Columns » John Brummett

Professional self-loathing


Have you heard the big political news of the week? It's that John Kerry did not have sexual relations with that woman. Or at least that's what he says. And in this case she agrees. And since neither is under oath or hounded by a Republican prosecutor abusing the criminal justice system for partisan advantage, and since this young woman probably gets her dresses dry-cleaned, maybe we can leave it at that. Actually, the bigger news is that the modern media is now wholly without restraint, standard, responsibility, integrity or class, other than low. Here's the contemporary media pattern: The sleaze starts on the Internet, usually with Matt Drudge, a creepy gossip-monger who sits at his computer and regurgitates on his Web site for world consumption assorted right-wing slanders of Democrats. Then insiders talk to each other about what they've read on the Internet. Rush Limbaugh, perhaps fresh from meeting with his lawyer to get a report on a negotiated settlement of his drug offenses, intones salaciously. Then the television gabfests feel obliged to join in if only to report that there's this nasty rumor that may or may not be true but already is having a political effect. Tabloids activate reporters with checkbooks. Don Imus asks Kerry about it, but people disregard his denial. Then scores of television stations dispatch their massive satellite trucks to chew up the sod on the front lawn of the rumoree. A couple of days of that will force the subject to make a public statement, at which time the whole thing gets legitimized on The Associated Press wire and dropped into mainstream newspapers. And here I am writing about it. After all, professional self-loathing requires some explanation. Last week I was visiting via phone with a staff member for a U. S. senator. I must have mentioned that Kerry was the cinch Democratic nominee. The staffer asked, "What about the intern?" I asked what he was talking about. He said it was "on Drudge." I held my nose with one hand and typed with the other. There it was, in screaming letters. Sources said Kerry had been sexually involved with a young woman who formerly worked for him as an intern. Supposedly, even Wes Clark had told reporters "off the record" that Kerry wouldn't hold up as front-runner because he had an intern problem. (This was a day before Clark would endorse Kerry.) The identify of the woman in question became known, at which time the media trucks descended on her parents' Pennsylvania home. A London tabloid, The Sun, quoted the father as saying his daughter hadn't been sexually involved with Kerry, but that Kerry certainly was a "sleazebag." That merely fueled the fire, leading the satellite trucks to surround the Kenyan home of the parents of the young man to whom the woman is engaged, and where she was staying. The McLaughlin Group danced more with the rumor than around it, finally taking a vote on whether the rumor would turn out to be true. By a 4-to-1 vote, the panel predicted - hoped? - that it would bear out The woman in question is a freelance journalist in her late 20s who formerly worked for The Associated Press in New York. And it was the AP bureau in Nairobi to which she issued a statement Monday saying she had never had a sexual relationship with Kerry or worked for him and hoped reporters would now respect her parents' and prospective in-laws' privacy. Back home, her daddy was saying that he would vote for Kerry and that the London tabloid had misquoted him. In conclusion, a bad show by the media may be a bad omen for Kerry. Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger have clearly shown that catting around is a ticket to political glory.

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