With over 4 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you're throwing a term paper together at the last minute, reading up on the people on your enemies list. But follow enough links, and you get sucked into some seriously strange places. We explore some of Wikipedia's oddities in our 4,487,327-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: List of scandals with “-gate” suffix
What it’s about: The Watergate scandal remains, to this day, the gold standard for political scandals, as evidenced by the fact that all manner of subsequent brouhahas, large and small, have had the suffix -gate added to the end (for reasons eloquently explained here by Mitchell & Webb). While -gate scandals abound in American politics, they’ve also spread to sports, media, and even other countries’ political systems.
Strangest fact: There was actually a Gategate. In 2012, British MP Andrew Mitchell was leaving Downing Street on a bicycle, and was asked by a policeman to leave through a side gate instead of the main gate. He insulted the policeman, calling him a “pleb,” and scandal ensued. Yes, this is what counts as a “scandal” in Britain, whereas in the U.S., arresting people without a warrant or trial and torturing them in a secret prison is called a “weekday.”
Biggest controversy: It’s all controversy, baby! But the only bit of behind-the-scenes controversy was the original entry for Memogate—the scandal in which Dan Rather was forced to resign after using a forged memo as part of a collection of evidence that George W. Bush had been derelict from his National Guard duty during the Vietnam War. (Bush’s possible military desertion was not granted a “-gate” suffix). Apparently, in this scandal about sources, the original Wikipedia entry was poorly sourced, linking to a “rant with many exclamation points” from a self-published blog. The complaint about the source notes the blog also “absurdly claims that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fraudulent,” which just proves you need more credibility to be linked by Wikipedia than you do to appear on cable news.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Irish politicians have embraced the Gate with some truly entertaining scandals. There’s Brothelgate (in which Minister Of Defense Willie O’Dea was accused not of visiting a brothel, but of falsely accusing the brother of a Sinn Féin candidate of operating a brothel out of his house); Garglegate, in which Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen appeared to be hungover during a radio interview; Portraitgate, in which two oil paintings of Cowen in the nude were displayed in a Dublin art gallery “as an act of guerilla art.”
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: They’re running out of -gate names. Besides the aforementioned Memogate, there was a Pakistani scandal of the same name involving a memo asking the Obama administration to help prevent a military takeover in Pakistan. There have been Nannygate scandals in the U.S. and Sweden (both to do with political figures employing nannies under the table). There have been two separate Strippergates—one in Seattle, and one in San Diego. Troopergate takes the lead, with three separate scandals of that name, the Bill Clinton one, the Eliot Spitzer one, and the Sarah Palin one.
Also noteworthy: While the Gate scandals include arms deals and treason, there are also some very, very minor scandals. It’s hard to decide which one is most trivial. Perhaps it’s Toallagate, in which the Mexican president was accused of spending too much on bathroom towels. Or Travelgate, when President Clinton hired a new travel agent that one time. Or perhaps Napgate, when baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr.’s career effectively ended after the slugger was caught sleeping in the dugout during a game, and quit baseball a month later. But the trivial scandal with the best name is no doubt Toiletgate, in which 2006 World Chess Championship competitor Veselin Topalov accused opponent Vladimir Kramnik of “visiting the toilet suspiciously frequently.” The allegations never lead anywhere, and in fact many have accused Topalov of manufacturing the scandal to put his opponent off his game. In other words, he may have just had to pee.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Scandals are always a good entry to presidential history, as Nixon (Watergate), Carter (Billygate, in which the president’s brother wound up as a representative of the Libyan government), Reagan (Irangate, better known as Iran-Contra), Clinton (Filegate, Pardongate, Travelgate, Troopergate, and of course Monicagate), and Bush II (Plamegate). The current administration remains gate-scandal-free so far. Thanks, Obama.
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