Media Musings: Recalling a recall falsely

Editor’s note: This is another in my series of monthly musings on the news, published on the Sunday following the last Saturday of each month, except when it’s not.


© 2013 Tom Pfeifer

Current as of July 27, 2013


“Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind …”

But are they real?

Due to recent scientific discoveries, we now know why voters chose Mark Sanford to represent them in Congress after an international extramarital affair forced him to resign South Carolina’s governorship. And why Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer stand a good chance of winning New York City public offices despite their very public wiener episodes. And why San Diego Mayor Bob Filner isn’t worried about a political future if he’s recalled from office over his roaming hands.

In case you can’t recall the particulars of our philandering politicians, Weiner quit Congress after he sent a public sex tweet that was meant to be private. He said he learned his lesson and promised never to do it again. In retrospect, he kept that promise. His future sext tweets were sent privately, not publicly. Now he’s running for mayor of the Big Apple. Even after his latest dalliances became public by the hands of another, he remains second in the polls.

Why? Because voters aren’t sure it ever happened.

Eliot Spitzer also learned his lesson after he was caught with a prostitute and forced to resign as the law-and-order governor of New York. It’s unknown if he’s still cavorting with carnal consorts, but we do know he hasn’t been caught again. Now he’s running for New York City comptroller. He stands a good chance of winning.

Why? Because voters aren’t sure it ever happened.

Pundits have long blamed the election of repeat offenders on the electorate’s short-term memory. Now we know it’s a fear of false memories. We all suffer from false memories. It’s an intrinsic trait in mammals. In New York Times and Washington Post stories, reporters write about such trivial false remembrances as recalling a discussion at your high school reunion with someone who wasn’t actually there. Or falsely remembering a wedding dance with a partner who actually was in a leg cast and on crutches at the time. The more substantial wrong recollections concern crime, such as the woman who falsely accused an Australian psychologist of rape whose alibi was that he was on TV at the time. He was and she had been watching him on TV just before the rape.

It’s those substantial erroneous recollections that allow us to reelect pandering politicians. Because we can’t be sure it ever happened. Our memories have tricked us too many times.

Nostalgia falls into the memories category. Interestingly, doctors first diagnosed nostalgia as a mental disorder. Johannes Hofer, the 17th century Swiss physician who coined the phrase, did so by combining nostos, Greek for longing to return home, with algos – pain. Modern day psychologists believe nostalgia is beneficial, that it keeps couples together with warm memories and counteracts loneliness and anxiety. But it’s built on false pretenses. We’re nostalgic for the lies we tell ourselves.

We’re nostalgic for JFK and the Camelot era of our democracy, when a president’s peccadillos weren’t on public display. Oh, the pain.

Sanford has already benefitted from the fear of false memory and nostalgia for Camelot. Weiner and Spitzer hope the same fall true for them. Filner may benefit from new scientific insight and shape memories to guarantee future success.

Filner’s hopes lie in the hands of Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists who have created a false memory in a mouse and believe it can easily be done in humans. In the mouse, MIT scientists created a false memory of being shocked in a room the mouse actually had never entered before, causing it to fear being placed in the room.

Tapping into the scientific breakthrough, Filner can make mice out of men by creating a false memory. Instead of Filner’s wandering hands, voters will remember his future opponent’s wandering hands and be nauseatingly nostalgic for Filner’s leadership and accomplishments as mayor. If shocked voters can’t recall the recall, they will despise Filner’s opponent and long for Filner’s leadership and direction.

Such are the things memories are made of.



Words and music by Strange, Bill, and Davis, Scott. “Memories Lyrics – Elvis Presley.” 29 July 2013.

Gorman, James. “Scientists Trace Memories of Things That Never Happened.” New York Times. 25 July 2013.

Hernández, Javier C., and Barbaro, Michael. David W. Chen contributed. “Weiner Admits to More Lewd Exchanges but Denies an Addiction.” New York Times. 25 July 2013.

Kim, Meeri. “MIT scientists implant a false memory into a mouse’s brain.” Washington Post. 25 July 2013.

Nagourney, Adam, and Lovett, Ian. Rob Davis contributed. “San Diego Mayor Says He Will Go Into Therapy.” New York Times. 12 July 2013

Tierney, John. “What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows.” New York Times. 8 July 2013.

Tumulty, Karen. “Eliot Spitzer looks for political redemption in New York City.” Washington Post. 8 July 2013.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at


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