The 6 Worst Attempts at Damage Control in Political Scandals

#3. Kim Young-dae

The Scandal:

Illegal political funding.

In 2003, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was under investigation by the parliament for a scandal involving political funding. He'd vetoed parliamentary attempts to name a special investigative counsel, claiming they just needed more time to figure things out.

But this isn't about him; this is about a hunger strike competition. In South Korea, hunger strikes used to be like the filibuster in the United States, except you didn't have to pee your pants quite as much. You actually ended up looking like Gandhi. During the years when South Korea was a military dictatorship, hunger strikes were actually an effective way to win public favor.

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Which is why all their politicians were supermodels.

Unfortunately, hunger-striking South Korean politicians in modern times end up looking more like douches. This fact was lost on the head of South Korea's Grand National Party, Choe Byung-yol, who stopped eating as soon as the presidential veto came across the wires.

Enter Kim Young-dae, an up-and-coming MP and an ally of President Roh. He gets the news that Choe is going on a hunger strike. It should be noted that, when Kim gets the news, the story has absolutely nothing to do with him. He doesn't need to answer any questions or prove anything or get involved in any way. There's nothing to spin, because there's no scandal on his hands.

donga
"But I want people to pat me on the back, too!"

How He Handled the Scandal:

Kim decided it was time to fight not eating with not eating. He told the press that he, too, was going to do a hunger strike, and that his would last one day longer than Choe's (thereby setting himself up for the worst victory lap of all time).

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It's like when you're too polite to eat the last slice of cake, only you're slowly dying in a puddle of drool.

It's unclear who won the battle, but it is clear that neither ended up looking very Gandhi-esque -- especially Kim, who may have attempted to channel Gandhi by eating salt each day of his strike. We think it's likely Choe thought that was bullshit and backed out.

Because, seriously, that's bullshit.

#2. Franz Josef Strauss

The Scandal:

Ineptitude, bad home defense.

In 1962, West Germany was a bit of a hair-trigger place. Keeping watch against those dastardly communists was sort of important, because Ronald Reagan hadn't won the Cold War yet. It was especially tough to be Franz Josef Strauss, the defense minister, because you never knew if today was the day your country was going to turn into a nuclear hellscape because you screwed up.

chronic-der-mauer
"How do I handle the pressure? A mix of meditation and hourly Thorazine enemas."

So when the magazine Der Spiegel published an article examining just how poor West German defenses were and explained in kind terms that Strauss sucked at his job, he was understandably upset. Knowing that a free press is one of the cornerstones of democracy, though, he would have to consider his response carefully. The smart move would have involved making a well-reasoned argument confirming that West German defenses were as strong as steel and would never be overcome.

How He Handled the Scandal:

Is there an opposite of "making a well-reasoned argument"? Is it "send the military over to shut down the magazine?" Because that is absolutely what Strauss did.

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"Freedom of the press, meet diving through the windows!"

Der Spiegel had made Strauss out to be kind of a buffoon. In a private exchange with the Americans, who wanted to beef up West Germany's army with conventional weapons, they claimed he had basically insisted, "Naw, you should probably just give us nukes instead." Strauss needed some image rehabilitation, so he decided what would put him in the best light was arresting the whole magazine for treason.

With the blessing of a constitutional lawyer who also happened to be in the West German army, Strauss sent the military over to the offices of Der Spiegel, raided them and threw the editors, who were probably worried their magazine had been caught in a time warp from Red Alert, in jail. Strauss even personally secured the arrest of the piece's author, who was relaxing on a beach at the time.

Spiegel.de
"See, I'm not ineffectual, I'm an unhinged reactionary!"

Reaction was negative. Most notably, the interior minister described this course of action as "somewhat outside of legality," a very polite admonition that is rarely thrown around (shoplifters are never accused of being "somewhat outside of legality"). Public and political opinion turned against Strauss, and he was eventually dismissed, and the editors and author were eventually released. After 103 days.

Spiegel.de
"Thank goodness it wasn't 104, otherwise I'd think we lived in a police state or something."

The reaction to Strauss's power grab did much to further Germany's transition from an authoritarian Wagnerian dictatorship to the fun-loving Europop democracy it is today. Strauss, for what it's worth, ended up becoming president of Bavaria.

If there's a lesson here, it's lost on us.

#1. William Langer

The Scandal:

Attempted defrauding of the federal government.

Meet William Langer, the Governor of North Dakota in 1934. Unlike the booming economic powerhouse that it is today (actually not a joke), North Dakota had a couple of problems back then, most of which involved everything being covered with dust. North Dakota was also getting the shit end of the Great Depression, the New Deal and the 1930s in general, so people were already a little pissy out there.

Wikipedia
"Aw shucks, there goes the neighborhood."

At the time, it was totally commonplace to require state workers to "donate" part of their paycheck to the Governor's friends' newspaper. Whatever -- you kind of figured some of that was going on already. And Uncle Sam didn't really care -- until Langer tried to do the same thing to some highway department employees, who were technically part of the federal government. He was tried, found guilty and told to get the hell out of office.

Sadly for the state Supreme Court, they hadn't actually filed the court order -- they just issued the verdict. This meant Langer still had a day to do basically whatever the hell he wanted. He now faced a tough decision, with the welfare of the state and his own career on the line. The obvious choice is "Resign with dignity and appeal the sentence."

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Hint: Cracked articles are never about dignity.

How He Handled the Scandal:

Look, this isn't an article about making obvious choices, and you know that. So you already probably know that, instead of resigning quietly, Langer seceded the state from the union.

Langer locked himself inside the governor's mansion, met with his biggest supporters and tried to figure out the best way to fight the charges. The one idea that apparently floated to the top was "secede from the union." A risky move, it hadn't been tried in 70 years, and a previous attempt had resulted in the Civil War. For reasons unknown, Langer and his men thought it might work this time.

Wikipedia
Those who cannot remember history are doomed to wear silly costumes.

Unfortunately, this was technically illegal. And by now, groups of angry North Dakotans were descending on the state capitol of Bismarck with nothing but brouhaha on their minds -- that's what dropping the S-bomb on people will do. But Langer had it covered: He declared martial law throughout the entire state and called out the National Guard, which was actually not uncommon in North Dakota, since he'd already done this several times before.

Langer had no step two to this plan beyond waiting around for the Supreme Court to say, "You know what, we were wrong, this guy probably should actually be the governor." The Court did eventually meet with him, but instead of making him governor for life, they explained how idiotic his plan was, at which point Langer gave up and ceded power to the new governor, who promptly decided this secession business was all baloney.

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"I mean, what flag would we use? This one is blatantly ridiculous."

Now, you'd think this would be the end for Langer. But "Fighting Bill" appealed the sentence and won, getting all the charges reversed and no new ones tacked on. Then he ran for his old office, ostensibly on a platform of not seceding this time. He won the election handily, served out another term and figured, "What the hell, I'll become a U.S. senator."

Which he did, for the next 19 years.

For more on entertaining politics, check out When Politicians Attack: The 17 Most Violent Political Brawls and 8 Hilariously Failed Attempts to Use CGI in Political Ads.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn what Bill Clinton's brand of cigar is.

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