Peter Sagal Weighs In on Spitzer and 'Vice' When it comes to powerful people behaving badly, Sagal says Eliot Spitzer isn't the first or the last. The host of NPR's weekly quiz show Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me is also the author of The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them).
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Peter Sagal Weighs In on Spitzer and 'Vice'

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ROBERT SMITH, Host:

This is the world that most of us are not familiar with. I will admit that I did take a look at the Web site when this news broke and was baffled by the rating systems and how much this women charge per hour. But if the stories in famous newspapers are any indication, all of us are fascinated by vice - drinking, smoking, gambling, pornography and even prostitution.

P, Host:

Peter Sagal joins us from the studios of Chicago Public Radio. Hello, Peter. Good to have you with us.

PETER SAGAL: Hello, Robert. Great to be with you.

SMITH: I don't know if you exactly want to be called an expert in this area, but you're the best we got.

SAGAL: I know. I was in the bench, so I'm coming in to play. I have to say though that, as you do, I work for public radio salary, so I myself have never played in realms of the Emperor's Club myself. So it's fairly new to me - that particular thing.

SMITH: You visited strip clubs in your book and swingers clubs, but I guess you just didn't get the kind of advance needed to know to really (unintelligible).

SAGAL: No, it's not (unintelligible) or the permission from my wife. In fact, I don't write about prostitution in the book, I should say, mainly because problems of research, all kinds of ethical and other logistical problems. You know...

SMITH: You don't break the law in the book, we should say.

SAGAL: It seems like Eliot Spitzer was a straightened - straight and arrow guy - straight arrow, if I can mix two metaphors - pretty much until recently. And that interests - raises the interesting question of what just happened. Why did he finally, if you will, give in?

SMITH: So is there a connection, Peter, do you think between power and sex scandals.

SAGAL: And what happens to you, of course, is eventually I think you get curious. And eventually, I think, you begin to wonder when do you rise to that level where you're no longer bound by those rules. As your another - as your prior guest also said, where there is no governor. And I - you know what, this is a bet, this is an absolute supposition. People who are wondering how Spitzer found out about the VIP Emperors Club? I bet he found it out from one of his targets. I bet it showed up from one of his investigations into the lifestyles of some of these Wall Street titans he was prosecuting. And I bet he kept that memo. And I bet he kept that contact number. And I bet he kept wondering what it will be like to live that way just a little.

SMITH: You had to bring gambling into it, didn't you, Peter Sagal?

SAGAL: I did. I did. That's another thing - one of the things I wrote about. Another place where people really take a lot of risks they shouldn't.

SMITH: Well, there's something I noticed when I was reading these documents yesterday, as I'm sure many people have. And that's that - maybe you found this when you've looked into these worlds - there's not a lot of shame involved once you've crossed a certain level doing something that perhaps you should not do. It's like a business transaction. Listening to this, it's like Eliot Spitzer's dealing with his bank.

SAGAL: Oh, absolutely.

SMITH: It's all money transfers, it's all logistics. One where there's a sense of illicit nature, I guess.

SAGAL: Now, that I think, of course, is a rationalization. Pace, Mr. Dershowitz - who was on the show a little earlier - it is breaking the law and it is against the law, and I think he's in deep trouble. But you would be amazed and surprised - or maybe not, since we all do it - the way that people can justify almost anything to themselves.

SMITH: Let's try and get a listener into this conversation. Justin(ph) is on the line. Justin called us from Norfolk, Virginia.

JUSTIN: Yeah. Thank you for letting me on the show. I have a question for your guest. One of the things that bothers me is the, you know, that prostitution is glorified in the media. I mean, you got the classic case - the pretty woman, the prostitute with the heart of gold. And then, you know, for us to have - make it illegal seems hypocritical. What's your take on that?

SAGAL: But, yes, you're right, prostitution is glorified. There is that - and I don't know if I can say this so I won't - the cliche of the prostitute with a heart of gold. And I think that for men in particular - and I write about this in my book, particularly in regards to strippers where I think it applies - men dream of dealing with a woman who they don't have to impress. Who they don't have to be a good guy towards. So they don't have to obey the rules that have been imposed on them they feel towards. And what's weird is is that they dream of a woman they don't have to perform for, because by virtue of their paying them, and yet then they dream of that woman somehow responding to them with kindness and affection. Who can learn their true self. And I think that's the dream behind, you know, the whole pretty woman fantasy.

SMITH: So you're saying about this world, especially with the particular prostitute involved in this case reading these documents...

SAGAL: Kristen.

SMITH: ...she - Kristen, I should have had her name on my fingertips. But Kristen says, you know, he's a nice guy - talks about the governor - and talks at length in these documents about how this is her job, she's comfortable with what she does, she's comfortable with what she tells her clients, and she's very frank with them. I thought that was a remarkable insight - a little insight into this world.

SAGAL: I love that. And I love the fact that - I think a quote was, I'm not, you know, a moron. I mean, I know why I'm here for. And I think one of the things that is so great about that is - again, you were talking earlier in the show about these ads for escorts. There's a whole level of euphemism about this whole industry - companions, models, scintillating company, you know. The Web site which you can see in Google cache for Emperor's Club is filled with that stuff. They, the women, know what it's about. I think there are a lot of women actually who are in this business who are blogging about it, and you can read what purport to be and I believe to be honest accounts. They're very matter-of- fact. They know exactly what men want. They know exactly what they're being paid for. And they are, I hope, that they're honest in saying, happy - or at least resigned - and comfortable providing them for a due fee.

SMITH: Let's talk with Roger(ph). Roger joins us from Delray Beach, Florida.

ROGER: Hello.

SMITH: Go ahead.

ROGER: Yes. Yeah, there's one thing that's very bizarre about this whole situation that nobody has touched upon since the story broke. If you ran a prostitution ring and you were dealing with Eliot Spitzer, and - I mean, wouldn't you think you were getting set up?

SMITH: I'm not sure I know what you mean.

ROGER: You know what I'm thinking, there's something really bizarre that they would send a prostitute to Eliot Spitzer.

SAGAL: Well, it wasn't entirely clear if they knew who the client was, although, apparently, some had suspected this. I think what he's asking is, you know, it's like seeing, I don't know, the attorney general come to you, you start to look around and say, where are the cameras?

SMITH: Where are the wiretaps are?

SAGAL: Where are the wiretaps? Hey, we both know why, we know how this works. According to the report in Newsday today, the records indicate that Mr. Spitzer made use of this service eight or nine times. Once you get to that point, I think if you're the madam - if I can use the old term, if you're running the call girl service, you pretty much know that whatever trouble you're in, he's in too. I also think that if you're used dealing with law enforcement, you don't expect the governor himself to show up to run - can you imagine that meeting with the governor having his legal anti-prostitution task force and he says, guys, I think the guy posing for the John - posing as the John should be me. That's a duty I'm willing to take on myself. So put a wire on my body and - no, I don't think so. I think when they got a call from the governor, they thought it was the governor.

ROGER: He could be collecting evidence, you know.

SAGAL: He could have been. I mean, that's a defense for him, you know. I was just do - I can't let my long law enforcement instincts go, says Governor Spitzer. I was out there investing them and I was just about to buff them when all of a sudden the news broke.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SMITH: You know, after what he did on Wall Street, some people wouldn't doubt the fact that he might personally go and put the cuffs on people. Roger, thanks for calling. Peter, you know, from some of your theories here...

SAGAL: And I should say they're all theories. I don't know anything.

SMITH: I was going to say, you know absolutely nothing about the world of prostitution.

SAGAL: I'm speculating.

SMITH: But you do know a little bit talking about vices. Is all these talk about vice and all these talk about Eliot Spitzer, is this a cautionary tale that men will look at and think twice about - before visiting a prostitute, or - and I think you may lean toward the second thing - are they going to look at this Web site, read this whole story and say, well, you know, maybe if I save up a little bit?

SAGAL: Well, the funny thing is, that seems to happen - that latter phenomena seems to happen quite a lot. For example, in the book, I visited a swingers club - this is one of these, you know, wife swapping, if I can use the antiquated term they'll like - and while there, I met a pair of high school teachers. And the high school teachers told me that they were there because they had read a news story about another pair of high school teachers in another state who had been busted and fired from their jobs for attending a party exactly like that one. And their - the couple I was talking to, their reaction was not, oh, my God, we must stay away from this for fear of our lives. No, they were like, that sounds fun. So, yes, my guess is, strangely, I think inquiries into prostitution Web sites and call girl services and escort services will, in fact, go up because of this.

SMITH: There you go. Peter Sagal, host of NPR's WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME is the author of "The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to do Them)." He joined us from the studios of Chicago Public Radio. You can read about Peter's visits to a swinger's club - sorry about this - and other adventures he had while researching for his "Book of Vice," at our Web site, npr.org/talk. Research indeed. Thanks, Peter. And we are sorry for making you the expert on prostitution.

SAGAL: You know, anything - you know, hey, that's the gig. Robert, my pleasure.

SMITH: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith in Washington.

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