GUEST EDITORIAL Parsing Media Pornography BY NORMAN SOLOMON The calendar says autumn has arrived, but what’s more apparent is that Americans are up to their eyeballs in a deluge of media clichs. Ever since the Starr re port became an instant classic of political pornography, news watchers have been wading through an endless flood of dubious truisms and easy platitudes. This media tempest won’t be receding any time soon, so we may as well scrutinize the popular notions that keep emerging from the spin cycle. For instance: “No one likes this sordid, demeaning story.” Actually, no one admits to liking this story. But when their ratings go through the roof, top executives at cable TV news networks are apt to be more cheerful than tearful. And quite a few print journalists have become regulars on national television, boosting their careers with prurient stories about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. “Newspapers did a public service by printing the full text of Kenneth Starr’s report.” If so, it was a very selective public service. In sharp contrast, none of the same newspapers bothered to publish the full text of the final report by Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh even though it was far more substantive. “Ours was a constitutional question, and it dealt directly with the powers and duties of the presidency,” Walsh told me in a recent interview. Walsh’ s final report, released in January 1993, showed exactly how the Reagan administration had illegally sold arms to Iran and had also broken the law by diverting funds to the Nicaraguan Contra army. The documentation was clear: in the White House and elsewhere in the executive branch, high officials conspired to violate federal statutes. “The American people have been shaken to learn that Clinton lied to them. He shattered the long-standing bond of trust between the public and the president.” Presidential lying is hardly new. A decade ago, President Reagan lied when he denied trading arms for hostages. As vice president and then president, George Bush lied when he kept claiming that he’d been “out of the loop” during Iran-Contra decisions. But neither Reagan nor Bush admitted to their deceptions, which enabled U.S.-backed “freedom fighters” to function as terrorists. And no DNA tests could provide scientific proof that the blood of innocent Nicaraguan peasants was on the hands of men in the Oval Office. “Newt Gingrich has become a statesman, putting the good of the country above partisan concerns.” Sure. And a tiger who walks around quietly has become a vegetarian. “What’s tragic is that Clinton could have done so much good in his second term.” Often voiced by liberals, this is an odd idea, considering the harm that Clinton did in his first term. He went all out for N.A.F.T.A. and the G.A.T.T. treaty that set up the World Trade Organization. He proclaimed that “the era of big government is over,” undermining social programs while making the usual exception for the Pentagon. And he helped to stigmatize people on welfare as lacking “personal responsibility” an ironic rhetorical obsession, given his own personal behavior. “Everybody lies about sex.” Commentators often deliver this line with some kind of smirk. But in the real world, a lot of people lie about sex and a lot of people don’t. Let’s not further normalize deceit by claiming that “everybody” is deceitful. “Whether Clinton serves out his full term will depend on public opinion.” It might be more accurate to say that whether Clinton stays in office will depend on elite opinion. The public’s response to the ClintonLewinsky scandal will probably remain mixed. If Clinton makes an early departure from the White House, it is likely to come shortly after powerful people in the realm of high finance decide that he has become too much of a problem. “This is the biggest presidential scandal since Watergate.” As measured by media fascination, maybe. But the statement is accurate only to the extent that the news media have done a lousy job during the last quarter of a century. Norman Solomon is co-author of Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News and author of The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh., THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5 OCTOBER 9, 1998
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