Time To Come Clean

Steve Chaggaris is Deputy Political Director for CBS News.
Thanks to the Internet, political candidates are having a harder and harder time running from their mistakes.

Take Sen. Joe Biden's (D-Delaware) comments in January when he described fellow candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

A recording of that answer from an interview with a New York Observer reporter hit the Internet and created a firestorm, prompting Biden to issue an apology soon afterwards.

This week, fully aware of the increased impact past and present transgressions can have thanks to the Web, two politicians actually made pre-emptive strikes regarding some sketchy past acts.

Turns out, right before Obama announced his presidential run, he felt the need to clean up a little mess that had been festering for about 20 years: a load of unpaid parking tickets.

He wound up forking over $375 to the cities of Cambridge and Somerville, MA to settle 15 outstanding tickets he received while he was a student at Harvard Law School.

And now today, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia), who is considering a presidential bid, made an effort to answer questions about one of his past transgressions: adultery.

As the Monica Lewinsky scandal was all over the front pages in 1998 and Gingrich was leading his fellow House Republicans in an effort to impeach President Clinton, it seems the former Speaker was having a dalliance of his own.

When Focus on the Family founder James Dobson asked him if he was having an affair during that time, Gingrich responded, "The honest answer is yes."

"There were times when I was praying and I felt that I was doing things that were wrong but I was still doing them. I look back on those as periods of weakness," the thrice-married Gingrich said on Dobson's radio show that aired today.

But, he said, don't call him a hypocrite. Gingrich pointed out Clinton's problem wasn't the affair he had with Lewinsky but it was the perjury and obstruction of justice charges which led to his impeachment in the House, only to be later acquitted by the Senate.

"The challenge I was facing, wasn't about judging Bill Clinton as a person," Gingrich said.

"I know I can't cast the first stone because I have ... weaknesses and if that was the standard then our whole system would collapse."

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.