By Norman Solomonr
The calendar says that autumn has arrived, but what's more
apparent is that Americans are up to their eyeballs in a deluge
of media cliches. Ever since the Starr report 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 ITAL>admits<ITAL 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
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
* "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
NAFTA and the GATT 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 Clinton-Lewinsky 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
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."
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