How Much Has Changed?

Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac struck quite the chord with me today about the state of our mainstream media. I’ll post the segment in its entirety, but the last paragraph hits home, especially in light of the weapons of mass distraction pervading much of the MSM today.

On this day in 1998, Maureen Dowd (books by this author) published her column that went on to win the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary. It began:

“The President must not lose his job. Not over this.

“Certainly, Bill Clinton should be deeply ashamed of himself. He has given a bad name to adultery and lying. He has made wickedness seem pathetic, and that’s truly a sin.
“Kenneth Starr, all these years and all these millions later, has not delivered impeachable offenses. He has delivered a 445-page Harold Robbins novel.

“If we are going to dump our President, it should be for something big and bold and black and original. Not for the most tired story every told.

“Middle-aged married man has affair with frisky and adoring young office girl. Man hints to girl he might be single again in three or four years. Man gets bored with girl and dumps her. Girl cries and rants and threatens, and tells eleven people what a creep he is.”

Maureen Dowd wrote this column eight months after the scandal first appeared in the media: the Drudge Report Web site foreshadowed it on January 17, and The Washington Post introduced it into the mainstream press a few days later, on January 21, 1998.

Clinton had been the defendant in a sexual harassment civil law suit brought by a former Arkansas state employee, Paula Jones, that was dismissed before it ever went to trial. During a deposition while the Jones lawsuit was active, Clinton was asked questions about sexual relationships he allegedly had with other young female government employees, including Monica Lewinsky; the plaintiff was hoping to argue that Bill Clinton had a pattern of this sort of behavior. While he was under oath, Clinton expressly denied “sexual relations” with Lewinsky. A judge ended up dismissing Paula Jones’ million-dollar lawsuit because even if Jones could prove that Clinton had done the very things she said, making sexual advances toward her, she couldn’t prove that there were any resulting damages that would have entitled her to money.

Monica Lewinsky was transferred from the White House to the Pentagon, where she confided to a co-worker about her relationship with Clinton. The co-worker, Linda Tripp, told a literary agent about it, and also began secretly recording the phone conversations she had with Lewinsky, in which Lewinsky discussed her sexual relationship with Clinton. But in public, Monica Lewinsky was denying the relationship, and as part of the Jones case, Lewinsky had signed a legal affidavit swearing that she did not have a physical relationship with Clinton. When Linda Tripp learned of Lewinsky’s affidavit, Tripp turned the tapes of her phone conversations with Lewinsky over to Kenneth Starr, who was investigating Clinton on real estate investments.

Starr threatened to prosecute Lewinsky for perjury and obstructing justice, based on the affidavit she’d signed, and then offered her an immunity deal if she would testify before the grand jury about her sexual relationship with Clinton. She agreed, and she also turned over the infamous stained blue dress to Kenneth Starr, which contained Clinton’s DNA, and which she had not dry-cleaned for all those months at the insistence of Linda Tripp.

Clinton testified in August from the Map Room of the White House. His testimony was broadcast to a federal circuit court and then released to the media. In December, the United States House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, issued Articles of Impeachment for the offenses of obstructing justice and perjury. The impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate started on January 7, 1999, and lasted for 21 days. The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Clinton on both counts and refused to issue any formal censure. So Clinton remained president.

In the months that the Lewinsky scandal was dominating the press, the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed, killing 224 people and injuring more than 4,500, and soon linked to Osama Bin Laden. During this same time period of the Lewinsky scandal, Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela, and Iraq announced that it would shoot down any U.S. or British planes patrolling the country’s no-fly zones, the Euro was established, and the Chinese government announced that it was restricting Internet usage.

The Internet is certainly a more ubiquitous and readily available source of news than it was back then, thanks to broadband, WiFi, cell phone browsers, and the like. Fortunately there are news outlets that focus on more “real” news than what was being substituted for news back then.

For example, two recent investigative series in two of the nation’s leading newspapers showed what newspapers are still capable of, and how they can create the future of the medium.

Both series leverage the Internet in unique and comprehensive ways to provide interactive content that creates additional understanding and impact for the reporting. These are:

Fatal Flights: A Perilous Rush to Profit
, a Washington Post series about the impact of competition on medical helicopter safety, published the weekend of August 22 and 23.
A lot has changed since I handled my first EMS Helicopter mission over 20 years ago, but a lot has stayed the same; hopefully there will be some more common sense changes coming.

Toxic Waters, a continuing series in the New York Times. The latest in the series, published today, detailed the thousands of violations of the federal Clean Water Act that have been reported, but not investigated, enforced, or mitigated by enforcement agencies such as the EPA.

This story is of particular interest to many on the Western Slope of Colorado, due to the exemptions from the Clean Water Act currently enjoyed by the energy industry as it pertains to the use if hydraulic fracturing fluids. This makes the FRAC Act even more important for consideration and adoption by Congress, and the signature of President Obama.

Good night.

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