“The cover-up is worse than the crime” refers to the idea that attempts to conceal or obscure wrongdoing can lead to more severe consequences than the original misdeed.
This principle underscores the importance of transparency, accountability, and integrity in politics, suggesting that dishonesty in the aftermath of an error or crime often compounds the original offense, leading to greater political, legal, and ethical repercussions.
Origin of “Cover-Up is Worse Than the Crime”
The phrase is steeply rooted in the concept of trust.
When political figures or institutions engage in a cover-up, they breach the public’s trust, potentially causing more damage to their reputations and political prospects than if they had openly admitted to and dealt with the original offense.
This is particularly relevant in democracies where politicians are held accountable by the electorate, the judiciary, and free press.
Cover-ups in politics can take various forms.
They may involve manipulating information, silencing whistle-blowers, obstructing investigations, lying to the public, or using one’s power to evade accountability.
While such strategies might offer temporary respite, they often lead to more significant scandals once the truth surfaces, resulting in a greater fall from grace than the initial wrongdoing would have caused.
One of the most notable examples of this phrase’s embodiment in U.S. politics is the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.
The scandal began with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, but it was the Nixon administration’s attempts to cover up its involvement that led to a full-blown political crisis.
This led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon – the first and only U.S. President to resign from office.
Here, the cover-up actions were deemed far more damaging and consequential than the initial crime.
The phrase also has a legal dimension.
In certain situations, the acts of covering up a crime—such as perjury, obstruction of justice, or destruction of evidence—can carry heavier legal penalties than the original offense.
Moreover, a cover-up often creates a paper trail or pattern of behavior that can provide investigators and prosecutors with additional evidence.
Furthermore, this phrase emphasizes the inherent value in acknowledging and rectifying wrongdoing in the political sphere.
In a practical sense, it suggests that politicians can often better manage the fallout from an initial misstep or scandal by being transparent, apologizing where necessary, and taking steps to prevent future occurrences.
Such actions can, at times, strengthen a politician’s image by displaying their commitment to accountability and ethical conduct.
Use of “Cover-Up is Worse Than the Crime” in a sentence
- In the aftermath of the scandal, the senator learned the hard way that the cover-up is often worse than the crime, as his efforts to hide his indiscretions resulted in a loss of public trust that was far more damaging than the initial error.
- Historical events like the Watergate scandal remind us that the cover-up is worse than the crime, and honesty and transparency in politics, while not always immediately convenient, are crucial for maintaining public trust.
- The governor’s decision to withhold information backfired, demonstrating the timeless political axiom that the cover up is always worse than the crime, and his reputation never fully recovered from the ensuing scandal.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.