Editor's note: Editor’s note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on X. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion on CNN.
(CNN) — Of all the things in the world to care about, do we really have to add “Senate staffer fired after video emerges of sex in hearing room” to the list?
The story (if you haven’t heard, a Senate staffer was fired after a video was made public of someone having sex in a Senate hearing room) is sordid and entertaining enough that it’s easy to understand why the press was on it like a dog with a bone. The question is, why are we still talking about it?
The video was initially leaked to the Daily Caller (with the video’s naughty bits covered with an unsubtle rendering of the Capitol dome) and then splattered across headlines in the rest of the US political media. Two men apparently used the most inner sanctums of American power to engage in sex. Several senators have said: The Hart Senate Office Building is for government relations, not intimate ones; hanky-panky is a hard no.
The staffer allegedly in the video no longer has his job. The man he worked for, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, has weighed in. “I was angry, disappointed,” he told reporters. “It’s a breach of trust. All of the above. It’s a tragic situation and it’s presented a lot of anger and frustration. I’m concerned about our staff and the way that they feel about this and the Senate staff.” Cardin’s office confirmed that the staffer is no longer employed with the Senate.
A man named Aidan Maese-Czeropski, presumably the now-unemployed staffer, posted on LinkedIn:
“This has been a difficult time for me, as I have been attacked for who I love to pursue a political agenda. While some of my actions in the past have shown poor judgement, I love my job and would never disrespect my workplace.” He added that he “will be exploring what legal options are available to me in these matters.”
If Maese-Czeropski is in fact the staffer in the video, it certainly is unfortunate that he has been thrust into the thick of this public spectacle. Anyone taping an encounter and sharing it with friends places themselves at obvious risk. But one imagines he didn’t anticipate his cinematography would be broadcast to the masses.
It’s also galling that he attempts to make a fairly banal congressional sex scandal into a homophobic attack. Do some people likely find this story all the juicier because the sex in question was between two men? Probably. Would the story still be all over the internet if the sex were between a man and a woman? Absolutely. This isn’t a politically motivated attack driven by homophobia, it’s a salacious one stemming from open prurience. There is no universe in which “staffer makes Senate sex tape” wouldn’t get people talking.
But the press has now spent days covering what should have been a flash in the pan story about a staffer who screwed up and was penalized accordingly. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, for example, was reportedly asked whether she supports an investigation into the act. Why in the world would one be necessary? The evidence is right there on tape.
Cardin has said that the Capitol Police are investigating, too. Do we really need the cops getting involved with such a small matter, even if it may technically be on government property? And reporters asked Cardin, who already seems to have taken appropriate action in this affair, if he’s going to review his office’s hiring practices. How? To ask potential employees if they’d be tempted to engage in sex on Capitol grounds?
The moral of this story isn’t complicated: Sometimes, people do stupid things, get caught and face punishment. Sometimes, when those stupid things combine sex and politics, the unhappy ending is finding oneself in the voyeuristic public eye.
The story should really end here, with a humiliated staffer now out of a job, a senator making all the requisite clucking noises, the political press snickering like naughty children and the rest of us going on with our lives. Instead, some apparently very sensitive members of Congress have inserted themselves into the story and seem to be trying to keep it going as long as possible, ostensibly to score with their base.
Republican Rep. Mike Collins of Georgia shot off a tweet cranking about “Gay porn in the Senate”; he and other conservatives who have long perverted the truth with false claims intended to overturn the 2020 election are now spouting off about how this sex scandal is worse than the attempted coup of January 6.
This exposes quite a bit about how misaligned our priorities are when it comes to sex, politics and power, and our curious desire to make small misdeeds much more serious problems, if those misdeeds involve sex.
This isn’t a story about sexual harassment or abuse; it’s not some indication of depravity that goes all the way to the top. Political reporters already work a tough beat; why grasp onto this story and inflate it into something bigger?
Culturally speaking, Americans have a perverse relationship with sex. On the one hand, we use it to sell everything from cars to hamburgers, we seek out images and videos of it at high rates, and nearly all of us have it outside of the confines of marriage. On the other, we wring our hands about kids learning too much about it and bend over backward to put policies into place that decrease pleasure and breed perilousness. The American right has long attempted to restrict sexual health education and emphasized abstinence until marriage. Now, some conservatives are limiting discussions of sexual orientation and identity in schools, banning abortion, forcing women to risk their lives and health in pregnancy and trying to make contraception harder to access.
In this profoundly screwed-up landscape, the last thing we need are politicians and reporters who fancy themselves sexual hall monitors, demanding not just that a poorly behaved individual face consequences, but banging on the doors of politicians to demand they answer for their employees’ impulsive and boneheaded but ultimately victimless decisions.
Unless you’re an actual porn star, you probably shouldn’t be having sex at work. Anyone who does should probably lose their job. But a public flogging of both employee and boss seems far less in order. This story merited a day of commentary and the speedy ejection of the rule violator, not long-lasting media attention. Sometimes, a Senate sex tape scandal isn’t about top-down failures or vigorous homophobia or misdeeds meriting a probe. Sometimes, a sex tape is just a sex tape.
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