Last month, The New York Times ran a long, front-page story on the Clintons' marriage, and all hell broke lose among Times readers.
On June 4, the paper's public editor, Byron Calame, devoted many pompous inches to defending the article, which, he said, had generated "the most uniformly negative and partisan reader reactions to a Times article during the past year." The tenor of these complaints was that the piece was tabloid journalism unworthy of the newspaper of record.
Calame, who like so many ombudsmen at the nation's cowed and shriveling newspapers normally spends his time placating conservatives, seemed shocked and rather offended by the reaction, which he implied came from Hillary "partisans." I'm sure some of it did.
But as a liberal Times reader who has no use for Mrs. Clinton--in my book, she's an untrustworthy hawk with few of her husband's gifts--I can tell him exactly where the rest of it came from.
By covering the Clintons' relationship, the Times summoned the shades of the second most disgusting era in modern American journalism--the most disgusting being the run-up to the war in Iraq--and rekindled the fury, disbelief and sorrow of those of us who watched then in horror, plus, I'm guessing, the shame and regret of other basically sane readers, who, avid at the time, have since had time to reflect on what happened to American governance in the last years of the last century. The story poured salt in an unhealed wound.
You always hear about how distrustful conservatives are of the major media. Their suspicion goes nowhere near as deep as the rage and disillusionment of liberals. We thought we could depend a bit on the Times, on Newsweek, on the liberal tradition in American journalism. (And why do most journalists lean left? Is it a vast conspiracy? No. It's for the same reason that most college professors do. Most journalists, like most professors, are a) smart, b) reasonably well-educated and c) not rich. You don't have to be ignorant and stupid to be poor or middle-class and Republican these days, but it helps.)
We lefties expected a little objectivity, some skepticism, a sense of responsibility from the major print news organizations. But when it came to the big Lewinsky ooh-la-la, and then, more significantly, to the White House's reckless ignition of two hopeless wars, even the Times ran with the pack. Big media, bored by peace and prosperity, spoiled and corrupted by the endless, salacious non-news that was the O.J. case (yes, that's my Rosebud), bowed to the ceaseless bullying of right-wingers and jumped in to help them stampede the public.
And look where we are today. Ain't it great?
Let's not talk about Iraq or Katrina--far-away things that don't really affect most of us. Let's pick an issue that does. How about health care?
Remember that Clinton plan for universal health care, where everybody would be insured? Remember how flawed and socialistic it was, and how the Republicans all hated it and how it died an ugly death and we all voted--someone must have voted--to let market forces drive the country's health-care system? Boy, is that paying off. Of course, like the rest of the economy, it's paying off best for stockholders and top management and for the politicians they own. William W. McGuire, chief executive officer of UnitedHealth Group, has accumulated a reported $1.6 billion in stock options. (Those copays really add up.) The revelation of his total compensation was barely reported. Isn't there a scandal here somewhere?
At the same time, the prevailing winds of an untrammeled for-profit health-care system are pushing more and more people to the emergency room--which is where every uninsured preschooler in the country ends up with every ear infection, because that's the only place his parents can afford to have him seen. And wouldn't you know it, in Arizona, there are even more uninsured toddlers and even fewer public services than in other places, and, as USA Today recently reported, we have the longest emergency room waits in the entire nation. (Yep, dead-last again. Don't tell me you missed this story, too.) The average emergency room stay in the U.S. was 222 minutes in 2005; in Arizona, it was 297 minutes, almost an hour longer than the next worst state, Maryland. Having spent the worst afternoon of my life two years ago in the emergency waiting area of Tucson Medical Center while my terminally ill brother sat for four hours in agonizing pain--a bony tumor was pressing on his spinal cord--I'm a little obsessed with emergency-room wait times and how they relate to fact that the American health-care system runs on the same principles as an oil company. I can get very upset about it all very fast.
At least I have the comfort of knowing that my president is chaste. That means so much.