The Changing Faces of Media: Red Chinese Espionage and Shootings in Schools Have Filled the Void Left after Monicagate, Posing New Challenges Not Only to Traditional Journalists but to Online Media as Well. (Nation: Commentary)

By Rust, Michael; Lehrer, Eli | Insight on the News, June 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Changing Faces of Media: Red Chinese Espionage and Shootings in Schools Have Filled the Void Left after Monicagate, Posing New Challenges Not Only to Traditional Journalists but to Online Media as Well. (Nation: Commentary)


Rust, Michael, Lehrer, Eli, Insight on the News


Monica is gone and we don't even miss her. More than a year of media saturation of the sex and lies scandal involving President Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky ended with a whimper earlier this year with the Senate acquittal of the president. But there is media life after Lewinsky, as bombs over Belgrade, the seeming transformation of schools into shooting galleries for troubled youth and the revelations of espionage on a grand scale within the U.S. weapons establishment easily have picked up the slack for print and electronic punditry.

It's possible that carnage at home and abroad is harder to deal with than the pundit-ready questions posed by Oval Office hijinks. "Doing commentary on the war [in Kosovo] is much harder than commentary on Lewinsky," Larry Pryor, editor of Online Journalism Review at the University of Southern California, tells Insight. "It's very hard to be a trenchant commentator on something as complicated and nuanced as the war."

In an ironic coda to the Clinton scandals, many of the publications that led the charge against the president, such as the American Spectator and the Weekly Standard, emerged from the year of Monica with sagging circulation numbers. The American Spectator, or TAS, one of the most vehement critics of the Clintons, has experienced a falloff from a midnineties high of 300,000 to 155,000. The Weekly Standard, edited and published by GOP media celebrity Bill Kristol, is said to have stayed at a relatively steady 55,000, although that remains far below the 100,000 which had been projected at the magazine's 1995 launch. [Insight, which covered the Lewinsky story but put its primary emphasis on China and a series of other investigative reports and related news, saw its circulation rise, with renewal rates reaching an all-time high.]

On the left, the Clinton presidency continues to divide those who despise the president and those who grimly cling to the administration as the best of generally bad alternatives. The Nation, the weekly barometer of left-liberal opinion, long has been the site of a simmering cold war between commentators who oppose Clinton and the magazine's more accommodationist management. Recently, Nation columnist Christopher Hitchens found himself under attack in an unsigned editorial that criticized him for cooperating with House investigators during the Clinton impeachment crisis.

Hitchens tells Insight many regular contributors expressed support to him, in contrast to the editors; the attack, he believes, was indicative of a larger missed opportunity. "The chance to be head of the anti-Clinton forces -- which [The Nation] did have at one point -- having been missed, a whole generation has perhaps been lost to the idea that The Nation is the voice of dissent," says Hitchens. "And that is a tragedy, and I thought so from the beginning."

But the fallout from L'Affaire Lewinsky and the twilight of the Clinton presidency may be most keenly felt at the Spectator. While the Clinton legacy probably will weigh more heavily on, say, the first lady and the vice president, the 32-year-old conservative monthly nonetheless seems to be experiencing postimpeachment depression. Under the leadership of founder and editor R. Emmett Tyrrell -- author of the best-selling Boy Clinton and The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton -- TAS became a consistent voice of opposition to the Clintons. However, in addition to the circulation drop, the magazine's annual budget has fallen from $9 million to less than $6 million. Press reports have claimed that it lacks the money for a major direct-mail campaign to recoup the loss.

This is, in part, a result of the "Arkansas Project," during which TAS reportedly spent $2.3 million in an effort to uncover nefarious information about the Clintons in their home state. Money allegedly was funneled to private detectives and a former police officer, among others, in an effort to obtain information damaging to the first couple. …

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