Saturday, October 8, 2011

How much is too much information?

Public figures pay a tremendous price these days. Scrutiny comes from all angles, and the blinding glare of the spotlight has to be difficult at times.

The term 'public figure' can apply to a wide spectrum of people. It can apply to people in politics, entertainment, sports, and many other areas. Just about anybody with any notoriety can be considered a public figure, and there are plenty of people who want to either build them up or knock them down.

For public figures, the scrutiny they are under also applies to their private lives. An indiscretion made 20 years ago can become a front page story because finding dirty laundry on people is big business.

This type of spotlight likely prevents many good and qualified people from stepping forward and serving others. After all, who wants that type of scrutiny? We have all made big mistakes. Isn't providing for the public enough?

Recently, the impact of this scrutiny was made even more apparent with the release of the book Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton. Payton played running back for the Chicago Bears for many years and is considered by most to be one of the greatest players in professional football history.

Payton earned the nickname 'Sweetness' for his unique personality in a rough and tumble sport. He died in 1999, and the book takes an in-depth look at his life. The book includes personal problems Payton had, including abuse of prescription drugs, martial infidelity, and other issues.

The release of the book sparked a renewed debate about how much is too much when studying the life of a public figure. Additionally, since Payton has been dead for 12 years, many stated that it was not fair to air his problems without him being able to defend himself.

The defenders of Payton have a point. He was just a football player. Didn't he give enough by having his body beaten to a pulp while entertaining us as a player? Is his personal life relevant to how we interpret his contribution to his profession?

On the other hand, isn't the personal life of a person whose reputation was partially built on his personal conduct important?

It is a tough issue. When is enough, enough?

In politics, this issue came to light in a biography recently released about Sarah Palin. Palin is a possible presidential candidate and was the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2008. In the biography, there was information included about her sex life 20 years ago.

Again, where does the line need to be drawn? Palin is obviously a public figure, and the political arena is a totally different situation compared to Payton’s life as an athlete. Politicians deserve intense scrutiny especially if there is a possibility they may hold office.

Still, did the digging into Palin's life go too far? What can an alleged liaison that took place 20 years ago tell us about the qualifications of somebody for office now? If the behavior had been recent, then that might be more relevant. Though personal conduct is important, this type of dirt digging may not be a positive contribution to the political process.

The bottom line is this type of scrutiny is not going anywhere. As long as people have an appetite for it, authors will continue to serve it up. People love scandal, and the selling of it often attracts people.

However, the final conclusion we should draw from this is that nobody is perfect. It does matter how exalted a person is. We all have skeletons in our personal closets. If we try to claim otherwise, then we are either lying or living in denial.

Remember that when reading about somebody else.

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