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Not so sexy: public opinion of political sex scandals as reflected in political cartoons


Leyland F. Pitt, Segal Graduate School of Business, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada.



An analysis of political cartoons of three well-known US political sex scandals is presented to examine how cartoons channel public perception in terms of the involvement of a prominent politician and the difference of opinion based on who the politician is, frame the organization of communal knowledge, and facilitate the grounds upon which some things can be said.

On one side of the spectrum, theories of political cartoons presume that political cartoons reflect public attitudes about current events and that by studying cartoons surrounding a sex scandal, public attitudes toward such a scandal can be effectively understood. On the other side of the spectrum, theory argues that cartoons actually persuade and shape public attitudes, intentions, and behaviors.

Three prominent former US politicians were selected for the analysis:

  • Eliot Spitzer and the Emperor's Club
  • Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky
  • John Edwards and Rielle Hunter

The criteria of narrative, location, binary struggle, and normative transfer were used as a framework to analyze 230 cartoons. The findings suggest that some politicians emerge relatively unscathed from scandals, others are seriously condemned, yet others are obscured or have their roles changed substantially. On the basis of the research criteria, it seems that public reactions and sentiments toward politicians' involvement in a scandal depend on what the scandal was about, where it occurred and what happened there, who the protagonists in the conflict were, and who the loser in the story was. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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