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November 12, 2012

For the other woman, few happy endings

There's nothing like a political sex scandal to get Washington buzzing: While pundits debated the future of CIA Director David Petraeus, few concerned themselves with the fate of Paula Broadwell.

No surprise there: Powerful men can bounce back from even the most lurid affairs, but the Other Woman rarely survives the firestorm intact. Call it sexism, bad luck or lousy PR — these modern Hester Prynnes live on in Google forever.

Bill Clinton has never been more popular; Monica Lewinsky, despite a degree from the London School of Economics, has never managed to hold down a job. John Edwards's mistress, Rielle Hunter, is even more despised than the ruined politician after writing a tell-all memoir. Megan Marshack, the former radio reporter who was with Nelson Rockfeller the night he died in 1979, hasn't worked on-air for more than 30 years.

A rare exception to the rule: Donna Rice Hughes, who rebounded from her liaison with Sen. Gary Hart into a happy and relatively public life. "I think it's harder for the women," she told us Sunday. "They're not as well known and get sensationalized."

Rice Hughes was 29 in 1987 when her brief relationship with Hart — then the leading Democratic prospect for the 1988 presidential nomination — exploded into public view. Within days, her name and picture were everywhere, and she remained in the headlines for the next 18 months. "It took on a life of its own," she said.

Now it seems there's a sex scandal every few months; back then, there was no role model, no map of how to navigate a storm like this. Rice lost her commercial acting and pharmaceutical jobs. "I knew I wanted to take the high road," she said. "I prayed continually that I would make wise choices and tried to take the long view. I really wanted the pain to count for something good."

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