Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 18, 1998

L’Observateur / March 18, 1998

It’s a sad commentary on the state of news coverage when the full blast of media attention is not on any accomplishments, new programs, advances in foreign policy or innovative reforms. It’s on sex.The scandal du jour appears to be the criteria of what makes the evening news or the morning headlines. It’s been said there’s more broadcastmedia focus on the presidential sex scandal than was on the Gulf War. Thecoverage seems intent on a witch-hunt mentality, to discover, uncover and expose as much potentially embarrassing and titillating details as possible. The thrust appears to be who can get the most dirt out thequickest for the almighty ratings points.

Never mind who may be lying. Never mind the presumption of innocence,which is a hallmark of American justice. The media has made the call andthe American people are following the scandal, lapping up every detail like puppies.

If President Clinton is guilty of anything, that is to be determined in a court of law, not the court of popular opinion, spurred by the baying hounds of the media.

This scandal has been compared to Watergate, which helped bring about the resignation of President Nixon. In Watergate, it was a question ofwhat the president knew and what he authorized done in his name, to protect his political future and control his political enemies.

Clinton’s latest debaclehas come down to who do you trust.

In Watergate, the efforts of the president were to exert control over the government, the courts and the American people by criminal means. In thisalleged scandal, if the president is indeed guilty of what is being said about him, it’s much more personal to a handful of victims. It’s a personal failing, not a constitutional crisis. Ultimately, the ones most hurt will bethe president’s family.

Some presidents in the past have indulged in scandalous behavior, from Grover Cleveland to Warren Harding to John Kennedy. However, theybenefitted from not having the pervasiveness of CNN, Larry King and “60 Minutes.”Something else much more important here is the long-range effect on the structure of the American government. As designed, the Congress wouldbalance the president in representing the people, watchdogged by the courts. As events are developing, the presidential role in Americangovernment is becoming much more diminished. Some of that can be laidon the president, not only this one but those dating back at least to Nixon.

Some of this can be laid on Congress, for focusing so much attention on scandal that other concerns are left to worsen, and the paramount concern for lawmakers becomes hurting their opponents, not achieving something for their constituents.

An endless number of polls reflect the American people are tired of the scandal du jour of national politics. Yet, it is the American people whofeed this frenzy by buying the tabloids and watching the television coverage. Ultimately, it’s the American people to blame for the white-hotfocus on presidential scandals. They only give us what we want. That’swhy “Entertainment Tonight” has nightly stories on this scandal.

There has to be something positive going on in Washington. If not, it’s hightime something positive does happen.

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