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What really matters?
By Paul M. Weyrich
A wise observer once said that an impending hanging focuses the mind. Well, having been told by my doctor that I had been near death when I entered the hospital in Virginia had the same effect. However, after serious surgery I was sick enough that for about three weeks I paid no attention to what was going on. I was not "on line". I had television but I didn't watch it. I had a portable radio but I didn't turn it on. Gradually, I began to feel better and I resumed watching the morning and evening news. I tuned to Rush Limbaugh on radio early in the afternoon. Then I resumed reading the Washington papers and finally I am computer connected once again.
But guess what? It is as if I missed nothing during my three weeks of media absentia. The Chandra Levy disappearance and the Congressman Condit connection was the top story on June 29th when I checked into the emergency room at Fair Oaks hospital. And it is now the top story as I am now finished with a near month long stay at Fairfax Hospital and have entered the rehab phase at the Fairfax Nursing Center which is where I finally got computer connected once again.
I had to search carefully to find out that the latest missile test by the Pentagon was successful and that President Bush seems to have won an agreement from Russian President Vladimir Putin to move ahead with the missile shield program, perhaps with Russia's co-operation.
There were many other important developments as well but you would never know it by television or radio coverage. The newspapers, to their credit, have covered other issues, but for the broadcast media it is all Chandra all the time. Even Rush Limbaugh, who has been highly critical of the media obsession with the Levy/Condit connection, has ended up spending a good deal of his daily airtime talking about that topic as well.
For the Levy family, it is understandable that they would want to keep this story front and center for as long as they can. There are 100,000 missing persons in the United States every year and most of them get little or no media attention. For the media, summer is a slow time without a lot going on. Sex sells. They learned that when their ratings climbed dramatically during the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair. So I suppose it makes sense for them to cover every development, no matter how insignificant.
But what does that say about us as a people that we would contribute to these ratings? Why do we get wrapped up in this on going soap opera? What compels us to want to know every detail of Congressman's Condit's serial adultery.
With all of the critical issues going on in the country, it is sad that this story is what is occupying the public mind. When it became known among the medical staff at Fairfax Hospital that I am politically connected, I got no questions about President Bush's tenure in office. Or the importance of the Tom Daschle now being the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate. Or the possibility of an alliance with Russia, which for the majority of the lifetimes of the people involved, was our implacable enemy. Or the significance of Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Mainland China. I could go on and on but you get the picture. Not one question out of any of these folks about any of these matters.
What questions did I get? Did I know Congressman Condit? Did I think his career is at an end? Why did I think he could get by with all these affairs? Did I think he was guilty in the disappearance of Chandra Levy? Those questions I got over and over again from virtually everyone I came in contact with. Chances were great that they didn't know the name of their own Congressman, but they sure did know that name of the Democratic Congressman from Modesto. Thanks to Limbaugh, I asked them if they knew which party he belonged to. Only one could identify Condit as a Democrat. The rest were sure he was a Republican.
It is a wonder that this Republic survives when the people pay scant attention to things that matter but get all wrapped up in the relatively inconsequential. I said a couple of years ago that we had lost the culture war and cited the Senate's refusal to convict Bill Clinton as evidence. Not that we need further evidence, but the fact that Congressman Condit's people insist he will run again in 2002 and the polls suggest, that despite misgivings about his conduct, he would have a good chance of being re-elected tells you all you need to know about the state of morality in these United States.
Paul M. Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.
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