Americans now reward people for bad behavior

Friday, May 9, 2003 at 1:00am

Perhaps the most profound change in American society over the past 40 years is how bad behavior is processed. When I grew up in the 1960s, bad boys and girls were usually held accountable for their misbehavior, punishment was almost a lock, and very few scandals resulted in profit participation.

Today all that has changed. In the latest of a long line of rewards for questionable activity, Monica Lewinsky has been hired to host a prime-time television program called Mr. Personality. Since Lewinsky has no prior TV experience, one can assume that the only reason she is doing Mr. Personality is that she did Mr. Personality, if you know what I mean.

Lewinsky's employment follows a long list of people who have profited from notorious incidents. G. Gordon Liddy has a syndicated radio show, Oliver North works for Fox News, Wynona Ryder is doing commercials fresh off her shoplifting conviction, Robert Downey Jr. got a role on Ally McBeal right out of drug rehab. The list goes on and on.

Even Paula Jones, who made a federal case out of sexual harassment allegations against then Gov. Bill Clinton, was paid six figures for showing her figure in Penthouse magazine. After seeing those pictures, I wanted to sue for sexual harassment.

Jessica Hahn and Tonya Harding also made some good money in the aftermath of their scandals. Many rappers will tell you the more they are busted by the police, the bigger their recording contracts. R. Kelly has a hit album after being charged with sexually abusing a minor.

The message here is that American society really doesn't care how anyone behaves and that some in corporate America will reward tawdry behavior all day long. Believe me, this situation is not lost on children. They see Lewinsky scoring in the media, and they know exactly how the play was made. Surely TV programs starring Anna Nicole Smith and Lewinsky send a signal that the United States is a place where hard work doesn't really matter if you are ready to marry an 89-year-old guy or exceed your internship job description.

While it is true that we Americans love a story of redemption, contrition is not needed to capitalize on scandal. Few of the infamous ever admit wrongdoing, and it is certainly not required by those who hire them. No, the only thing that is required is a famous name, and it really doesn't matter how you become famous just as long as you are.

You would think that the National Organization for Women (NOW) would be outraged over Lewinsky's Mr. Personality gig. First of all, aren't there any women in America who are actually qualified to host a reality program of this kind? Isn

Filed under: City Voices