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judith timson

Everywhere I turned this week, people were pondering two headline-grabbing stories, each spelling an immediate fall from grace for its male protagonist.

One, the story of hapless Toronto mayoral hopeful and transit commission chairman Adam Giambrone, was a sexual farce that may have brought great pain to him and those around him, but, as sexual scandals tend to do, became a cynical amusement for most of us - just another fool of a politician caught with his pants down and his texts hanging out.

Mr. Giambrone is only 32, so presumably he will, uh, rise again.

But after admitting he's committed multiple indiscretions despite having a live-in partner, the city councillor was forced to end his mayoralty campaign with a tearful exit, obviously hoping to hold on to his chairmanship of the TTC. Time will tell.

The second story is terrifying.

There is, of course, no moral equivalency between Mr. Giambrone's downfall and that of Colonel Russell Williams, 46. The respected air force commander at CFB Trenton was shockingly charged with the murders of two women, Corporal Marie-France Comeau, 38, and civilian Jessica Lloyd, 27, as well as two dead-of-night break-ins and sexual assaults in which his victims survived. Police are now checking back through his various postings, looking at other unsolved crimes.

His story left us all horrified and unnerved. Horrified for his alleged victims, dead and alive. Horrified for his wife, an executive at the Heart and Stroke Foundation. We can't stop wondering how a respected military leader, now an alleged sexual predator, could have fooled so many people up and down the line.

Yet don't all serial predators live secret lives until the day they are caught? It's the position of authority and public trust he held - literally in charge of saving our lives - that makes this case so deeply unsettling.

I had strong reactions to both stories as they unfolded.

In Mr. Giambrone's case, my reaction was impatience - "what an idiot!" - and a slight glaze of boredom as the analyses of why powerful men cheat went into overdrive.

Tell me, is there an alpha male politician out there who doesn't cheat on his partner? Is any powerful male politician willing to step forward and admit what seems to be wholly unfashionable these days - that he doesn't need extra-curricular sex as a release or a spur or a diversion from his daily life and is actually doing the business we elected him to do, not shtupping some wily aspirant on his office couch? Step up and claim our admiration! (Or is it our pity that he's not getting in on the action?) Dalton? Stephen? Michael? Anyone? I'd put good money on Barack Obama as a faithful husband but, hey, it's early days.

It's fair to ask what sex scandals really say about an elected official's ability to do his job. We know what it says about character. If he's willing to cheat on his wife or partner, scummily lie about it and stupidly send text messages, is he really the best we can vote for?

On the other hand, we may be approaching a tipping point in the hypercoverage of such imbroglios. There are too many of these stories, and they take up too much of our attention. Perhaps it's time to accept that who a politician has sex with is not the public's business unless it crosses a line and influences how he or she is doing the job.

My reaction to the Col. Williams story had little to do, in an all-encompassing sense, with the military's reputation. He could have been the police chief or the mayor: just someone very high up on the food chain.

So, while I understood it was good for morale, I took exception to General Walter Natynczyk's pep talk at the base that somehow made this case - even for a few seconds - about all our men and women in uniform. (Be proud! Stand tall!)

A retired senior officer claimed on the CBC that soldiers everywhere felt "victimized" by this story.

Excuse me. The only soldier victim here so far has been Cpl. Comeau, whose laughing eyes stare out of photographs and whose father, a retired military man, has questioned how Col. Williams's behaviour could have gone undetected for so long.

We won't be able to draw any lasting lessons from the Williams case until we determine whether there were missed signals - or even willful denial of what was obvious: whether, in fact, a vicious sexual predator was hiding in plain sight.

But this story may have a lasting legacy: a more rigorous and continued psychological testing of armed forces personnel, even those at a senior level.

In the meantime, we are left to ponder two public men living hidden lives - and the farce and tragedy that results.

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