OUR FEARLESS PRESS
Mar 15, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 25 • By DAVID FRUM
As for the underlying behavior, here too press standards seem to have evolved in a surprising new direction. Eight years ago, the press gaped and gasped like Victorian maiden aunts in horror that a Supreme Court judge might have used the word "breast" in office conversation. Now the press shrugs off the very considerable likelihood that the president of the United States is a rapist. No less an authority than the National Organization for Women's Patricia Ireland is urging the press to "stop wasting time on unprovable charges." White House sources tell reporters on deep background that, yes, the sex occurred, but Broaddrick really wanted it.
"Watching Clinton walk away from this one is especially frustrating, but what can be done?" asked Newsweek's Jonathan Alter. Well, here's an out-of-left-field suggestion: Why don't we try to discover the truth? Bill Clinton refuses to say where he was on the morning of April 25, 1978. It's not beyond the resources of Alter's colleagues to sleuth out his whereabouts that day. Rosenstiel and Kovach and our other high-minded press critics worry that the press has become dangerously overeager. Of course damaging allegations against a president should not be carelessly publicized. But when a woman with no obvious motive to lie testifies under oath that the president sexually assaulted her, when her story is an internally plausible account and conforms to the known facts, when she can name corroborating witnesses . . . well, what we have here is called news. And as Mark Steyn has quipped, anybody whose curiosity is not piqued by this sort of news ought not to be a journalist at all.
Journalists say they're tired. If so, they should take a vacation or retire. They say they dislike this kind of story. But it's not really up to them to decide which stories they like and which they don't. They say the American people don't care. But wouldn't that be a more meaningful statement after the story was covered rather than before? They insinuate that they are too high-minded to put this story into circulation. And as for that -- let them tell it to Clarence Thomas.
David Frum is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.