Kinky And Proud Of It

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For anyone who knows anything about Max Mosley, "victim" will not be the first descriptor to come to mind. Nor is it ever likely to be in the wake of his brush this year with Murdoch-owned London tabloid News of the World.

Mosley, born into Tory privilege, educated at public schools and Oxford, one-time lawyer and political aspirant and now formula one racing’s second most powerful figure after Bernie Ecclestone, is not a man for whom caring liberal progressive types might normally profess much time. Especially considering his lineage: he’s the son of Sir Oswald Mosley and the former Diana Mitford, Britain’s best known wartime fascist couple.

But in smacking down NOTW‘s egregious expose of his predilection for sadomasochistic sex, he has done us all a favour. Not just in reminding us that towering plutocrats are human beings too, but, if he has his way, in changing the law to impose restraints on the terrifying combination of might and meanness of spirit driving such exposes.

NOTW and its London stablemate The Sun trade prodigiously on social animosity with point-and-snicker revelations of the private lives and habits of their targets. Mosley’s turn came last March, under the headline "F1 boss has sick Nazi orgy with 5 hookers". What followed were details of a whip-and-spank session with a group of women in a rented Chelsea flat. Shortly after, five hours of hidden camera footage hit the web.

This was the first Mosley’s family knew of this side of him. His colleagues, too. It wasn’t long before Ecclestone and numerous team bosses were trying to squeeze him out the door of his office as president of F1’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.

Amid the ensuing festival of schadenfreude, lesser egos would crawl away in shame. But Mosley turned and punched back with legal charges of gross invasion of privacy. With the footage on the web, NOTW editor Colin Myler’s crucial error became clear: when you leave nothing to the public imagination, your victim has nothing left to lose.

Nor did it help that they’d got their facts wrong: the judge ruled NOTW‘s claims of Nazi roleplay were baseless. Such claims would have damaged anyone, but given Mosley’s antecedents the potential damage was incalculable. At the time of writing, Googling "mosley nazi" yielded 214,000 results, and they weren’t about his parents.

Which helps explain why he’s far from finished yet. In proceedings loaded with implications for global media networks, he’s launched defamation and privacy cases against Murdoch in France and other publishers in Germany and Italy.

Most importantly for Fleet Street, he’s gone to the European human rights court with a case for laws requiring editors to notify their victims before going to print, giving them a chance to bring an injunction.

It’s not about hampering investigative journalism, he told The Guardian‘s Angelique Chrisafis in October, in his first interview since the saga began. It’s about using judicial discretion to separate the socially and politically useful from the salacious and malicious.

In his refusal to be shamed into ruin for being the man he is, Mosley has not only saved himself, but thrust the onus for moral reflection back on his tormentors.

And maybe even blazed a trail for the redemption of other high profile figures whose private lives are dangerously out of sync with their public personae. Compare Mosley’s fortunes with those of US senator Larry Craig. In June 2007 Craig, a Republican from Idaho elected on a platform of family-values Christianity and vociferous opposition to same-sex marriage, stood accused of lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport lavatory, for allegedly playing intercubicle footsie with an undercover police officer — a common come-on signal in gay beats around those parts, apparently. After unsuccessfully trying to pull rank on his arresting officer, he pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanour charge and then tried to talk his way out of that.

The problem for people in the Senator’s position is when you deny such behaviour, it elevates the accusations off the manageable spin schedule and into the realms of urban mythology. Especially when you deny it with claims of — no, really — always keeping "a wide stance when going to the bathroom".

Rather than defusing the element of titillation, such denials merely heighten it. If, on the other hand, you take the Mosley path and say "yes, this is me, this is what I do and not only is it perfectly legal in the company of consenting adults, but I actually rather enjoy it", it takes the wind out of your accusers’ sails. Once it’s out there and signed for, it’s stripped of its news value.

Of course there are crucial differences between the two cases. Mosley wasn’t breaking the law, nor did his private behaviour stand in direct contravention of any political or moral stance he takes in public. Craig’s actions, on the other hand, were not only illegal but left him open to accusations of rank hypocrisy. More compassionate souls might take into account the difficulty so many older men have had wrestling the shame of homosexuality and sex addiction. Then again, they might not want to, given Craig’s vigorous advocacy, via his seat on the House Ethics Committee, of the censure of openly gay Democrat congressman Barney Frank over his part in a gay prostitution scandal. Craig has also opposed extending federal hate-crimes laws and anti-discrimination bills to include homophobic offences.

It’s not as if Craig is without redemptive role models, either. Pop singer George Michael came out on the back of a similar charge after his arrest in a public toilet in Beverley Hills in 1998. If it didn’t exactly endear him to Craig’s flock, it certainly helped quell the damage overall. More so after his cameo appearance in a public toilet in the Ricky Gervais sitcom Extras. Mosley, too, has discovered the healing power of self-effacing laughter. Having kept his job at the FIA, he’s told staff they’ve got three jokes and that’s the end of it.

Notwithstanding
the power, the perks and of course the privilege of service that go with public
office, to live in denial of the internal forces driving such behaviours is to
live in torment. Especially when you’re in a job you’ve effectively taken by
deceit. Craig did not stand for reelection this year.

Hopefully Mosley’s experience will encourage other aspirants to seek office as the people they are. Because the best defence often lies in the simple admission of our humanity.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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