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Z Staff


Somewhere in the tawdry mire of the “Clinton Crisis” there are interesting issues commentators could address. For example, what is the proper role of a Grand Jury and have Grand Juries become tools for prosecution and persecution for political or material gain, rather than tools for protecting and enlarging people’s rights and opportunities? What does it mean when we allow cases to be made against folks based on intimidating and bribing witnesses? Does lying in response to a question about private matters that had no right being asked in the first place even constitute a minor sin, much less a major crime against humanity? You have to wonder, if Hilary and Chelsea stand by their man and if all the interactions were consensual, why is the detailed nature of Clinton’s sexual proclivities or assignations anyone else’s business? Moving on, regardless of whether Clinton’s instances of perjury are reason for impeachment or not, commentators could sensibly discuss whether Clinton’s policies regarding bombing other countries, destroying our best chance for National Health Care, decimating the welfare system, reducing rights of the disabled, enabling NAFTA, promoting MAI, and trying to destroy social security are good reasons for impeachment. Of course, such discussions would put substantive issues rather than trivia on the table for democratic debate.

But, there is another element of this mess that is interesting, too: the media’s role. And we don’t mean the fact that they are rapid lapdogs, changing masters at the flip of a condom, in pursuit of more profits and stature, by the only acceptable route: detailed, thorough, tasteless reporting of inconsequential, mind numbing non-events. Rather, we mean the power of publicity.

Why is publicity so powerful? Why, for example, against what polls show people’s actual interests to be, do people tune in so universally? We don’t think it is always, or even often, because publicity conveys previously unknown information. Take this case. Is there anyone anywhere who wouldn’t have said, “Oh sure, what else?” had the documents been entirely private, and had they met the person who Xeroxed them and been told the contents in a bar, say? After all, what do the documents convey—that Clinton had an affair, that he lied about it, that he lied again, that the affair involved gifts and sex, and so on. Yes? Anyone home? Is there some revelation in that? Once you get past the affair, where is the surprise? On the one hand, the idea of the president risking all for an affair seems stupid and irresponsible. On the other hand, given the probability of powerful men with egos that weigh more than Olympus having affairs, what did the publicity tell us that we didn’t already know? Nothing. So what is publicity’s power? Publicity on a grand enough scale organizes, legitimates, and coordinates. Publicity promotes and facilitates people's intercommunication. What is unsaid or said randomly has little impact, regardless of its actual importance. But with enough publicity, even trivia can generate in people a symphony of shared reaction with the potential emergence of a shared agenda.

This is media’s power: Not so much revelation—though that can certainly be a part of it when there are real secrets and insights to be conveyed. But, more often, coordination, getting folks onto the same topic and aware of one another’s interest in it and in tune enough to have a shared agenda, is publicity’s true power. Surely this is why the left needs its own mass media