For politicians facing sexual misconduct charges, no swift ‘firings’

The firing of “Today Show” anchor Matt Lauer had the feel of a summary execution.

NBC brass received a credible allegation of workplace sexual misconduct against Mr. Lauer on Monday night, and by Wednesday morning, he was gone. In a flash, another famous personality has joined the list of high-profile men from media, entertainment, and business who allegedly abused their power with (in most cases) women – and lost their jobs.

The contrast with the political world could not be more stark, as Republican strategist Ana Navarro captured in a tweet. Members of Congress, a candidate for a critical Senate seat, and the president himself all face ugly sexual allegations, and these men are still in place.

On its face, the disparity in outcomes may seem unjust. Why can’t men in politics who have been accused of abusing their office be dispatched quickly? Or, in the reverse, why shouldn’t Lauer have been allowed to hold onto his position, the way countless allegedly miscreant men in public life have, while the charges are fully investigated and both sides aired? 

The answer is simple: On questions of professional life and death, the political world and private sector are not parallel. And it is a distinction that goes right to the heart of democracy.

“The private sector is worried about bottom-line numbers and shareholders, and about the kind of image a business wants to project,” says Kimberly Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore.

If the management – a boss or a board – of a private organization finds a woman’s allegations credible, Professor Wehle notes, it can move quickly and fire the accused. Any hearing of defense takes place behind closed doors. And there is no legal structure that prevents swift action, though fear of a lawsuit could serve as a check.

With elected officials, there’s a larger authority at play: the Constitution, and the system of self-government it establishes.

“The boss is ‘We the People,’ ” says Wehle, reciting the document’s first three words.

It’s the voters who decide whether an accused politician is reelected or wins office in the first place. In the case of Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican vying for a US Senate seat on Dec. 12, allegations of unwanted sexual behavior while in his 30s toward teenage girls have turned an easy GOP victory into a close race. But the bottom line is that Mr. Moore’s political fate lies with the voters of Alabama, and recent polls have shown Moore’s support…

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