For an entire army of investigative reporters, opposition researchers and political opponents, Mark Sanford’s spectacular flame-out of a press conference killed all the fun of playing “gotcha.” Some will still try to prove the governor used law enforcement assets to court his sweetie while others will roll out the entire cyber paper trail of emails the Sanford sent. Today, it’s standard political fare to search out your favorite politician’s indiscretions. Gone are the days it was difficult to document misbehavior by the likes of Gary Hart, Bill Clinton and Elliot Spitzer—back when there were no cell phone locator beacons to “ping” nor tweets to track.

So it seems instant confessions are the norm in the age of instant messaging. The governor’s presser about his great loves—love of the outdoors, love of adventure and love of an Argentinean—was painful to watch. So besotted, Sanford related a story of how he met and fell for… well, a woman not his wife. It took three tall, dark and handsome staff members to wrestle the governor away from his microphones.

Asked about Sanford’s performance, damage control guru Eric Dezenhall suggests that the quantity of apologies in no way correlates with the ability to “make it go away.” His many personal disclosures won’t make Mark Sanford a sympathetic figure. And no apology “road show” can restore the governor’s good name.

But Americans are ultimately forgiving people. We expect staff to protect our politicians and, failing that, consultants to rehabilitate them. Sarah Palin exemplified what happens when good governors go bad and the professionals don’t take control. Now Mark Sanford need reminds us that it’s not what you do—it’s how you talk about it.


Dr. Dora Kingsley is founder of Trenton West, a national policy and opposition research firm based in California and Washington, D.C. As an adjunct professor with the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development, Dr. Kingsley has taught graduate coursework for fifteen years and is a lifetime fellow of the congressionally chartered National Academy of Public Administration. To contact Dr. Kingsley, click here.