January 30, 1998

The Press

You cannot hope to bribe or twist,

Thank God, the British journalist.

But, seeing what the man will do

Unbribed, there's no occasion to.

Humbert Wolfe

Shortly after my 1974 book The Topic of Cancer was published, I received a phone call from a reporter for the National Enquirer in which he asked for an interview. I met him at his hotel, where we sat down, he turned on his tape recorder, and we talked. After about a half hour, he turned off his recorder and asked me, "Do you know what kind of paper the National Enquirer is?" I told him that I had never seen the paper. He went on to explain that the Enquirer dealt in the spectacular and most of its stories were pure baloney. He then suggested that I really didn't want my book even mentioned in that rag. He suggested that we forget it and we shook hands and parted company.

I now realize how unusual that encounter was. It was the equivalent of a prostitute saying to a young man, "If you do this, you might get a terrible disease; here is your money back; I don't want it."

That there are people who are engaged in some very sleazy occupations who, nevertheless, have buried deep in their mind, a conscience that tells them the difference between right and wrong, honesty and dishonesty. It is not too common, but it does exist. That is what I saw happen this past week with some members of the press. This, despite the fact that, collectively, the members of the press are behaving like a pack of sharks at a feeding frenzy.

Peter Jennings of ABC was clearly embarrassed at the attention being paid to the Clinton sex scandal. Here is a man who is used to reporting the news, cruddy as it may be, who is troubled at having to report something that would be routine in the National Enquirer. But he reported on the Clinton sex scandal, and in as much or more detail than was reported on the other networks. And he continues to do so.

Daniel Shorr of public radio, took less than thirty seconds on the issue, prefacing it with a remark that he didn't consider it as something worth reporting, but that he felt obligated to say something. He pointed out that having sex with a 21 year old woman was not illegal; something that most other reporters have neglected to mention.

I think that the few honest members of the press are more embarrassed by this Clinton business than they were with the Rodney King beating trial, or the O.J. Simpson trial. They were more embarrassed than they were when a reporter faked a story for the Washington Post. The story won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, that was rescinded when they found out that it was faked.

I think that the behavior of the press in this affair, particularly the TV reporters, is disgraceful. It shows them up as panderers who have no more ethics than the reporters for the National Enquirer have, and that they will do anything for money. Even if what they reported was true, and they were sure that it was true, it is still sleazy.

Special Persecutor(sic) Kenneth Starr, although not a journalist, is a headline hunting schmuck who was hired to investigate a land deal in Arkansas. How he got into the pornography business is something that I don't understand.

My take on the Clinton sex scandal is simple: If his wife is not concerned about her husbands sexual activities and she doesn't seem to be, I see no reason why anyone else should be concerned. I am old fashioned enough to believe that someone's sex life is nobody's business but his own, unless it involves criminal behavior. As for the press, they have dishonored their profession; if that is possible.

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