The Clinton Sex Scandal Rare is a person that crosses the path of the White House without some emotion of envy or awe. This building epitomizes world leadership and unprecedented power. This renowned leadership may be the only association made by certain countries, while in the United States many see an other significance: Watergate, Whitewater, Kennedy’s brutal and mysterious assassination, and today, Clinton’s “zippergate” scandal. When the President of the United States takes oath, he gives up a part of his life. His private life becomes the public’s life, and they feel the right to know what happens behind the Oval Office.
Now the Presidency must battle against Newspaper journalists, radio personalities, televised news reports and now, even more menacing: the Internet. Presidents who are constantly reminded of their power and prestigious rank, become exasperated because they cannot control the news media, even though they can to a large degree set the news agenda. Media has expanded in its presence, becoming widespread on the Internet, perhaps monopolizing the domain, by becoming more powerful and more used than written, televised or radio journalism. The Presidents’ inability to control the press exposes their vulnerability and tends to question the actual power they can actually exert. All presidents, at some time or another, became frustrated at what they perceived as unfair treatment by the press, even while acknowledging its vital function in a free society, and many presidents have been a part of a scandal.
The current Presidential scandal with Monica Lewinsky had swept the Nation overnight. It seems quite impossible to know just how it will all turn out, and unfair to even speculate, but the media certainly seems to think they possess that right. It is obvious that this story has changed the face of journalism, has put online media on the map in a major way, and has made life more difficult for newspapers forever. First, let’s take a look at how this story developed and how it acted on the Internet. David Noack of E in his article “Web’s Big Role in Sex Controversy” does a great job of detailing the twisting path this tale took from rumor to investigation to publication, and how the Internet played a key part. Noack points out in his article that the “Clinton/Lewinsky” scandal has drastically changed online media.
He writes: “A year ago, most newspapers and news magazines adhered to the hard rule that they would not stoop themselves by putting breaking news on their Web sites before it appeared in their print editions. But a rapidly-growing public demand for almost “instant” Web coverage of breaking national news stories has forced even the largest newspapers and magazines like the Washington Post and Newsweekto abandon the old rule.” “Out with the old, in with the new.” It is easy to think breaking stories online could dilute journalists’ on-paper presence; now many have realized that online media puts all journalists on equal footing with radio and TV. So who drove this change, pushing away the status quo? Matt Drudge, author of “The Drudge Report”. It is still the Internet’s gold rush period and everyone is running around trying to make a profit. The irony is that the person who best embodies what’s revolutionary about the Internet has made next to no money from it: Matt Drudge, 30, is the author of “The Drudge Report”, a bulletin of entertainment gossip, political rumor and witty meta-news. His web page ( http://www.drudgereport.com) is austere; it consists of a headline, links to news sources and some black and white clip art.
Apparently he is really quite well informed, he reads 18 newspapers a day and he admires politics enough to go after both sides of the story when the time comes. Drudge’s contact list has been expanding far quicker than his bank account he now has a huge following, with a mailing list of over 85,000 people. This web journalist has such an impact on the Internet that last week he managed to cause consternation in the White House and this was not the first time. He flagged a story Newsweek had been sitting on for six months: that President Clinton may have propositioned a White House worker named Kathleen Willey on federal property. I found an article on the Internet that seemed to sum up exactly what people’s opinion on Drudge is, very mixed: “The best thing about the Internet is Matt Drudge. He knows how to use the online medium. He prizes speed, being first, and he connects strongly with an audience that wants personality and gossip.
The worst thing about the Internet is Matt Drudge. He caters to the lowest common denominator. He gets stories wrong. He makes traditional journalists very uncomfortable. We don’t want him to represent us. But do we have a choice?” What made Drudge tick and become such a Net phenomenon? He started poking his nose where others feared to treadthe White House.
He broke the Kathleen Willey story: she was the reluctant witness for the Paula Jones defense teama White House employee who was “comforted” by the president when she feared her husband might be in trouble. And Drudge certainly got the attention of the White House with his story. It obviously doesn’t seem right to condone irresponsible reporting, but it should be pointed out that Drudge is not a journalistand never claimed to be. Drudge is an Information Age pioneer in a much uncharted territory. He doesn’t live by the same standards as the press. Newspaper companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollarsperhaps billionsresearching ways of effectively distributing their information on the Internet, since it is the way of the future.
It has its benefits: it is an easy and instant way to compare and contrast news accounts from all over the United States. That discovery is scaring the establishment press as much as Drudge’s critical reports have scared the truth police at the White House. The Washington Post, CNN and other big news organizations have resorted to lawsuits to try to prevent the kinds of news links provided by Drudge and WorldNetDaily. Their excuse being that they did not want ordinary consumers to be able to compare their news accounts to those of other news organizations. The White House, which was so often in alliance with the establishment press, is now trying to make Drudge disappear and they will not be satisfied with any other result.
The lawsuits are not about money or apologies, but about extinction for alternative voices. If Drudge is silenced by the White House goon squad, the media world will definitely become a little less interesting and a little less free in the news realm. Steve Silberman, a writer for Wired magazine, had a grudging praise for Matt Drudge with his role in the Clinton/Lewinsky story in one of his columns: “It’s a Drudge World After All”: “In Drudge’s world, which is our world now, the act of uncovering what was formerly hidden – of getting the skinny, routing around bureaucratic firewalls, defying the spin-doctors to tap the loose-lipped confidant is paramount. Second to the act of uncovering the dirt is the enthusiasm to spread it around. Garbage in, garbage out – and as quickly as possible.
The velocity is largely the point.” So how does it make traditional journalists feel? Uneasy? Tainted? The Clintn/Lewinsky scandal is that kind of story; nasty and dirty. But more than that perhaps, they are acting recklessly, and people like Drudge, operating in the high-speed, high-competition world of the Web, aren’t pushing us that way. For instance, Jan. 23, just a couple of days into the Clinton/Lewinsky crisis, when it was still just two people who both said nothing happened, television and radio commentators were already using words like “resign” and “impeach.” Which, to me seems like a quick rush to judgment. Pack journalism and media frenzies aren’t new phenomenons, but the Internet has changed the character of the pact.
Eleanor Randolph and Jane Hall of the Los Angeles Times make some interesting points about this in their article: “Media Coverage Turns Into a Full Press.” They write: “When you commit wall-to-wall coverage of a sensational story in which little is known, you’re inevitably going to wind up in a swamp of sleaze,” one network executive said, adding that television ends up “repeating half-truths and innuendoes because you’ve got air time to fill and people who come on have agendas.” Maybe all this is true, maybe it is false and it is going more than a little patience to change something, because it is everywhere. You’ll have no trouble finding news about this latest mess in the White House but rather have trouble avoiding it. Despite the fact that it is a top story for all newspapers and television programs, a lot of the reporting is redundant, and the major papers are surprisingly slow to update. The Internet media shares the same issues that the written or televised press have: censorship and morality. It does not seem logical for the media to feel they have the right to publish the President’s personal letters, such as the ones from Kathleen Willey: Dear Mr.
President You have been on my mind so often this week There are so very many people who believe in you and what you are trying to do for our country Take heart in knowing that your number one fan thanks you every day for your help in saving her wonderful state. With appreciation Kathleen yet cannot write “f****ing” in complete letters in the transcripts of the Monica Lewinski-Linda Tripp tapes: Lewinsky: Well, it doesn’t have to be a f—ing conflict. Tripp: What do you mean? How? Tell me how? [What am I] supposed to say if they say, “Has Monica Lewinsky ever said to you that she is in love with the president or is having a physical relationship with the president?” If I say no, that is f—ing perjury. That’s the bottom line. I will do everything I can not to be in that position.
That’s what I’m trying to do.. I think you really believe that this is very easy, and I should just say fk it. They can’t prove it. In what way does it concern the American people whether or not Kathleen Willey is “proud of the President’s performance?” (No pun intended) and I’m sure we can deal with the use of a four letter word if we can deal with the fact that President Clinton had oral sex with his 21 year old intern. The Clinton-Lewinsky story may have set off an unprecedented media blitz, but the American Presidency is no stranger to scandal. Throughout history, residents of the Oval Office have been known to participate in “improper relationships” with unsavory political associates or women who were certainly not their wives.
If White House walls could talk, here are some of the tales they might tell: As early as between 1913-1921, the President, Woodrow Wilson, had a nickname “The Merry Widower”. He was the son of a straight-laced Calvinist minister, Wilson was depicted by Sigmund Freud as someone who identified himself with Jesus Christ. In fact, Wilson’s reputation as a devoted husband and father was squeaky clean until his wife’s death two years into his first presidential term. After a deep (but brief) period of mourning, Wilson began to enjoy the frequent company of Edith Bolling Galt, the widow of a prominent businessman. Public opinion swung wildly against Wilson: Rumors flew that the nation’s 28th president and his paramour had conspired to poison Wilson’s wife.
Eventually the couple wed and public opinion swung again, this time wildly in favor of President Wilson’s new wife and marriage. When a stroke left Wilson partly paralyzed in 1919, Edith took over many of his routine duties as part of her self-described “stewardship” of the presidency. She died on Dec. 28, 1961, the 105th anniversary of Wilson’s birth. More currently, there was the John F. Kennedy scandal, his presidency which extended from 1961-1963 was peppered with his reputation of being a womanizer. The list had many famous names like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Angie Dickinson, stripper Blaze Starr and Judith Campbell Exner, lover of reputed Mafia boss Sam Giancana.
“They are only a few of the better-known paramours with whom JFK has been linked,” University of Virginia government professor Larry Sabato writes in his book “Feeding Frenzy,” “not to mention a healthy dose of anonymous airline stewardesses, secretaries and aides. By many credible accounts, John F. Kennedy was not King Arthur but Sir Lancelot in the Camelot of his presidency.” There were also other presidential scandals that weren’t sexually related, such as Richard Mulhouse Nixon, who was in office between 1969 and 1974. When five intruders were caught inside Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate hotel on June 17, 1972, American history changed forever. An investigation into the break-in revealed a web of political spying and sabotage and unraveled the Nixon presidency itself. The illegal activities and cover-up attempts resulted in the indictments of some 40 government officials and the resignation of the 37th president of the United States.
In the 1980s, Nixon regained some stature in the field of international affairs. But the release in 1997 of more than 200 hours of tapes made in the Nixon White House threw yet another shadow over his complex presidential legacy. And today in 1998, we have a full blown “modern scandal” of our own. But a fundamental change separates modern-day presidential scandals from those in the past: publicity. Except for Cleveland’s paternity case and recent allegations against Bill Clinton, presidential love scandals have “always come out after the fact,” says James W.
Davis, author of “The American Presidency.” “Tongue-wagging” was kept to a minimum in the pre-Watergate era, he says. “The press in those days honored the privacy of the White House. It was a different era.” American attitudes toward presidential scandal may have arrived at yet another level i …