Aiden Maese-Czeropski made a life-altering mistake when he filmed himself having sex in a Senate hearing room, but he’s hardly the first, and likely won’t be the last, person on Capitol Hill to have had such an active hand in altering their own political career.
Pictures and videos of the incident started circulating last week, leading The Spectator to run a gossip piece Friday that identified one of the men in the video as an aide to Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md. The Daily Caller later that day published censored clips of the tape that showed two men having sex in a Hart Senate Office Building hearing room. By Saturday night, Maese-Czeropski was out of a job.
In a town where proposals to amend permitting standards under the National Environmental Policy Act get unironically described as “sexy,” a scandal involving actual sex is almost too salacious to handle.
While sex scandals are nothing new in Washington — Alexander Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds in 1796 derailed his political career, but helped the dramatic arc of a hit Broadway musical more than two centuries later — the means by which they’ve come to light has shifted in recent years.
Previously, it took an arrest or courtroom allegations or tabloid reports to spark outrage, like when Rep. Dan Crane, R-Ill., was censured after sleeping with a House page. The long-running satirist singing troupe The Capitol Steps got their name from Rita Jenrette’s revelations in Playboy (alongside a photo spread) that she had sex on the U.S. Capitol steps with her husband, Rep. John Jenrette, D-S.C.
But more and more, naughty politicians have been the publishers of their own salacious misdeeds.
Since the iPhone debuted in 2007, it has become the norm to carry a digital camera wherever we go, and with it, the opportunity to capture images or video that can only too easily be shared with the world. In the ensuing years, we’ve seen several members of Congress or candidates derail their own careers this way.
In 2011, sexy selfies took down a pair of New York congressmen: Republican Chris Lee resigned after publication of the shirtless photos he sent to women he was flirting with on Craigslist, and Democrat Anthony Weiner was caught sending pictures of his crotch to women on Twitter. Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton decided against running for reelection in 2018 after nude photos he sent to a woman he was having an affair with leaked online.
In 2020, Cal Cunningham narrowly lost his bid to unseat Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina after sexually suggestive texts the married Democrat sent to a married woman were leaked in an “October surprise.” And while it certainly wasn’t the only issue he faced, North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn lost his 2022 primary after a video emerged of him nude in bed with another man.
There are other examples in the political world of filmed sex acts being shared beyond the intended audience to disastrous consequences. This year, Susanna Gibson’s bid for a Virginia state delegate seat was derailed after The Washington Post reported that she had streamed sex acts with her husband online. Gibson ended up losing by fewer than 1,000 votes.
And a nude isn’t the only self-incriminating selfie you can take. In 2022, a recently fired staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein snuck into her office while high on psychedelic mushrooms, filmed himself smoking weed in her office and posted it online.
In the legal world, there’s a saying that these politicians and their affiliates might’ve done well to consider: “Dance as if no one is watching … email like it’ll wind up in a deposition.”
Brad Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation, said his group provides some training for interns and staff in freshman member offices that touches upon this idea, even if it doesn’t come up directly.
“We try to inculcate an awareness that any public behavior will reflect on the office and their boss,” he wrote in an email. “Notably, and this is especially communicated to interns, CMF suggests that they keep their social media commentary to what they’re doing, what they find interesting, and not to offer opinions on congressional activities.”
There’s an understandable temptation to blame this behavior on “kids these days.” But porn has always been around. You can see 2,000-year-old frescoes depicting all kinds of freaky stuff in Pompeii; within a decade of the invention of film, people were disrobing for the camera.
And to the extent there is data on sexting and other forms of self-exposure, it suggests that younger generations are doing it less than their older peers. The 2023 American Perspective Survey of 5,000 American adults conducted by the American Enterprise Institute found that 20 percent of Gen Z has sent a sexually explicit image of themselves to someone they were dating, compared with 37 percent of older millennials. Gen Z was about on par with the older Gen X cohort, 19 percent of whom reported sending sexy pics.
“Dating practices that frequently grab headlines, such as ghosting and sexting, are not all that widespread, and, in the case of sexting, it may occur less frequently today,” wrote Daniel A. Cox, an American Enterprise Institute senior fellow in polling and public opinion. “Generation Z is significantly less likely than millennials are to report sending sexually explicit images of themselves to someone they are dating.”
Why kids these days are less reckless sexters than aging millennials is anybody’s guess. Maybe they grew up hearing jokes about Anthony Weiner. Or maybe these digital natives are more likely to understand that anything you record on your phone may be seen by the entire world and any notion about online privacy is laughably absurd. Or maybe they’re just less interested in sex and so have less desire to see anyone — including themselves — engaging in it.
Whatever the case, as Maese-Czeropski made abundantly clear, young people will continue to do stupid things they end up regretting, and in an age of ubiquitous cameras, someone will always be watching.