What Standards Should Public Figures Be Held To?

Emily Sackley

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was the subject of news headlines earlier this year. Was it because he’s currently the most wealthy person in America valued at $112 billion? No. Was it because of his business skills? No. Was it because of another Amazon innovation? No. Bezos’s name was top news because he allegedly cheated on his wife.

This scandal brings about the question – should it matter what famous people do in their personal lives, or should we focus mainly on what they do for their industries?

Amazon has changed and improved the way we shop. The website sells pretty much anything – from socks and groceries to original programming and used books.

Bezos, because of his incredible success, has been able to donate much to charities. He recently announced the launch of a $2 billion fund to support homeless families and education programs in underserved communities.

However, the public focuses on the scandalous headlines instead of the philanthropic work he has done throughout the years. The headlines about his charitable work don’t seem to attract the same amount of attention as those about his personal affairs do.

On one hand, it doesn’t seem fair that one’s private life becomes news when it has nothing to do with their profession. Just because one is in the public eye, should they really have to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us? Should public figures have to act like role models at all times? When they became famous, they didn’t necessarily agree to make only good choices.

On the other hand, these famous people should understand the price that comes with fame. They should know that their privacy will be compromised, and people will be watching and judging them at all times.

Another example of someone who has dealt with public backlash for choices he’s made in his personal life is Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam. A photo of Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page shows a man in blackface standing next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan hood. Originally, Northam admitted being in this photo, but later he denied it was him.

Not long after the Northam scandal, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring, who is currently third in line to become governor, issued a statement acknowledging the fact that he wore blackface in 1980 in order to look like a rapper during a party when he was a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia.

Herring previously called on Northam to resign, and was planning to run for governor himself. Now, he is apologizing for his behavior and admits to being unsure whether he will continue to serve.

Also, Vanessa Tyson, a California woman, whose sexual assault allegations against Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax surfaced last month, put out a detailed statement saying Fairfax sexually abused her in a hotel room in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Now, all three of Virginia’s top elected officials are consumed by scandal. But, does their personal life – mistakes or not – really matter when it comes to governing their state?

Another example of someone in the public eye who has recently been involved in controversy is Kevin Hart. He made several homophobic statements on Twitter, which cost him the opportunity to host the Oscars.

Hart failed to quickly or effectively apologize, or even respond to the controversy that erupted from this series of tweets. It was after his third attempt, after two Instagram videos, that were deemed ‘tone – deaf,’ that he seemed to realize how he hurt people. Hart is just the latest of a flock of celebrities who’ve failed to respond well to a crisis.

Everyone has the ability to judge — or not to judge others. We make our own decisions. If one is offended by Bezos’ affair, they could choose not to shop on Amazon. If one is offended by the racially offensive choices of the Virginia government officials, they could vote for someone else in the next election. If one is offended by Hart’s homophobic comments, they could refuse to watch his stand up or movies. These are a few personal decisions we are able make, regarding our following of public figures.

Whether or not we can decide as a society what standards our celebrities, politicians and business leaders should be held to, one thing we know is that we all have the power to endorse or denounce those in the public eye based on our own morality.