some degree volunteered for it, and criminals of certain especially disliked sorts, who they feel abrogate their rights through their crimes. Although even then, there are always still limits. And as with all matters that are aspects of culture, society as a whole decides.

    I don’t know whether you would choose to regard politicians as being ‘celebrities’ or ‘criminals’, but there are plenty of ways to justify it if you choose. The rules are instinctive, like English grammar – if it feels right, it probably is.

    For some value of ‘right’. :-)

  • I don’t see where the outrage is.
    The press and reporters always use photos to express an opinion. They publish good photos for pesrsons they like, and bad photos of persons they hate. The photo and the art cover help convey the message.
    So, what’s new ?

  • “So, what’s new?”

    Personal deception to get the bad photo.

  • Plus bragging about that deception in public. What a disgusting piece of work that woman is.

  • Millie Woods

    ” Stuff it, I bet most people think like that most of the time, and sometimes I think that these instinctive decisions have the silent sum of many unconscious observations behind them.”
    In fact, Natalie, cognitive science confirms that that indeed is the process for opinion formation.
    However proof that Jill Greenberg is beyond psychotic is the shot of a gorilla defecating on John McCain’s head posted on her website.
    As to Jill making a good living from her fellow travelling sycophants – I’m not so sure. These people tend to be very anal retentive with their money. After all the what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too would have it no other way.

  • Ian B

    Regarding Spitzer vs. Mosley, the difference is obvious. What Mosley did isn’t illegal. What Spitzer did is illegal in his country, and Spitzer is a public figure charged with enforcing the very law he broke. And he’s an asshole.

    It’s the difference between somebody getting in the papers for being drunk (legal, nobody’s business) compared to a DA caught taking drugs (illegal, the public’s business).

  • nick g.

    Ian, I think that samizdatans are looking for a libertarian angle here- how do we judge if a law is one that a samizdatan can accept? You say laws were broken, but I would need to know those laws before I decide if I like them.
    This should not be a site for law-licking, after all!

  • Ian B’s right.

    There’s also the issue of trust. Whether or not a politician keeps his promises is an important matter for the electorate to consider when deciding whether or not to vote for him. A wedding involves a solemn promise made in front of witnesses. It is in the public interest to know when he breaks those promises, as it might well indicate that he can’t be trusted to keep any other promises either. As, in Spitzer’s case, indeed turned out to be the case.

  • Nick G,

    It’s got nothing to do with whether they’re good laws, because we’re talking about politicians. If a politician thinks a law is bad, he should remove it for everyone’s benefit, not break it for just his own.

  • nick g.

    Squander Two- Ian uses the term ‘illegal’, as though all laws are automatically good. I thought samizdatans were more sceptical of laws in general. Plenty of people break the drug laws- do you approve of them being fined and/or imprisoned?
    If Ian did not mean to sound as if he automatically supports all laws he can say so.

  • > Ian uses the term ‘illegal’, as though all laws are automatically good.

    No, Ian explicitly states “Spitzer is a public figure charged with enforcing the very law he broke.” The point’s really pretty clear.

    > If Ian did not mean to sound as if he automatically supports all laws he can say so.

    He did. See above.

    > Plenty of people break the drug laws- do you approve of them being fined and/or imprisoned?

    No, which is why I want to see those laws repealed and would vote for any politician who promised to do so. But I would be less impressed by a politician who simply broke the laws while leaving them in place. Can you really not see the difference there?

  • nick g.

    Then Ian should have spoken about morality, not legality. ‘What Mosley did isn’t illegal’, should have been, for a libertarian audience, “What Mosley did isn’t immoral.’
    I am not concerned if a person breaks laws, if the laws themselves are unjust. They might be undercover libertarians, turning laws into dead-letter laws by ignoring or breaking laws.
    This does not seem to be the case here, and Ian did mention his hypocricy, and I agree on those points, and I think drugs should be decriminalised.
    Mosley does not provoke outrage, because no morals were broken (at least, according to libertarians- most religions would disagree!)