W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘1995’

Check out The 1995 blog

In Anniversaries, Year studies on July 2, 2014 at 6:00 am

Readers of Media Myth Alert are invited to visit the just-launched 1995 blog, which will be directing attention to the important moments of 1995, and helping to promote my forthcoming book about that decisive year.

1995bookcoverThe book is 1995: The Year the Future Began and will be published later this year by the University of California Press. (The book may be pre-ordered through Amazon.com, the retailing giant that began selling books online in July 1995, as well as Barnes & Noble)

The respective chapters of 1995 are:

  • “The Year of the Internet,” which considers the emergence of the Internet and World Wide Web into mainstream consciousness
  • “Terror in the heartland,” which discusses the Oklahoma City bombing and its consequences
  • “O.J., DNA, and the ‘Trial of the Century,” which takes up the sensational, months-long double-murder trial of O.J. Simpson
  • “Peace at Dayton and the ‘hubris bubble,’” which revisits the U.S.-brokered peace talks that ended the vicious war in Bosnia, and
  • “Clinton meets Lewinsky,” which addresses the origins and effects of the sex-and-lies scandal that led to the impeachment in 1998 of President Bill Clinton.

These events and moments were, as I write in 1995, “profound in their respective ways and, taken together, they define a watershed year at the cusp of the millennium. Nineteen ninety-five in many ways effectively marked the close of the one century, and the start of another.”

I also write about 1995:

“It is striking how a sense of the improbable often flavored the year and characterized its watershed moments. Oklahoma City was an utterly improbable setting for an attack of domestic terrorism of unprecedented dimension. Dayton, Ohio, was an improbable venue for weeks of multiparty negotiations that concluded by ending the faraway war in Bosnia. The private study and secluded hallway off the Oval Office at the White House were the improbable hiding places for Clinton’s dalliance” with a 22-year-old intern named Monica Lewinsky.

“The improbable,” I add, “was a constant of the year.”

1995 is my sixth book. I have also written Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism, an award-winning work that the University of California Press brought out in 2010.

I also have written The Year That Defined American Journalism: 1897 and the Clash of Paradigms (2006); The Spanish-American War: American Wars and the Media in Primary Documents (2005); Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies (2001), and The Emergent Independent Press in Benin and Cote d’Ivoire: From Voice of the State to Advocate of Democracy (1998).


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Feeling like 1995

In Media myths, Newspapers, Scandal, Washington Post, Watergate myth on October 3, 2013 at 12:27 pm

These days have evoked 1995 in more than a few respects.

The sale of the Washington Post closed Tuesday; the new owner is Jeff Bezos, who in July 1995 began selling books at Amazon.com, in near-total obscurity.

Amazon since then has made Bezos a multibillionaire and he has recently talked about leading the sometimes-arrogant Post to a new golden era, a vague reference to the Post’s mythologized reporting of the Watergate scandal 40 years ago.

The episode today in which a woman tried to rammed her car into a barricade near the White House, setting off a wild and deadly chase that ended near the Capitol, was faintly evocative of the night in May 1995 when an intruder scaled a fence near the White House, unloaded pistol in hand. “I’m here to see the president!” he shouted before being shot and wounded by a secret service agent.

Today also marks the 18th anniversary of the acquittal of O.J. Simpson in the slayings of his former wife and her friend. Simpson’s trial lasted more than nine months and its related controversies spread like a stain across 1995.

Crybaby Newt_1995NYDN

Recalling 1995: Newt and the shutdown (New York Daily News)

The strongest allusions to 1995 are of course to be found in the partial shutdown of the federal government — the first since the closures of November 14-19, 1995, and of December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996.

The shutdowns, then and now, are alike in their effects — government workers sent home, federal landmarks and national parks closed — but differ notably in their immediate causes.

As the Wall Street Journal has noted, “The sticking points during that 1995-96 fight centered on demands from Republicans … for cuts in spending on entitlements such as Medicare, the health-care program for retirees, as well as other nondefense spending.” They also pressed President Bill Clinton to agree to balance the federal budget within seven years.

The second and longer shutdown took shape when Clinton and the Congressional Republicans, led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, differed over how to calculate whether the budget would be balanced in seven years, as the Journal pointed out.

The confrontations had improbable effects.

They allowed Clinton to steady his shaky administration; much of 1995 had been a time of missteps and gaffes for Clinton. He was reduced, for example, to insisting on his relevancy as a president amid a political landscape where Gingrich and the Republicans were ascendant following sweeping victories in midterm elections in 1994.

The government shutdowns of 1995 brought confirmation of Gingrich’s pricklinesss and volatility. One of the most remarkable moments of the government closure was his ill-considered outburst on November 15, 1995.

At a breakfast meeting with journalists, Gingrich acknowledged that a measure of personal pique was behind his toughening up the spending bill that Clinton vetoed to set in motion the furlough of 800,000 government employees.

Gingrich complained that Clinton had passed up an opportunity to negotiate the budget issues aboard Air Force One the week before, during a long trip home from Israel, where the president and congressional leaders had attended the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin.

Not only that, but Gingrich complained that he and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole were forced to leave the Air Force One by the rear stairs after landing at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland.

“This is petty,” Gingrich said at the breakfast meeting. But “you land at Andrews and you’ve been on the plane for twenty-five hours [for the round trip to Israel] and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off the plane by the back ramp. . . . You just wonder, where is their sense of manners? Where is their sense of courtesy?”

The perceived slights and rude treatment, Gingrich said, were “part of [the reason] why you ended up with us sending down a tougher” spending measure, making Clinton’s veto and the government shutdown a certainty.

The outburst turned Gingrich into the petulant poster boy of the government shutdown. The New York Daily News caricatured him as a wailing toddler, stamping his foot in anger. Gingrich’s favorability ratings, which had been ebbing throughout 1995, fell further during the shutdowns.

Clinton may have steadied his presidency during the shutdowns. But he also engaged in conduct that would bring his administration to the brink of ruin.

On the night of Gingrich’s outburst, Clinton and Monica S. Lewinsky, a White House intern then 22-years-old, had their first sexual encounter at the White House — the first in a series of furtive liaisons that would lead, improbably, to Clinton’s impeachment three years later.


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The digital age ‘equivalent of the OJ Simpson trial’? Not quite

In Debunking, Media myths on July 7, 2011 at 9:02 am

Anthony mug shot

The stunning acquittal of Casey Anthony on the most serious charges in the slaying of her 2-year-old daughter has invited comparisons to the outcome of O.J. Simpson’s double-murder trial in 1995.

Those comparisons are mostly misleading.

The “Media File” blog of the Reuters news agency, for example, likened the Anthony verdict to the digital age “equivalent of the OJ Simpson trial.”

Simpson was found not guilty in October 1995 of the stabbing deaths of his former wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

“Media File,” which was one of several outlets to detect parallels in the two cases, noted:

“Word of the verdict spread like wildfire … making a return to a normal life for newly-famous Anthony as unlikely as it was for already-famous Simpson 16 years ago.”

The blog also declared:

“Just as some greeted the Simpson verdict with tears and disbelief, there was much the same reaction about the Anthony verdict, including other mothers and daughters who railed against the verdict on the courthouse steps.

“Unlike OJ, who was accused of stabbing his [former] wife and one of her friends to death in a fit of jealous rage, there didn’t seem to be even the smallest cheering section for Anthony. Then again she was accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter, whose skeletal remains were found near the family home with duct tape dangling from her skull.

“Anthony’s defense was considerably less adamant than Simpson’s ‘100% not guilty’ plea, but, like Simpson, she did not take the stand in her own defense.”

While interesting, the parallels are mostly superficial and unrevealing.

The Anthony proceedings in Florida hardly were in the league of the O.J. trial in Los Angeles.

Casey Anthony, unlike Simpson, was no national celebrity before she was tried on charges of killing her daughter, Caylee.

As Marcia Clark, the prosecutor who lost the Simpson trial, said of Anthony:

“She never wowed the nation with her athletic prowess, shilled in countless car commercials, or entertained in film comedies.” Simpson had been a star football player, a pitchman for the Hertz car rental company, and a supporting actor in movies such as The Naked Gun.

Race — a central, defining factor in Simpson’s trial — was absent in the Anthony trial.

As such, the verdict in her case, surprising though it was, prompted nothing akin to the divisive, clashing reactions that greeted Simpson’s acquittal: Many whites reacted with shock and disbelief while many blacks cheered the outcome.

Significantly, the Anthony case produced nothing akin to the moment at the end of the Simpson trial, when the country held its collective breath and awaited the verdicts.

The Simpson jury deliberated less than four hours before deciding the case on October 2, 1995.  The hapless judge who presided over the 134-day trial, Lance Ito, announced that the verdicts would be read the following day, at 10 a.m. Pacific time, 1 p.m. Eastern.

As that hour approached on October 3, 1995, the country seemed almost to shut down. The New York Times reported that for 10 minutes, from 1 p.m. to 1:10 p.m. Eastern, “people didn’t work. They didn’t go to math class. They didn’t make phone calls. They didn’t use the bathroom. They didn’t walk the dog.

“They listened to the O.J. Simpson verdicts,” in what the newspaper accurately called “an eerie moment of national communion, in which the routines and rituals of the country were subsumed by an unquenchable curiosity.

“Millions of people in millions of places seemed to spend 10 spellbinding minutes doing exactly the same thing.”

Those minutes represented an exceptional occasion of collective anticipation, an almost incomparable moment.

For the collective anticipation they generated, the final moments in the Simpson case were rivaled perhaps only by the first manned lunar landing in July 1969.


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WaPo commentary off target on ‘sexual misbehavior of prominent men’

In Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on May 23, 2011 at 7:20 am

Packwood: Scuzzy guy

“Until recently,” declared a commentary in yesterday’s Washington Post, “we didn’t have to worry so much about how to talk about the sexual misbehavior of prominent men.”

The Post commentary asserted that “until recently, we didn’t talk much about it at all. But that certainly changed in the late 1990s, when Kenneth Starr broke the sexual sound barrier” with his allegations of sexual indiscretions by President Bill Clinton.

That’s nonsense, a misreading of recent history.

By the time Starr, a special federal prosecutor investigating Clinton’s suspected misdeeds, presented his case against the then-president, the “sexual sound barrier” had long been broken.

If anything, the sexual harassment scandal that ended the political career of Republican Senator Bob Packwood in 1995 was more likely a moment when “sexual misbehavior of prominent men” became a topic of considerable discussion.

Packwood was a scuzzy guy who resigned his Senate seat in 1995 in the face of probable expulsion, following release of the Senate Ethics Committee’s 10,000 page document that described a long history of his sexual misconduct.

The allegations against Packwood, a 26-year member of the Senate,  included no fewer than 18 “unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances,” many of which he described in his electronic diary.

One of Packwood’s victims was 17-years-old when, she said, the senator kissed her against her will.

The bipartisan ethics committee accused Packwood of having “engaged in a pattern of abuse of his position of power and authority as a United States Senator by repeatedly committing sexual misconduct, making at least 18 separate unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances between 1969 and 1990.”

He entered the Senate in 1969.

Most of Packwood’s victims were members of his staff, “or individuals whose livelihoods were dependent upon or connected to the power and authority” wielded by the senator, the ethics committee report said.

The ethics committee, moreover, charged Packwood with having “endeavored to obstruct and impede” the ethics committee investigation by “withholding, altering and destroying relevant evidence, including his diary transcripts and audio taped diary material.”

Packwood’s misconduct, the ethics committee said, brought “discredit and dishonor” upon the Senate.

About two months after Packwood resigned his Senate seat, Clinton began his furtive liaison with Monica Lewinsky, who was 27 years his junior.

In a way, Packwood’s execrable conduct probably helped Clinton sidestep political disaster in the Lewinsky affair.

The Lewinsky affair, while unseemly, was neither abusive nor unbidden, as were many of Packwood’s sordid overtures. Simply put, Clinton’s liaison with Lewinsky, and the lies he told about the affair, did not reach the seedy precedent that Packwood had set.

Lewinsky was a White House intern in late 1995 who, Starr later reported, seemed eager to initiate the liaison.

She performed oral sex with Clinton on November 15, 1995, while he spoke by telephone with a congressman. Clinton and Lewinsky had a second similar encounter two days later, and another on New Year’s Eve 1995.

Their liaison continued periodically until 1997.

When asked during a deposition about his sexual relations with Lewinsky, Clinton lied. The deposition was taken in January 1998, as part of Paula Corbin Jones’ civil lawsuit against the president.

Clinton’s lies under oath led to his impeachment in late 1998 by the House of Representatives and his trial and acquittal in 1999 by the Senate .

Clinton, though, was found in contempt of court by federal judge Susan Webber Wright for  “false, misleading and evasive answers” during the deposition in the Jones suit, answers the judge said “were designed to obstruct the judicial process.”

Clinton was ordered to pay nearly $90,000 to Jones’ lawyers and later agreed to a five-year suspension of his license to practice law.

While undeniably egregious, Clinton’s misconduct did not rise to the level of Packwood’s serial misconduct and repeated sexual harassment. Clinton’s misconduct also fell short of Richard Nixon’s criminality in the Watergate scandal — felonious wrongdoing that set a standard for turning a sitting president from office.


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114 years on the front page

In 1897, Anniversaries, New York Times, Newspapers, Yellow Journalism on February 9, 2011 at 7:37 am

Tomorrow makes 114 years on the front page for the best-known slogan in American journalism.

114 years on the front

The slogan, of course, is “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” which first appeared February 10, 1897, in the upper left corner (the left ear) of the front page New York Times.

I’ve called them the most famous seven words in American journalism and they have been endlessly parodied and analyzed since 1897. Even admirers of the Times have conceded that “All the News That’s Fit to Print” is “overweening” and even “elliptical.”

As I discussed in my 2006 book, The Year That Defined American Journalism: 1897 and the Clash of Paradigms, the motto has given rise to some lofty claims over the years. In 1901, at the 50th anniversary of its founding, the Times referred to “All the News That’s Fit to Print” as its “covenant.”

In 2001, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal described the motto as the “leitmotif not merely for the Times, but also, by a process of osmosis and emulation, for most other general-interest papers in the country, as well as for much of the broadcast media.”

Adolph Ochs began using the slogan soon after acquiring control of the then-beleaguered Times in August 1896. At first, Ochs made use of “All the News That’s Fit to Print” as an advertising and marketing device.

The slogan’s debut came in early October 1896, spelled out in a row of red lights on an advertising sign the Times had rented at New York’s Madison Square.

Four months later, without fanfare or explanation, the slogan appeared in the “left ear” of the front page. It has appeared in that place of prominence ever since.

In touting “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” Ochs clearly sought to distance the Times from the yellow press of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Their flamboyant newspapers dominated New York City’s media landscape in the late 1890s.

Ochs was nothing if not aggressive in promoting the Times and in seeking to position the newspaper as a sober counterweight to the activism and excesses of the yellow press.

To that end, he launched in late October 1896 a contest inviting readers to propose “a phrase more expressive of the Times’ policy” than “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” which by then had taken a modest place in a corner of the Times’ editorial page.

The Times promised to pay $100 to the person who proposed in ten words or fewer a slogan deemed better than “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

The motto contest, cheesy though it may seem today, stirred a fair amount of attention–and reader interaction–in 1896.

Among the thousands of entries sent to the Times were such clunky suggestions as “All the News Worth Telling,” “All the News That Decent People Want,” and “The Fit News That’s Clean and True.”

Among the others:

“Full of meat, clean and neat.”

“Instructive to all, offensive to none.”

“The people’s voice, good the choice.”

“Aseptic journalism up to date.”

“Yours neatly, sweetly, and completely.”

As I wrote in The Year That Defined American Journalism: “Before the contest ended, the Times altered the stakes by making clear it would not abandon ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print.’

“The Times,” I wrote, “justified this change of heart by saying no phrase entered in the contest was more apt and expressive than ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print.’ The $100 prize would be awarded, to the person adjudged to have submitted the best entry. But the motto would not be changed.”

But the entries kept rolling in. Other suggestions included:

“Bright as a star and there you are.”

“All the news to instruct and amuse.”

“Pure in purpose, diligent in service.”

“You do not want what the New-York Times does not print.”

“All that’s new, true, and clever.”

Another entry was inspired by rival titles in fin-de-siècle New York:

“Out heralds The Herald, informs The World, extinguishes The Sun.” (That suggestion is evocative of the slogan of New York Newsday, a tabloid that ceased publication in 1995 after 10 years:  “On top of the News, ahead of the Times.”)

As the motto contest neared its close in early November 1896, the Times noted that that some people had “sent in diagrams and even pictures.

“While these exhibit both skill and thought,” the newspaper said, “they cannot be accepted, because they are not wanted.”

A committee of Times staffers winnowed the entries to 150 semi-finalists, which were submitted to Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century magazine. Gilder selected these as finalists:

  • Always decent; never dull.
  • The news of the day; not the rubbish.
  • A decent newspaper for decent people.
  • All the world’s news, but not a school for scandal.

As I wrote in The Year That Defined American Journalism, Gilder noted “that terms of the contest had changed from the original intent of selecting a slogan that ‘more aptly express the distinguishing characteristics of the New-York Times’ to the more theoretical task of determining which entry ‘would come nearest to it in aptness.’”

That entry, Gilder determined, had been submitted by D.M. Redfield of New Haven, Connecticut. Redfield’s suggestion:

“All the world’s news, but not a school for scandal.”

Catchy, that.


Many thanks to Jim Romenesko for linking to this post

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