I walked into work the other day to this challenge from my boss: "Name three good things that will come out of this." I knew just what she meant by "this"—the same thing everyone else was talking about.
"No. 1," I said quickly enough, "it will help us determine what 'too far' is."
That's all I could come with: That the only lesson we might learn from the "Whitewater" investigation is to discern when the news media has gone too far. Nothing about how we could better educate our children, better manage taxpayer dollars, or take better care of the environment. Just that we'll know we never again want to watch or hear the president of the United States say "oral sex."
As lessons go, this one doesn't rank with others we've learned recently: that the president shouldn't lie about wars we're fighting thousands of miles away. That it's bad for the president to carry out illegal, dirty tricks on his political opponents. And that we don't like it when the president's soldiers sell weapons to one enemy and use the proceeds to pay for an illegal war against another. Still, even with these weighty lessons it took so little time and energy to arrive at such a very obvious conclusion: Presidents shouldn't lie or break their own country's laws. Duh.
Ever seeking to lessen the demands on people's time and energy—especially when it comes to political issues—the media have made the Clinton-Lewinsky-Starr matter idiot- proof. They don't call it that, though. They call it "Clinterngate." Or "Investigating the President." Or "The Clinton Sex Scandal." Or "The White House Under Fire." They want to keep things as entertaining and challenge-free as possible. Otherwise, you wouldn't watch, listen, or read the news. You don't care about the true causes of Wall Street's problems. You're not interested in why real wages haven't risen since 1973. You don't want to know that the US sells more weapons each year than all other countries combined.
They're literally banking on the fact that you don't care about this stuff. They're making money off your apathy.
Maybe that's a second lesson: Media corporations profit from apathy and ignorance. The third lesson? Oh yeah—that presidents shouldn't get blow jobs from interns. Duh.
C.R. goes prime time
C.R. Douglas, this town's best and brightest television interviewer, has achieved what most public-access producers only dream about. After two years of shooting at TCI's tinker-toy studio in North Seattle, Douglas' Northwest Week has been picked up by PBS affiliate KBTC 28. Catch C.R.'s debut Monday, October 5, at 7pm, when he chats with Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen about Blethen's recent campaign against federal inheritance taxes—a campaign bolstered by ads he's running in his wealthy family's newspaper. Cable viewers can find KBTC on Channel 12. To reach C.R. and crew, call 206-323-8300. (Hey, program directors . . . how about running Jeff Pearson's Deface the Nation opposite the network talking-head shows on Sunday mornings?)
Spokane's KXLY TV has earned a "laurel" from Columbia Journalism Review for its excellent five-part series on the taxpayer-subsidized, Nordstrom-anchored shopping mall going up there. (Yep, they've got one, too.) Along the way, CJR delivered a backhanded "dart" to The Seattle Times: "The Times belatedly scrutinized a similar public-private partnership begun in 1995, now known as Nordygate.". . . CJR's September-October issue also features a great article, "Coming Distractions," about how media giants use "synergy" to cross-market their products, as when Disney-owned ABC gave timely plugs on World News Tonight for Disney-produced movies Armageddon, Good Will Hunting, and The Horse Whisperer. . . . Another CJR piece ("Does Big Mean Bad?") explores the growing problem of Disneyesque, horizontally integrated media corporations that are wringing out whatever creativity remains in the entertainment industry. Connect the dots yourself with CJR's "Who Owns What" resource guide at its Web site—www.cjr.org.
Good-guy producer Enrique Cerna of KCTS 9 takes a look at the Northwest salmon crisis with a half-hour special airing on Wednesday, October 7, at 9pm. Salmon . . . On the Brink repeats the following Sunday at 2am and 2pm. (King County and the city of Seattle backed the show, so taxpayers have an incentive to tune in.)