The recycling of perpetrators is simply part of the media game now. New York Times reporter Jayson Blair got a six-figure advance for a book on his short, disastrous career. Blair plagiarized some stories and fabricated others, but his publisher, perhaps with a wink, describes him as "very honest." Stephen Glass, who wrote many attention-getting false stories for the New Republic and other magazines, got a movie sale and a big book contract for a novelized version of his hoaxes. Rolling Stone, one of the journals he defrauded, has hired him again to write. This is like a bank rehiring an embezzler.
Hollywood does it too. Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl, then fled the country before sentencing. Academy Award voters had no compunctions about giving him this year's Oscar for best director. In comparison, baseball's Hall of Fame refuses to honor two great but tainted players: Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Is raping a child less serious than betting on baseball or throwing a World Series?
Preying on children is no big deal in the music world either. R. Kelly, the popular singer, is out on bail for 21 counts of possessing child pornography. The charges stem from a video that police say shows Kelly having sex with an underaged girl who calls him "Daddy." It hasn't hurt his popularity.Sports announcer Marv Albert appeared to have thrown away his career in a messy sex scandal in 1997. After he plea-bargained to avoid prison, he was fired by NBC and resigned as MSG announcer for New York Knicks games. His ostracism lasted a year. In 1998 he was named host of "MSG Sports Desk" and signed with Turner Sports in 1999. He was back with NBC just 21 months after his guilty plea.
Sydney Biddle Barrows, the "Mayflower Madam," gained mini-celebrity status for her achievements in the sex industry. Her cosmetic surgery was featured in Harper's Bazaar. The Sunday New York Times invited her to review a book (on beds--get it?). Much of the deliciously naughty thrill of featuring a procuress is now gone, but she still shows up occasionally on fading TV shows like "The Weakest Link."
In politics, Dick Morris was briefly disgraced in 1996 by a prostitute's claim that he had let her eavesdrop on his phone conversations with President Clinton. He is now back as a respected political commentator. President George W. Bush recycled and honored Admiral John Poindexter and others involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, as if their criminal acts were of no consequence. Poindexter's convictions, overturned on a technicality (that Congress had granted immunity for testimony), included conspiracy, lying to Congress and destroying evidence.
Not all recycling works. For a while, it appeared as though the Unabomber would be positioned as a serious, though murderous, critic of American culture. But it didn't happen. Tonya Harding's boxing career is just a joke she never got. And no network has yet tried to hire Joey Buttafuocco as a correspondent. But the rapid refurbishing of appalling people is a constant threat in a culture with no higher standard than non-jugmentalism. Whenever they can, serious people should fight this process.