Affairs of State

Jewish Light Editorial

If you’ve ever wanted to be the editor of a newspaper, here’s an exercise to show you what it’s like. 

Let’s say you are trying to figure out the best display for the two top stories of the day. In one, your state’s chief executive lays out his agenda for the coming year: lower taxes, smaller government, fewer regulations. In the other, the same chief executive acknowledges that he had an extramarital affair before he launched his first and only campaign for political office. The affair allegedly included semi-nude pictures, bondage and the threat of blackmail.

No bonus points for guessing who we are talking about. Last week’s double-barrel news from Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens highlights a puzzle that editors are faced with almost daily. What deserves top billing: a story that will have far-reaching consequences for everyday life or a story about human frailty, one that will be talked about a lot but may ultimately have little practical effect? 

News outlets handled the two stories in different ways, but if you ask average Missourians what they remember about that day, chances are pretty good that Greitens’ affair stuck in their minds more than his policy proposals. And that’s too bad, for many reasons.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

In his first year in office, Greitens has shown little regard for those average Missourians. He operates in the shadows, ignoring traditional transparency and refusing to release basic information, such as the identities of backers of his campaign. His derogatory comments about career politicians have isolated him from the people he needs to work with. His relentless and ultimately successful quest to fire Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven showed the lengths to which he will go to circumvent the usual confirmation process, to the extent that the state Board of Education is in limbo while five of its seats go unfilled. 

When news of his infidelity was about to be made public, Greitens confirmed the affair took place, shattering his squeaky-clean, family-focused, Navy SEAL image. (A lawyer for Greitens also denied the allegation of blackmail.) In a statement, Greitens asked for love, compassion and prayers from the citizens who put him in office. The hypocrisy of a man who has emphasized wholesome values being caught in a disturbing mess of his own making is magnified by the fact that he has shown little compassion for Missourians who need help from government. 

Greitens’ first year in office was not without its high points. As the state’s first Jewish governor, he had the right words and the right sentiment after the desecration of a cemetery in University City, and he has shown an eagerness to work with Israeli firms to bring jobs to Missouri. 

But those efforts aren’t enough to balance the harm his policies and proposals can do. As other states have learned, lower taxes mean fewer services to those who depend on government the most. Greitens can brag that he fully funded the school foundation formula, but that happened only after the funding goal for the formula had been reduced. Low-income housing credits disappeared. He has alienated members of both parties in the General Assembly and largely ignored the media that he used so adeptly to get elected. And he spent a total of seven weeks outside the state in such key political spots as Washington and Iowa. 

After news of his affair spread, Greitens scrambled into damage-control mode. He called some legislators and apologized for what happened. He really should be calling Missourians and apologizing for actions that make their lives more difficult.

As St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner begins a criminal investigation into the Greitens affair, everyone should remember not just the headline news of his infidelity but the actions that will affect more Missourians over a longer period of time. 

Neither story reflects well on leadership at the top in Jefferson City.