Late on a Saturday night on Memorial Day weekend in California’s wine country, a drunk driver smacked into another car while coming home from a party. Fortunately neither driver was hurt.
Weeks later people around the world are still talking about this incident for two reasons:
1) The DUI rap belongs to Paul Pelosi, husband of the most powerful woman in America.
2) It is yet another example of the undeniable power of the Streisand Effect.
Besides a transcendent singing voice and her monumental career in show business, the Streisand effect may be Barbra Streisand’s most lasting contribution to pop culture. It was named after her after she sued a photographer in the early 2000s to stop him from publishing an aerial photo of her Malibu home. A small thing that might have otherwise received scant attention—an online photo of the California coastline with her mansion and two others in it—blew up into a big thing after the lawsuit went public.
The result was predictable. Hundreds of thousands of hits on the photographer’s website from curious people eager to check out Babs’s palatial digs.
Thus was born the Streisand effect. It’s like Newton’s Law; you can’t avoid it. Although Hollywood stars, the wealthy and famous, and powerful politicians like Nancy Pelosi do their best to immunize themselves from it.
The day after her husband’s DUI misadventure, the San Francisco Democrat’s PR team issued a terse statement: “The Speaker will not be commenting on this private matter which occurred while she was on the East Coast.”
That’s that, then. No more to say. It’s a family thing so everyone else please shut up.
Naturally this did not happen. The incident received scads of attention including hilarious mocking from the likes of Russell Brand. But the attention was short-lived, and the mainstream media quickly dropped the story.
This was when the Streisand effect went to work. In this case it wasn’t a lawsuit that caused curious minds to take a deeper look at it. It was the suspicious silence that reigned in the aftermath, accompanied by thoughts of a possible cover-up.
A California Highway Patrol officer arrested Pelosi, and in the aftermath the CHP issued a press release that provided some of the details of the incident while leaving out others. It was the details that were left out that set tongues a-wagging. Where was Pelosi’s mug shot? Why wasn’t that released too?
You don’t have to be a right wing conspiracy nut to know that if, oh let’s say, Donald Trump had been tossed into the Napa County can for a late night DUI, the booking photo of him staring forlornly at the camera with his fabled hair askew would have instantaneously rocketed across the globe.
But there was nothing like that—no mug shot, no bodycam video, no dashboard video, no nothing. But the Streisand effect abhors a vacuum, and Lauren Boebert, a Republican Congresswoman from Colorado, filled that vacuum with an incendiary June 8 tweet stating, “Paul Pelosi’s DUI charges have been dropped. Is anyone really surprised?”
Lots of people turned out to be very surprised, including the Napa County DA’s office. It strongly denied Boebert’s gossipy claim, saying that it was still reviewing the case and what charges, if any, will be filed against Pelosi. Media on the left predictably derided her contention as fake news, while those on the right amped up their calls for the release of the mug shot and law enforcement videos from that night.
Napa County authorities have thus far refused to release the videos and official transcripts in the case; to do so would jeopardize their ongoing investigation, they say. Nevertheless, the 82-year-old Pelosi’s weary, none-too-happy face at the time of booking did finally see the light of day, no doubt causing much embarrassment to his wife.
There is no confusion about who the doofus is here. DUIs are serious stuff; drunk drivers kill and maim people. And if the law lets Paul Pelosi walk with only a light pitty-pat on the wrist, it will be a travesty—a wholly predictable one, given his wealth and his wife’s political clout, but a travesty nonetheless.
Nancy and her team, however, bear some responsibility for bungling the political damage control after the fact. Either she did not know about the Streisand effect, or she ignored it. Either way, it was a blunder.
And now, with her husband’s court date set for August 3, there’s no retreating into silence. The whole world is watching. You ignore the Streisand effect only at your peril.
Author’s note: This piece was inspired by Christian Toto’s article on the Streisand effect for his entertaining Hollywood in Toto website.
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