Vast left-wing conspiracy?

The media couldn't keep up with this scandal-maker if they wanted to

Issue: "Beyond bread and circuses," Aug. 15, 1998

Everywhere I go, people beg me to confirm their fears that a vast conspiracy is at work in the American media to cover up the Clinton scandals. Never mind that this president seems capable of producing new scandals so fast, and on a scale so big, that no conspiracy by anyone anywhere could possibly cover them up. People still insist that the media haven't done their job in exposing Mr. Clinton.

Let me suggest here three reasonable explanations for why the media probably haven't been as aggressive as they might have been in going after the current administration. But let me also suggest three specific reasons why you might also legitimately argue the media folks have done their job.

Three reasons the media might not have been as aggressive as if "everything had been equal":

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(1) Most of them are liberal Democrats. This isn't just a conservative gripe. It's a fact. Poll after poll (check out the studies of media expert Robert Lichter) indicates beyond any doubt that the nation's media are staffed overwhelmingly by liberal, secular, politically correct humanists. Yet to claim a conspiracy is to miss the point. After all, like begets like. For a whole generation, the same liberal, secular, politically correct humanistic outlook has also dominated the nation's newspapers, magazines, television, movies, music, entertainment, and classrooms at every level. If those entities have any influence at all-and they do-why shouldn't they have affected a big majority of those who listen?

(2) These media people tend, for all the above reasons, sincerely to share the president's moral outlook. Their natural impulses tend to be largely the same as his, and they quite genuinely do not see his behavior as an aberration. Multiple marriages and multiple partners are common. They really don't see a story here. So there's also no need from their point of view to concoct a conspiracy; their response quite genuinely is, "So what?"

(3) They gave up on the story. Rightly or wrongly, they reasoned that if there were a final shoe to drop, it should already have dropped. If there were a smoking gun, it should already have been discovered. Mr. Clinton's enemies had six years, this argument went, and if they weren't able to produce convincing evidence, maybe that evidence just wasn't there. Granted, such reasoning doesn't paint these media folks as the hard-driving, relentless professionals they ought to be-but there is some sense to it. If a guy's opponents can't nail the lid on his coffin, why should his friends be expected to do so?

But three reasons these very same people might be expected to go aggressively after the story:

(1) Sex sells. No matter what else they think, journalists know this has always been the case. Even folks who are biblically illiterate tend to know the story of David and Bathsheba. So even if these media people have a tendency personally to ignore the story, professionally they know it has strong reader appeal.

(2) Professional journalistic pride. Every reporter worth his or her salt wants to be the first to tell the real story. So whatever temptation there is to walk away from the Clinton scandals, there's a tug at least almost as strong in the other direction calling those same reporters back. There's not one among them who wouldn't like to become the new Woodward or Bernstein. If a new movie starring a couple of previously unknown journalists is to come along (how about All the President's Women?), that's not all bad either.

(3) The "daughter factor." Whatever else all these people say about how a leader's private morals don't affect his public life, deep down most of them know better. Most of them have children of their own; some of them have teenage daughters. And however this president's treatment of other people's daughters might be rationalized and theoretically dismissed, most people still don't want their own daughters treated that way. It's a truism around Washington that nothing turns a young liberal into a middle-aged conservative faster than raising a family. It happens even to jaded journalists.

So no, I don't think there's a conspiracy afoot. What you've got instead is a not-too-flattering, not-too-surprising, and fairly explainable picture of a group of people living predictably according to the forces that have shaped them. That formula, of course, rarely leads to greatness. But was anybody really expecting greatness out of the current crop of American journalists? It's the general incompetence of the group that is probably the final and most convincing argument against the possibility of a conspiracy. They probably couldn't manage one if they wanted to.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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