Now we have Deflategate, the scandal involving the New England Patriots and the doctoring of footballs. That same team gave us Spygate, in which the team secretly videotaped the practices of rivals. Not long ago we had Bridgegate, in which the governor of New Jersey was investigated for causing a traffic jam in the town of a political foe.
The use of –gate as the scandal suffix of choice goes back, we know, to the 1972 break-ins at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., a crime and political dirty trick that cost President Richard Nixon his job. There is actually a Wikipedia page that lists the progeny of Watergate, dozens upon dozens of examples from the worlds of politics, sports and entertainment. Such is the power of –gate that it has made its way into the scandal language of other countries and even other tongues.
Here are some of my favorites, with descriptions based on Wikipedia:
Rathergate (2004) – Scandal over forged memos about President George W. Bush’s military record. It led to the resignation of Dan Rather as a CBS anchor.
Billygate (1980) — President Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy Carter, not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, legally represented the Libyan government as a foreign agent.
Debategate (1980) – A scandal – with a good rhyme — caused by the suspicious acquisition of presidential debate preparation documents.
Fangate (2014) — A mini-scandal in which Florida Gov. Rick Scott delayed his appearance in a debate with Charlie Crist when his rival placed a small electric fan underneath his lectern.
Nipplegate (2004) – Justin Timberlake revealed Janet Jackson’s breast during the halftime show of the Super Bowl, a scandal explained away euphemistically as a “wardrobe malfunction.”
Climategate (2010) – A fake claim by climate change deniers that a group of British scientists conspired to cook the books on global warming.
Zippergate (1990s) – Endless scandal after President Bill Clinton had an affair with a White House intern. Inevitably, also known as “Monicagate” and “Tailgate.”
One other example caught my attention, the 2012 NFL scandal that became known as Bountygate. Players and coaches were suspended after accusations that a defensive coach for the New Orleans Saints put a bounty out to injure opposing players. While Bountygate has a kind of ring to it, it fails to compare with an another name: Ballghazi (which has been used as an alternate title for Deflategate).
While clever, using the Benghazi scandal as a name generator lacks the historical importance and endless momentum of Watergate. What America needs desperately is a bigger scandal than Watergate, something with a catchy enough name to inspire imitators.
It happened once before almost a century ago. The first great political scandal of the 20th century was called the Teapot Dome. I remember studying it in eighth grade. It was named after an area of land in Wyoming that was oil rich. The administration of Warren G. Harding created deals with oil companies to provide the Navy with fuel. The Secretary of the Interior took bribes in the deal and became the first member of the Cabinet ever to be indicted for a felony.
In Wyoming there was no “dome,” just an area of oil-rich land. But a famous nearby outcropping of rock did look like a teapot – spout and all. As Watergate was to my generation, the Teapot was for my grandparents. The word Teapot became synonymous with scandal, and the political cartoonists of that era had a field day. No doubt the much older phrase “tempest in a teapot” came back into usage.
I resist any notions of banning or even deciding not to use certain familiar locutions, including the suffix -gate. You just never know when today’s perfect word choice will be the reframing of a cliché. That said, while I like the rhyme of Deflategate, it’s what I like to call “first-level creativity.” A hundred sports wags could come up with it. The blend Ballghazi drives me wild — in a good way.
No need to settle for first-level creativity. Reach down a little deeper. In the meantime, can someone in this country please come up with a really juicy scandal, something that will drive Watergate into the history books with the Teapot Dome?