The Ottumwa Courier

February 4, 2013

Oprah’s couch is waiting

MATT BRINDLEY
Courier nighttime editor

OTTUMWA — Lance Armstrong lies, John Edwards' alibis. Scientology’s Cruise, lots to lose. Mel Gibson’s rants, Tiger played. Pete Rose gambled, Arnold’s maid.

Michael Jackson was strange, Howard Dean’s schtick. Gary Hart dared, a doggoned Michael Vick.

Britney Spears, Don Imus — ouch! Confession night on Oprah’s couch.

Fame and fortune on a yacht. It all falls apart when getting caught!

Carefully-crafted images suddenly break. Te’o’s dead girlfriend turns out to be fake.

Michael Richards (Kramer)  places foot in mouth.  Charlie Sheen’s “winning” slogan heading south.

O.J.’s glove, Jim Tressel’s sweaters.  Bernard Madoff’s scheme, Nixon’s letters.

Gen. Petraeus’ surge on women fails. S.C.’s love-sick governor hits the trails.

Polished  images end in scandal. Public relations managers poorly handle.

Elvis’ drugs ruled the King. Clinton’s affair caught in a sting.

Lindsay Lohan keeps stumbling in strife. Suzy Favor Hamilton lives a double life.

Sad scandals keep shooting down our stars. Each one seems more and more bizarre.

Crooked deals, performance-enhancing drugs. Promiscuity and lying while receiving hugs.

Cheating and lying while looking the public in the eye. Our stars finally come clean  — they’ve been living a lie!

[Chorus]

We didn’t start the fire.

Falling stars have been burning ...

Since the world’s been turning.

We didn’t start the fire.

We’ve just innocently watched ...

As images were shockingly botched.

We didn’t start the fire.

They’ve been falling from grace ...

Trailing off in disgrace.

Fallen stars, too many, too often

Move over Lance, Oprah’s couch could get company.

Oprah’s got a new gig — and plenty of celebrities who have fallen from grace need her help ... to confess and rehabilitate their tattered images.

As Lance Armstrong confessed to years of doping and denials, suing people who told the truth about him, a perplexed public tried to make sense of it all.

This celebrity who had beaten cancer and won the Tour de France seven times had done enormous good leading the charge against one of humanity’s greatest challenges. He had also bullied and ruined people’s lives to protect his lie. A complex mixed bag to be sure.

A couple of weeks ago, it appeared to be confession night with the second night of Armstrong’s interview on Oprah and Manti Te’o doing an off-camera interview on ESPN on his fake girlfriend who died of cancer and the national inspiration it captured.

SportsCenter used to be about sports

I remember when SportsCenter used to cover sports and its power-playing suits. Now half of it is on scandals and contract disputes.

The scandals seem to be so commonplace anymore, we become uncomfortably numb. You can set your watch by it: Our hero celebrities keep falling one by one.

Our hero celebrities with their carefully crafted public images fall to earth, burning up in the media and public’s atmosphere. Eventually their public images hit the lowest, darkest, loneliest valleys the landscape has to offer. After reaching unfathomable heights of success and public adoration, something happens. They get caught!

24-7 media

There are far too many falling stars in recent times ... perhaps because of the 24-7 media scrutiny, social media like twitter, phone cameras and instant gossip. It’s simply harder to keep a secret these days. Decades of carefully crafting an image can be undone in a shooting-star second.

These stars get caught red-handed making warped decisions and taking ill-fated actions that cannot be rehabilitated, at least not in the short-term. They may get caught repeatedly cheating on a spouse, or using  performance-enhancement drugs and lying about it for years, caught in a scene beyond the pale, caught in an unforgivable rant ... the web of scandals out there is wide-ranging and sticky. Suddenly their god-like images are no more, their iron-clad grip of control is lost and public perception is permanently reversed. Who else, besides Lance, has fallen from great heights, and may be looking for an Oprah interview?

Oprah’s couch is waiting for ...

Baseball's Asterisks Club                                                                           

We are littered with examples of celebrities who have fallen from grace. Baseball alone is full of them from the steroid era. So, I guess no one suspected of performance-enhanced drug use in the steroid era is getting in the Hall of Fame? Couldn’t they have an asterisks floor for the steroid era? In my opinion, it’s as much or more baseball’s fault as it is the players’ fault.   

Look the other way, then ignore an era

Baseball looked the other way wanting to bring back fans from the 1994-95, 232-day strike. The powerful players’ union wanted no salary caps and no significant drug testing. The owners wanted fans in the stands. It was a perfect storm. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro have been effectively blacklisted from the Hall of Fame for now because of evidence, acknowledgement or suspicion. The list is long. Alex Rodriguez is under suspicion again. The explanation players give is childlike: “I don’t know how that substance got into my system!” It’s like Bill Cosby’s story on a little kid trying to explain a broken lamp.

Maybe we need some coaches’ guidance?

Who can coach us through these moral shortcomings? Let’s not speak about the unspeakable Jerry Sundusky scandal. But what about Joe Paterno, Pete Carroll or former Kansas coach Mark Mangino? Ohio State’s Jim Tressel showed us you can’t always trust a guy with a sweater vest. Woody Hayes demonstrated the the finer points of sideline etiquette. How about Mike Leach, Jim Leavett, Gary Barnett, Kelvin Sampson, Eddie Sutton, Barry Switzer, Jim Harrick, Jerry Tarkanian or Quin Snyder, just to name a few. Or closer to home, Iowa State basketball coaches Larry Eustachy and Tim Floyd or former Iowa assistant and fired Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl. Our kids need examples, but the pressures to win tend to skew the lines on what’s right and wrong.

Politicians work for us, don’t they?

Famous politicians are just as bad. Michael Medved said on his radio show that he worked in Washington, D.C., and the amount of promiscuity in that city is mind-boggling. It’s amazing they get any work done at all, and it’s all about power. Yet they’re supposed to be working for and representing us.

How did Clinton’s image rebound?

There are some celebrities who have rehabilitated themselves. Bill Clinton, designated the “Explainer in Chief,” who helped Barack Obama get re-elected, now apparently has half the country gushing again. It’s as if all of his past transgressions never happened. The other half of the country are scratching their collective heads, viewing him instead as the “Omitter in Chief.”

A political activist was talking about this to me a few weeks ago, and he said JFK probably wouldn’t have survived the 24-7 media scrutiny of today with all of his transgressions, with social media and instantaneous gossip everywhere. It’s a different world today — as our falling stars are painfully finding out.

John Edwards’ betrayal

John Edwards had a real shot at winning the Democratic nomination in 2008. It’s lucky he didn’t or this fall from grace could have been from the White House, taking the country off a steep cliff. Edwards fell like a stone when it was discovered he had been cheating with Rielle Hunter, fathering a child, while his wife, Elizabeth, was dying from cancer.

Hart’s poker face, Dean’s pep talk ...

Gary Hart dared reporters to prove he was cheating (with Donna Rice), and they took him up on it — and proved it. Howard Dean was a rant away from contending to the end. Herman Cain had a lead until some former employees claimed he’d been a little too flirtatious.

Al Gore has seen his popularity fall, being called a “carbon billionaire” after criticism of massive profits from his global warming advocacy, as well as stories in his personal life. His marriage “tipped” over. Allegations of sexual harassment by a massage therapist followed. Recently, he has been receiving heat from both the right and left on the sale of his television network for $70 million to Al-Jazeera, a controversial network to say the least. Al-Jazeera has proudly been a platform to terrorists and anti-western sentiment and is financed through oil-rich Qatar, a heightened hypocrisy to Gore’s advocacy.  

Anthony Weiner jokes were too easy after his scandal. Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford fell into a love-sick affair. Marion Barry was somehow re-elected as Washington, D.C., mayor after getting busted smoking crack cocaine in an FBI sting.

Of course, let’s not forget the lessons of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Today’s stars should have learned by now — the coverup is often worse than the original crime.

Losing faith?  

There’s planty of fallen stars in religion too. Jimmy Swaggart’s 1980s telecast was transmitted to over 3,000 stations and cable systems each week. Sex scandals with prostitutes in the 1980s and early ’90s led to his tearful “I have sinned” confession. He is still seen today around the world on 78 channels in 104 countries, as well as live over the Internet.

Another televangelist, James Bakker and former wife Tammy Faye, fell from grace from The PTL Club, after a sex scandal and revelations of accounting fraud led to his prison sentence and their divorce.



The list continues from Elvis to O.J. Simpson to Michael Jackson to  Tom Cruise to Bernard Madoff to Gen. Petraeus to Marv Albert ... it’s a long list of stars who have fallen from grace.

Idolization? — Hey, we’re all just human ...

Maybe we idolize these celebrities, these athletes, these movie stars, these politicians too much. Maybe we need to be reminded that they are just human too, who have the same human frailties, vulnerabilities, weaknesses and faults that we all have.

Oprah, you may have your work cut out for you.



In “A fall from grace Part III, I’ll conclude by examining fallen movie stars Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, golfing legend Tiger Woods, the NFL’s Ray Lewis and some others. I’ll look into the curious question of why some images can be rehabilitated and others can’t. Stay tuned.

Matt Brindley, Courier nighttime editor, can be contacted at m.brindley@ottumwacourier.com.