Social Media Vs Traditional Media: Evolution of Political Scandal Coverage

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1822 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Words: 1822|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Evolution of Political Scandals on Traditional Media
  3. Scandal Coverage on Social Media 
  4. Differences Between Social Media and Traditional Media
  5. Conclusion
  6. References


Political sex scandals are as old as the American Republic itself and have become one of the most prominent forms of crisis communication. The first major political sex scandal occurred in the late 18th century, when Alexander Hamilton came under scrutiny for an alleged financial scam, which turned out to be an extramarital affair. Even back then, without social media and 24-hour news circles, Hamilton was forced to respond and be held accountable for his actions. However, the circumstances around politicians and their way to respond have evolved dramatically, especially with the turn of the 21st century. With the popularization of the Internet and social media, politicians are more vulnerable online as the separation between public and private life has quickly diminished, and therefore changed the nature of political scandals. Especially sex scandals, as it involves a singular figure instead of whole organizations or companies where several individuals can be held accountable, which makes it harder to analyze in the context of crisis communication. That is why this essay will focus solely on political sex scandals and try to analyze and detail how a response was conducted using both social media vs traditional media. The cases which will be discussed all happened in the age of the Internet. The first scandal that will be discussed is the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal from 1998, which is arguably the biggest sex scandal to date, and because it happened on the verge of the explosion of the Internet and had a lot of news coverage and therefore cannot be left out of this analysis. The second case will be involving Rep. Anthony Weiner who had his scandal originally break through Twitter and already operated Twitter as the primary source to communicate with his voters. The third and last case that will be discussed is that of Herman Cain who used both his social media platforms and traditional media as a communication tool.

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Evolution of Political Scandals on Traditional Media

In 1998 news broke about then- President Bill Clinton about his affair with the White House intern Monica Lewinsky and demonstrated a turning point in political scandal coverage. Because of Bill Clinton´s position as president, he was already a highly monitored public figure and it was not the first time he was being accused of infidelity. After the first reporting of the scandal, President Clinton denies the accusation on television, speaking what would become one of the most memorable lines of the scandal “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” (Clinton, 1998). Almost a year later he admitted to the affair and resigned his position as President. Monica Lewinsky described herself as one of the first victims of cyberbullying and was “brought to you by the digital revolution” (Wakefield, 2015). According to her TED talk Lewinsky stated that “when the story broke online. It was one of the first times that the traditional news has been usurped by the internet for a major news story.” (Lewinsky, 2015). Although there was no social media in 1998 as we know it today, images of Lewinsky famously wearing a black beret quickly went viral, as did comments and jokes posted in response to online articles (Wakefield, 2015).

The next case transpired in 2011, when Rep. Anthony Weiner sent a lewd photo to a 21 year old college student using his main twitter account. Weiner quickly took the picture down and claimed his account was hacked. Days after the scandal broke Weiner answered questions at a press conference where he stated that “[he] was hacked. It happens to people. You move on.” (CNN Wire Staff, 2011), but refused to answer the question of the photo was of him. He even refused to ask the police to investigate the hacking which his team described as merely a “prank” (CNN Wire Staff). His appearance on that day is often described as “uncharacteristically defensive” and with “forced attempts at humor and awkward effort to change the subject” (Kornacki, 2011). As the news coverage intensified, a further revelation was released involving Weiner sending shirtless photos of himself to second woman. These revelations were a turning point, as Weiner decided to call a press conference once again, where he tearfully apologized for the repeated incident and admitted that he was the one who send all the photos. Weiner went from fully denying and ridiculing any accusations of his alleged sex scandal, to fully admitting guilt and eventually resigning from office on June 16th (CNN Wire Staff).

Scandal Coverage on Social Media 

Before the scandal broke, Weiner used his twitter account to sarcastically respond to opponents and that carried over to his response, which consistently featured him joking about the allegations. An interesting thing to note, is that after the scandal made the news, he did not use his Twitter account or any other social media to apologize for the scandal or acknowledge it directly. For instance, as he was about to make an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show to talk about the allegations and clear the air, he tweeted out the following: “On Rachel tonight. Gonna talk about Trump eating pizza with a fork! #DudeYoureANewYorker!” (Jonsson, 2011). Until his resignation, he continued to avoid using his twitter account as a way to appease his supporters and the general public about the allegations and never admitted to any fault. However, when he responded to one of his accusers it was as always in a very sarcastic and jokingly manner: “Wow, so many followers now. #IsThereTrollRemovalSoftware?” (Jonsson, 2011). Interestingly, as he resigned, he refrained from tweeting about his resignation but simply stopped posting on twitter altogether. The only time he acknowledged the scandal and admitted fault, was in traditional media during press conferences where his behavior was very accommodative and emotional. It is possible that his team found, that because his twitter account was a place of aggression and mainly used to attack opponents, it would not be appropriate to use it as a form of expressing remorse. Additionally, Weiner at that time, was an already sitting member of Congress, therefore there was less of an immediate pressure to respond to his supporters instantly. However, it is likely that the unusual silence on twitter made Weiner seem guilty, and the contradicting representation of himself in traditional media versus social media may have led to more people believing the accusations and Weiner losing his remaining credibility.

The last case involves republican candidate Herman Cain. In 2012 an investigative report detailed, that two former employees of the National Restaurant Association complained about “sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable”. Although Cain had been in some minor campaign finance trouble before the allegations, this was the first time a substantially negative story has come out against the candidate. Cain´s primary twitter account, @thehermancain, delivered an immediate response to the allegations, as they posted a tweet mere minutes after the story got published. It said the following: “From team HC: Sadly, we´ve seen this movie played out before. Mr. Cain and all Americans deserve better” (Bingham, 2011) and linked a press release in which Cain fully denied all of the charges pressed against him. Cain remained consisted in denying the charges, and even fell back on attacking the source of the article stating that he is being “targeted by liberals” (Burns, 2011). One day after the scandal Cain did a lot of public appearances in which he continued to completely deny all charges, claiming to not even know one of the women by name, and encouraged the media to focus on his campaign platform. On twitter he continued to encourage people to follow his media appearances and encouraged further donations for his campaign. However, after all those accusations his chance for a candidacy began to decline and he fell eight points behind Romney. As a result, Cain suspended his campaign.

Differences Between Social Media and Traditional Media

In Cain’s case, there are subtle differences on how he dealt with his response on social media and the traditional media. However, as more women continued to come forward and the allegations kept building up, he never contradicted himself and stayed firmly in his position that he was innocent. For instance, in response to another woman coming forward with accusations he tweeted out: “Welcome to the campaign, Gloria Allerd. What took you so long?” (Miller, 2011). With this tweet it became obvious that he tried to discredit the accuser, by mockingly tweeting “What took you so long?”, which represents the purpose of his tweets during the scandal perfectly. Trying to shift the blame from himself onto somebody else and discrediting the source with the argument, that the left tries to distract from his campaign and ruin his chance for presidency. He used both social and traditional media as platforms to completely deny all charges and stayed consistent on all of them. The only difference is, that he used his twitter account as a way to immediately respond to any details that were published and encouraged people to actively participate in the campaign through donating. He also used social media as a way to highlight stories that were favorable to his campaign, such as a new poll or a record fundraising day. His appearances on traditional media were orchestrated to deny all of the sexual harassment allegations in a more rational type of way.

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In conclusion, it became clear, that each situation represented a different set of circumstances, and all cases had their own style on twitter which impacted the nature of their social media response. Weiner has used twitter to sarcastically respond to his opponents, and that stayed unchanging with his response. Although Cain used twitter to handle his attackers in a similar way as Weiner, he additionally did not wait with his responses and stayed consistent on both social media and traditional media. Another aspect that both have in common, is that both promoted their media appearances through twitter and did not admit to any fault. However, although social media gives politicians the opportunity to immediately respond, it only allows them to respond in a more contained manner. As a result, it became apparent that although social media is an important tool in the case of crisis communication, politicians prefer to fall back on traditional media which allows them to respond in full detail and social media plays a more supporting role in this process.


  1. ABC News. (2011). Twitter: The Political Sex Scandal Response Tool of the 21st Century. Retrieved from
  2. BBC News. (2015). Monica Lewinsky: 'Price of Shame' After Clinton Affair. Retrieved from
  3. Burns, A. (2011). Cain Campaign to Gloria Allred: Bring It On. Retrieved from
  4. CNN Wire Staff. (2011). Weiner: I Won't Resign Over Lewd Photo. Retrieved from
  5. Kornacki, S. (2011). Anthony Weiner's Bizarre Twitter Lesson. Retrieved from
  6. Lewinsky, M. (2015). The Price of Shame. Retrieved from
  7. Miller, J. (2011). Cain Attacks Politico Report. Retrieved from
  8. The Washington Post. (2018). Bill Clinton: 'I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Woman'. Retrieved from
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Social Media vs Traditional Media: Evolution of Political Scandal Coverage. (2023, August 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from
“Social Media vs Traditional Media: Evolution of Political Scandal Coverage.” GradesFixer, 31 Aug. 2023,
Social Media vs Traditional Media: Evolution of Political Scandal Coverage. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 May 2024].
Social Media vs Traditional Media: Evolution of Political Scandal Coverage [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 31 [cited 2024 May 20]. Available from:
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