Jerry Springer: Politics, escorts and pop culture

Jerry Springer is an anomaly. Politician and talk-show host. Staunch civil rights activist and perpetuator of (self-admittedly) camp television. Successful businessman once exposed for paying an escort with a personal check.

A personal check? Yes, a personal check.

Long before Springer was tut-tutting people for ripping each other to shreds or offering his final words of wisdom on daytime television, he was a successful politician in Cincinnati, Ohio. Both before and after a raid on a Kentucky brothel revealed the dooming John Hancock of the John, who had a taste for beautiful escorts.

Springer was born in England to Jewish parents, and lost his paternal and material grandmothers in Poland during the Holocaust. He immigrated with his parents to the United States when he was five, and got his first taste for politics at age 12 when he heard John F. Kennedy speak in a democratic debate. He went on to get degrees in political science and law, advised Bobby Kennedy in his election campaign and then settled at a law firm in Cincinnati, Ohio.

By the ripe young age of 27, Springer found himself on the city counsel of Cincinnati in 1971. With a failed run at congress behind him, he had come out of the fueled anti-war energy of the 60s with liberal-leaning ideals: “It was clear. There were good guys and bad guys. It was about justice.[1]

But justice hit him hard when, just three years later in 1974, he was exposed in the Fort Wright raid to have paid for unspecified “services” to escorts (not once, but twice), and quickly resigned from office.

In contemporary times, this might have ended his political career completely. Look what happened recently to New York Representative Anthony Weiner, when his Pandora’s box of lewd texts was exposed. Even Obama suggested Weiner should relinquish his post.

In Springer’s scenario, local newsman Al Schottelkotte proclaimed that Springer’s political career was over. So how did Springer reclaim his seat in 1975 with a landslide of support?

Honesty. Good old-fashioned, humble, American honesty. Springer came clean in a press conference, hid his tail for only so long, and re-focused and re-launched with more clarity and humility than he had needed to muster before. He made it back to office with minimal conflict. And two years following was given a one-year seat as the mayor of Cincinnati.

In a television ad for his 1982 race for the governors office in Ohio, Springer once again came clean and laid his past out on the table: “Nine years ago, I spent time with a woman I shouldn’t have. And I paid her with a check. I wish I hadn’t done that. And the truth is I wish no one would ever know. But in the rough world of politics, proponents are not about to let personal embarrassments lay to rest. Perhaps like you, I’m not sure what any of this has to do with being governor. But maybe my talking to you about this makes a point… I’m not afraid, even of the truth. And even if it hurts. Come on. Join me on June 8th. We’re going to turn this state around.[2]

While he didn’t win the office, he did keep his career moving forward.

In our current time of political sex scandals and resignations, we’re more used to hearing Anthony Weiner’s bumbling denials, or statements like “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”.

Which leads to a simple, everyman kind of question: who do our politicians think they’re fooling? And how much do we really care about their sexual relations? It’s widely know that our American hero John F. Kennedy strayed outside his impeccably decorated White House bedroom. And that the crotch shot that Weiner tried to deny was, obviously, his.

So maybe it was Springer’s no-nonsense, straightforward honestly that helped him win his seat back in 1975. And encouraged politicians and journalists to continue to take him seriously as a political thinker with potential runs throughout the following decades.

It was also his level-headed, well-informed approach that helped him transition into television, first as a political commentator, then as Emmy award-winning primary news anchor. When The Jerry Springer Show launched in the early nineties it was a politically leaning, and only digressed to blue-collar status over time.

Even in regards to his current position, Springer speaks with honesty: “It would be so hypocritical for me to say that show is terrible. I’ve always said it’s stupid… It’s an hour of escapism. It has no real value.[3]

There’s been little more in the news regarding Jerry Springer and prostitutes or escorts. An internet search with any combination of those terms results entirely in a video footage of outings on many hundreds of his shows.

So it seems that with relatively little PR, and a little owning up of his tastes, desires and goof-ups, this is one politician who got caught with his pants down, and simply pulled them back up.

As Jerry closes: “Take care of yourself, and each other“.


  1. Ellen Sterling, Huffington Post:
  3. Cincinnati Enquirer: