Bob Filner’s Lessons on How to Be a Creep

How did this guy work in D.C. for 20 years without a scandal breaking out?

Photo by Bill Wechter/Getty Images

My latest piece looks at the very public and creepy life of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, and asks a question that’s been bugging me: How did this guy work in D.C. for 20 years without anyone tagging him as a sexual harasser? This is the theory, backed up by a bunch of reporting and conversations.

Filner’s ultra-slow-motion downfall—he’s working through nine more days of “therapy”—tells us just how long you can get away with being a creep in politics. The tolerance for mild creepiness is quite high, because your victims don’t know how much of it they’re expected to put up with.

Since the story ran, I’ve heard more about the level of creepiness Filner thought (correctly) he could get away with in DC. This story, for example, which I’ll edit and publish without attribution.

I went to Filner’s office to talk with him about some stuff coming up in the Veterans Affairs committee. He’d never met me before, although he… had seen some of my work. And while we’re talking, he steps up to me and starts running his hand down the lapel of my jacket. 

I excused myself and left, and was never alone in a room with him again.

I wish I could say that it was the only time a MoC behaved inappropriately towards me, but that one was particularly memorable because he had *never met me before.*

Former Filner staff haven’t gotten this specific, but they’ve said, also not for attribution, that the guy was a creep. (The former staff I reached out to didn’t respond, understandably I guess.) That was one of my points – the excuses made for this behavior in D.C. are a throwback to a less enlightened time.

On Twitter, I’ve noticed some conservative criticism of the story predicated on what it didn’t prove. I didn’t find evidence of creepiness in D.C.; therefore I was covering for Filner. That wasn’t my point, but also, shouldn’t the Filner disaster say something to conservative media? The stories about him weren’t broken by the new media outlets of the right, as the Weiner story was. They’ve been broken by the mainstream media. Anyone who thinks the press would willfully cover for a politician’s sex scandal because he’s a Democrat has never worked in a newsroom – no reporter would punt a career-making story like that.