Diane Sawyer's Situational Ethics
by L. Brent Bozell III
December 3, 1998
Diane Sawyer's recent "20/20" interview with
Kenneth Starr proves with a vengeance that the media culture's take on
Monicagate has become positively Orwellian: Good is Evil.
Space doesn't allow a recital of all the objectionable
Carvillesque attacks Sawyer proudly launched on this soft-spoken officer of
the law. So let's just explore the themes.
1. Repression. Sawyer suggested Starr was disqualified for
the Monicagate probe because of his personal opposition to adultery. The
segment began: "Tonight, an exclusive interview with independent counsel
Kenneth Starr, a man accused of trying to impose his personal beliefs on
everyone else." Flip to Sawyer asking Starr: " So to the people who
say you're a prude, you're a puritan, you're the sex police, you say
what?" Sawyer continued: "The man who has held a country captive
finally speaks...When is this going to be over?"
All this, in the first few seconds. Ugh. Surely Sawyer knows
better than this. She knows Mr. Starr is "imposing" nothing
of the sort. He is following the law, which says that perjury is an offense
against the judicial process. She knows Mr. Starr is not
"holding a country captive," and that Bill Clinton has dragged the
investigation for months, constantly delaying Starr's probe with cheesy claims
of Secret Service and government attorney-client privilege. She knows these
things. And yet, now Mr. Starr, just like that, is the man
Sawyer pointed out what she felt was Starr's uptight
religious upbringing: "What was the most rebellious thing you did?"
Starr replied: "I'd have to stop and think. I was not rebellious. I
really was not. Sorry. I kind of played by the rules, and that's the way I
lived my life."
A pretty fair answer, don't you think? But watch how Sawyer
turned that qualifier into an immediate disqualifier: "So what happens
when this man becomes independent counsel and begins investigating a President
charged with covering up, lying under oath about a sexual relationship?"
She asked Starr: "Do you think in that sense, you were out of touch with
the political judgment of the American people, who say everyone was covering
up sex. There was gambling in the casino in Casablanca and you are the only
one who is shocked. We are not shocked."
Double ugh. Sawyer knows full well that it's not Starr's job
to be "in touch with the political judgment" of the people. It's
Starr's job to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by Clinton or his
intimates, period. To suggest otherwise is simple obfuscation with a generous
helping of sensationalism.
2. Pornography. Here's where Sawyer's logic completely
collapses upon itself. She suggested the American people are not shocked about
the President's wild life, but were shocked that Ken Starr included the
tabloid details of the President's encounters in his referral to Congress.
Sawyer complained: "I think there were 62 mentions of the word 'breast,'
23 of 'cigar,' 19 of 'semen.' This has been called demented pornography,
pornography for Puritans. Were there mistakes made in including some of
What is she talking about, "demented pornography for
Puritans"? I highly doubt Sawyer the religious scholar has ever studied
Puritan predilections for pornography. This feigned outrage is again designed
to obscure the facts: The President specifically - and repeatedly - has denied
a definition of sex which included contact with Monica Lewinsky's breasts or
genitals. To prove the perjury, Starr had to provide the intimate details. Yet
Starr is to blame for "mistakes made"?
3. Certainty. In Sawyerian theology, certainty is to be
feared, and ambiguity is the path to righteousness. She declared: "As you
know, you have been cast in the role of a moral crusader in an ambiguous
world, that you are self-righteous, sanctimonious, that you have moral
certainty into areas where other people have doubt and humanity. What do you
think about extramarital sex?" Later, when Starr defended the explicit
nature of his referral, Sawyer suggested: "It seems to me, listening to
you, that you have no doubt that what you did in the referral was the right
thing. You have no doubt that proceeding against the President in the way you
have proceeded is the right thing. There is something about certainty that
scares a lot of people."
In other words, good is evil. Insisting that a President
abide by something called the truth, and insisting that reality somehow
matters becomes a much greater offense than lying under oath to protect
yourself in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Sawyer's bluster is nothing but
politically convenient situational ethics.
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