Washington -- The New York Times' sudden revelation that for many months it has endured the presence of a plagiarist and a fabulist on its staff will now inaugurate a long and tedious period of soul searching in the media. I say tedious because the spectacle is so patently artificial. The standards of truth in American media are so very plastic.
Just five years ago one Stephen Glass was exposed for having fabricated dozens of stories that he had published in the New Republic as factual. He was fired, but he has been rewarded with the cheap celebrity that the media hold out to rogues. A movie of his life has been produced. It will appear this fall. After the scandal at the New Republic he proceeded to law school and has written a novel. The country is filled with novelists much more gifted than Glass who will never see their novels published, but Glass's has just come out, and it has the media abuzz. "60 Minutes" gave him a nice interview.
One wonders when the media culture will transform the Times' plagiarist into a celebrity complete with movies about his life and a publishing contract -- and let's send him to the Harvard Law School. The underlying fact of today's media culture is that standards of truth hardly exist. Or better I should say that the standards of truth have all sorts of dispensations for special cases. Deceiving the public often carries with it no penalty whatsoever, not even much criticism.
The next publishing event of the hour, after the arrival of Glass's novel, is the publication of Sidney Blumenthal's 800-page White House insider's account, The Clinton Wars. Blumenthal is the former journalist who joined the Clinton Administration to assist it in overcoming the Clinton scandals. In doing so he lied to the press, planted false stories in the press, and tried to suppress stories unfavorable to his boss in the press.
He is by almost any definition a scoundrel. After testifying during the Starr investigation in closed session before a grand jury, he stepped before the media's cameras and microphones to tell the world that Kenneth Starr's prosecutors had asked him questions of a shocking and inappropriate nature. Subsequently published transcripts showed he had lied. The prosecutors had asked him none of the shocking questions he claimed. He then deceived New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis into writing that prosecutors had actually asked Blumenthal such embarrassing questions as "Does the President's religion include sexual intercourse?" Four months later the grand jury transcripts were made public and showed that Lewis had published lies.
Next on the list of Blumenthal's First Amendment atrocities he sued Matt Drudge for erroneously claiming in the Drudge Report that Blumenthal was a wife beater. Drudge had already apologized, but Blumenthal proceeded with his suit anyway. It was "a part," Michael Ledeen explained in a brilliant explication of Blumenthal's thuggery, "of the Clinton campaign to intimidate administration critics by any and all means. It goes under the name of politics of personal destruction."
Now Blumenthal's book, you can be sure, will be full of lies and related deceptions. I have read some of it on the Web and can tell you that it reads like the kind of thing Baghdad Bob might write. Baghdad Bob had to cover for the misbehavior of his boss Saddam Hussein, and Blumenthal has to cover for the Clintons, but one might wonder why?
The Clintons are recognized liars. Most of the Clinton scandals Bill Clinton brought on himself. He committed the misbehavior and then he lied about it. No one made him lie before grand juries. But then no one made Blumenthal lie in public about his grand jury appearances. Lying is a way of life with these people. Lying was a way of life with Glass and the plagiarist at the New York Times. There appears not to be much shame attached to lying in the Great Republic. It is a minor transgression, on the order of bearing false witness against one's neighbor -- another of Blumenthal's transgressions.
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