Letter From thenLower Rightnby John Shelton ReednGary, Martin, and JohnnI started this letter back when DavidnGarrow’s biography of Martin LuthernKing appeared, with its revelationsnabout Dr. King’s sexual habits, just inntime for Christmas 1986. I put it asidenbecause I wasn’t happy with it. In thensummer of 1987, the Hart and Bakkernscandals made me dust it off and trynagain. I still didn’t like it. Spring ofn1988, and Jimmy Swaggart promptednme to have still another try, also unsatisfactory.nNow in 1989 we’ve alreadynheard about John Tower’s “gamy” behaviorn{Time’s adjective) and about thenlove life of the prime minister of Australia.nIt’s time to try again, and thisntime, for better or worse, I’m going tonplow through to some sort of conclusion.nPonder this story. At a dinner partynheld by a foreign head of state to honorna visiting American politician, thenguest of honor “fumbled Mrs. A.,nkissed the shrieking Miss B., pinchednthe plump behind of Mrs. C. black andnblue, and ran at Miss D. with intent tonravish her.” After reportedly behavingnlike a “must elephant,” our countrymannwas carried by six sailors “by mainnforce” back to his ship, where his wifenawaited him in the public saloon cabin.nThen—but let his host tell it:nThis remarkable man satiatednthere and then his bafHed lustnon the unresisting body of hisnlegitimate spouse and copiouslynvomited during the operation. If •nyou have seen Mrs.— you willnnot think this incredible.nOK, who is this great American? Lotsnof possibilities, aren’t there? This particularnlecher, however, was none othernthan our former President and my fellownRepublican U.S. Grant, whosenstraight-ahead amatory style apparentlyn40/CHRONICLESnCORRESPONDENCEnhad much in common with his militarynone. His host was the viceroy of India,nEari Lytton.nThis story may be as new to you as itnwas to me when I encountered it ancouple of years ago in Paul Johnson’sncollection of political anecdotes. Butnany reader of history will know thatnmtting politicians are not a new thing.nThe 20th century has witnessed manynrevolting innovations, but this isn’t onenof them. Politics seems always to havenattracted alpha males. Venery almostngoes with the territory, and Gary Hartnwas practically a traditionalist in thisnrespect, if no other. The Kennedynbrothers. Nelson Rockefeller, LyndonnJohnson, Wilbur Mills, Wayne Hays—nmy fellow Tar Heel Elizabeth Raynnever published her appointment book,nbut Washington gossip says that it wasnsomething of a Who’s Who. My sourcensays the only surprise is how many ofnthese old goats were willing to pay for it.nBut at least they weren’t molestingncongressional pages.nObviously many public figures havendisgraceful private lives. So, of course,ndo many private figures. So what? Mynquestion for today is: when is this sort ofnthing any of our business?nIn 1987 there was lot of discussionnabout whether the Miami Herald had anright to investigate Gary Hart’s sex life.nThe general conclusion seemed to benyes, if only because Hart had virtuallyndared the press to do’it. But a substantialnminority opinion said no, that it wasnan unjustifiable invasion of Hart’s privacy.n(Oddly, or maybe not, I didn’tnhear anyone say that Jim Bakker’snshenanigans were none of our business.nThink about that.)nNow, I don’t think that we’re entitlednto know whatever anyone can dignup about anybody at all. Private citizensnhave a right to privacy. Evennmany “public figures” within thenmeaning of our pitiable libel laws haventhat right. Moreover, I’d insist thatntrying to cover up one’s misbehavior isnitself relatively petty misbehavior. GarynHart was far less culpable for lying thannfor what he did that needed lyingnnnabout. Jim Bakker’s sin was adultery,nnot paying hush money — unless thenmoney wasn’t his. La Rochefoucauld’snmaxim about hypocrisy is exactly to thenpoint here. (It’s “the tribute vice paysnto virtue,” as you may recall.)nBut there are whole categories ofnpeople whose sexual and financial affairsnought to be fair game for investigativenreporters and inquisitive biographers.nForemost among them are ournpublic officials and those who seek tonbe public officials. We ought to beninformed of their peccadilloes, even ifnwe don’t really want to know. We neednto be told what kinds of people arenseeking the license to speak on ournbehalf and to push us around. Andnpoliticians ought to be harassed anyway,non general principles. The Heraldndid right (although I hate to see thenpress get sanctimonious).nWe’re also entitled to know —nindeed, obliged to inform ourselves —nof shabby behavior by those who aspirento positions of moral leadership. People,nthat is, like Jim Bakker and JimmynSwaggart. Obviously, marital fidelitynand financial integrity are not immaterialnto judgments of character, andnthose who seek the public’s confidence,nand contributions, should expectnthe public’s scrutiny.nBut if the case for disclosure is madenon that reasoning alone, don’t we losenour right to know about the privatenlives of politicians who can’t hurt usnany more or preachers who no longernwant our money? What possiblen”right” do we have to scurrilous storiesnabout U.S. Grant? How can we benentitled to know about Ike’s girlfriend,nor Eleanor Roosevelt’s?nLet’s consider the case that got menstarted on these reflections, that ofnMartin Luther King, as revealed innDavid Garrow’s book. For the record,nGarrow is a former colleague and anfriend of mine, although we have hardlynan opinion in common. One opinionnwe do share, though, is that Kingndid all of us down here a service by hisnpart in getting the segregation monkeynoff our backs, and by going about it inn