Monday, January 20, 1997

Opinion: Cut the tape and start the show

Published in the Mountainview

Does it bother anyone else that both the President of the United States and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Reprensentatives are being investigated for ethics violations, and possible lawbreaking?

I by no means mean to say that either President Clinton or Speaker Gingrich are guilty of any wrongdoing or crimes; they will not be guilty of anything until convicted in a court of law, if their cases ever get that far. Those investigating the men may decide that there is no case to prosecute, or governmental sanction (censure by the House of Representatives, impeachment by the U.S. Senate) may be the last we hear of these men's activities beyond the law.

The old adage says, "Where there's smoke there's fire." In both men's cases, there has been an awful lot of smoke, and some fire. At the moment, investigations are proceeding. Each of these important men, in important national offices, is distracted from his duties by events indicating he should, potentially, no longer be in office. These distractions weaken and hinder the President and the Speaker, who perform duties requiring focus and strength.

I do not suggest by any means that we cancel the investigations of both these men. I do, however, hold that we must expedite the processes, encourage events, good or bad, to run their course quickly, and let whomever is President and whomever is Speaker at the end of the day do their jobs unquestioned.

What can be done? Members of the public can write to their Representatives and Senators, urging the completion of these investigations in a speedy manner. Politics should not be allow to govern these sorts of investigations. At the same time, we must be wary of convicting these men in the media. Each deserves his day in court, if the lawyers involved in each investigation decide that even that is necessary.

I must repeat that I do not wish to convict either man before all sides have been heard in a court of law. However, the mere fact that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gingrich's attentions are diverted from central national issues, even if the allegations are not strong enough to merit a court case or legal censure, is damaging enough to the conduct and reputation of the American government at home and abroad. This is where the story lies: the media is distracting these men, and the public, even beyond what is appropriate.

The American public has not complained about this grave misdirection in the American media. They have been bullied for so long into thinking that what the TV says "America thinks" is what they thing, that what the TV provides is gospel, and that what the newspaper headlines say are the most important issues of the day, that they have given up. Mass disillusionment with the media has occurred; more Americans may "get their news from ABC News than from any other source," but they certainly don't think much of what they get from anyone.

The media has made a circus of the ethical shortfalls of our leaders; they have begun to condemn and beleaguer our leading politicians before any wrongdoing has been proven. This is an ethical violation on the part of the media, and the media should answer for it. Once, newspapers had to provide quality because there was a choice: newspapers had competitors in their home towns. Now, newspapers are giants, and have little or no competition in their hometowns or anywhere else. Quality is no longer the issue; it is quantity of news, the fact that a newspaper can be filled with text on some topic or other, which sells papers.

We blindly hope that someday real news will appear before our eyes on the pages of our favorite papers. We will not see that happen until we demand quality from our journalists, editors, and publishers, action from newspaper advertisers who agree with us, and intelligence on the part of the public.