Kathleen Parker
The "public's right to know" has received a thorough vetting the past couple of weeks with release of a U.S. Senate candidate's sealed divorce records, the contents of which were sufficiently embarrassing to cause him to withdraw from the race.

Republican candidate Jack Ryan's divorce files, which were opened at the behest of the Chicago Tribune and a television station, revealed that Ryan had taken his wife to a "sex club" and asked her to have sex with him in front of others.

Ryan and his former wife sought to keep the particulars of their divorce private; just days after the media managed to release them, Ryan dropped out of the race. Who can blame him?

The media's latest intrusion into what once was private space has spawned their next challenge: the unsealing of Sen. John F. Kerry's sealed divorce records, which he understandably has declared off limits. We shall see how much respect he gets and whose double standard slides by uncontested.

Now there may be plenty of reasons to reject his candidacy, but on principle, prying into the privacy of his divorce records should not be the means of producing them.

Meanwhile, we might ask ourselves: What next and to what end? After Ryan and Kerry, who else becomes fair game? Is there ever a portion of one's life that should be off limits, or does the public's right to know preclude any claim to privacy for those who venture into the public realm?

The more important question ? the posing of which suggests a real and present threat to democracy ? who will run for office? Who will serve? Who ever would submit themselves to such public scrutiny and potential embarrassment? Presumably, only people who have never made a mistake, and what do they know?

As to the "sin" to which we are now privy: Is it really so awful that Ryan took his wife to a sex club ? not apparently at gunpoint ? and asked her to play along? Such recreations aren't for everyone. Apparently they weren't for the former Mrs. Ryan, but no crime was committed. Surely the former Mrs. Ryan was capable of resisting her husband's crass come-hitherings.

The Ryans say they sealed their court records to protect their child. Given what we now know, their decision seems not only reasonable but also responsible.

Here's the bottom line: We don't know what transpired between the Ryans, nor is it any of our business so long as no criminal charges are at issue. And by that logic, Kerry's divorce should remain sealed as well.

But there's another strange logic in cases like these. Already the buzz has begun as to how long Kerry's records will remain protected.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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