Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


Comeback kids

Q: Not so long ago, Alec Baldwin called his teen daughter names in a horrifying phone call heard around the world. Now he's co-hosting the Oscars ceremony. Was the decision to spotlight Baldwin a wise one? And after a public figure embarrasses himself or herself so profoundly, how do they regain their footing? Who has managed to overcome such shame, and who has failed to?

Forget Alec Baldwin! He is so last week! Eric Massa has stolen the show, tickled our fancies, left us groping for words, even left Beck gasping for air. Massa is the latest Washington denizen to leave the bad boys of Hollywood in the dust. You just cannot make this stuff up.

Alec Baldwin was so sedate hosting the Oscars with Steve Martin (zzzzzzz ...) that viewers might be forgiven for confusing him with a really nice guy like Tom Hanks. He's not! But that's showbiz -- nice guys like Hanks are actually quite rare, while bad-tempered roues like Baldwin are the stuff of legends.

The Entertainment World actually adores scandals -- Letterman's ratings skyrocketed after his serial sexcapades with staffers became public. Comebacks and remakes are de rigeur on Sunset Boulevard -- Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe, Hugh Grant ... the list goes on for the current (aging) generation, and all still are gainfully employed in-between rehab and apologies for various escapades.

Paul Reubens lost his career as Pee-wee Herman for nearly two decades after he was discovered doing unseemly things in an adult movie theater in 1991, but he managed a comeback in 2007. And let's not forget the hard-drinking, set-wrecking, out-sized foibles of the likes of Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton, Richard Harris and other film idols from past generations. Their "bad boy" acts attracted huge fan clubs.

Washington was supposed to be different, the antithesis of Hollywood's arts of illusion and role playing, a deadly serious world capital where the People's Business occurs through the careful stewardship of men in dark blue suits (and a few women in bright red ones).

But every so often, one of those men (and it does tend to be the men!) reminds us that the difference between a politician and an entertainer may be as superficial as the difference between Brooks Brothers and Armani. Loosen the ties, and it's just guys being, well, guys.

Now-former Rep. Eric Massa admitted this week that he did "grope" male members of his staff, tickled one breathless, and spoke in a "salty" way to another (as in "salty old sailor.") He said all of this in an interview with Glenn Beck even as he was claiming that he was forced to resign from Congress because of his opposition to the health care bill. Some cable news show will probably snap Massa right up!

Massa joins a distinguished roster of politicians who, like too many entertainers, somehow forget that there's no such thing as a private action for a public figure. Nor is shame a permanent condition, only a temporary problem.

Former President Bill Clinton found this out to his everlasting sorrow, though he managed to recover from scandal and continues to win respect for his humanitarian work.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich admitted to affairs even as his wife battled cancer, but his political star is rising again.

Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer spent time in the doghouse after his dalliances with a hooker became known, but he has recently emerged as a popular pundit for various news outlets.

Tiger Woods, are you taking notes?

You can't have a comeback if you don't have a downfall. Just ask Marion Barry.

By Patricia McGuire  |  March 11, 2010; 12:02 AM ET  | Category:  The comeback Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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