We're now a full week into saturation Petraeus Got Laid coverage and I still have not located a crap to give. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoy watching the news networks and commentators fighting one another for the coveted title of Most Morally Outraged. A married man had sex with his obsequious biographer? Why I never. It's a great opportunity for America to show off its puritan streak, and it raises the interesting question of how long a society can continue to hold a given attitude when almost none of its individual members do.
Being at least somewhat familiar with the psychology literature on phenomena like compliance, conformity, and bandwagon effects, I tend to assume that 99% of the outrage in these political sex scandals is hollow. We act shocked because everyone on TV is shocked, and we certainly don't want our co-workers / neighbors / etc to think we have loose morals, do we? It's easier to wag our finger in the same direction as everyone else than to explain that you don't really care and deal with other people (who may privately agree with you) judging you. On the rare occasions that we are forced to justify our harsh condemnation of highly visible cheaters, we justify our hypocrisy with the old saws about how public officials should be held to a higher standard than you were when you cheated on your wife.
The media's behavior is equally predictable, as "Sex and lots of it" is one of the Hearst commandments and the right-wing media is trying to string this along until they can figure out some way to make an Obama scandal out of it. They've already devoted so much time over the last five years to giving vigorous handjobs to the great General that they can't throw him under the bus as part of the administration. I'm sure it will turn out that he was set up by ACORN or something along those lines.
Sure, it's moderately newsworthy that the head of the CIA may have given classified information to a member of the media under, uh, unprofessional circumstances. Instead we're doing what we usually do – channeling our puritanical shame into an obsession with titillation and Made for TV Movie quality sex scandals. A guy cheated on his wife. Sucks for his wife. Are enough people in this country repressed enough to continue to care beyond that, or does the amount of coverage simply create the impression that there's a public demand for it?