The thrill of the witch hunt

Georgie Anne Geyer

September 09, 1991|By Georgie Anne Geyer

Washington -- AS THE valiant peoples of the Soviet Union this very moment search heroically for new structures of free union, in much the same way as the earliest Americans, here in Washington we also are struggling for "the truth that sets man free."

The newest epiphany of our always-searching media occurred last Wednesday at a bookstore in the nation's beautifully revamped Union Station. Before the star appeared who was to lead us to new insights, a line for her autographs stretched for 200 feet, around a corner and almost out the farthest doors into the main hall. Onlookers stood 10 to 12 deep. Fifty to 60 "news" cameras ground doggedly away, on the ready to inform not only America, but the whole waiting world, on what America is thinking today.

Then she came. Tai Collins!

Why are you looking at me like that? You don't know Tai Collins? You don't drool over her long white-blonde hair, her big nose, her strange skinny looks? You haven't stayed up nights wondering whether this veritable Renaissance woman -- cheerleader, lingerie model, Miss Virginia, masseuse and now Playboy cover girl -- really did or did not have an affair with Sen. Chuck Robb?

Never mind, her responses as she autographed copies of Playboy ("Did she sign her signature anywhere on her nudeness?" Beats me.) will relieve any hesitation on your part.

"I was just like, wow!" Collins says in one of her more literary outbursts. "I've lost my innocence in this ordeal," she said at the morning "press conference." She had "very compromising photos of Chuck Robb with two other women" and a photo of herself and Robb in a safe-deposit box. But she did not want to release them because "I don't want to exploit myself in that way." Finally, Tai revealed to us her own deepest thoughts. She is eager to "put it all behind me" and get on to all that women like her really want: a husband, children and a "career writing children's books."

Hey, what's not to love about a girl like that?

We all know by now that there is a malignant "get him!" ebb tide in the American media today. I've been harping on it for several years, particularly since the vicious spring of 1989, when a hyperactive press "got" Jim Wright, John Tower and Tony Coelho, not to mention the earlier cases of Gary Hart and Joseph Biden. University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, in his fine new book on the subject, "Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Journalism," says rightly that we have gone from the legitimate "watchdog press" of Vietnam and Watergate to the "junkyard dog press" of today.

But this week's "Tai Collins Show" reveals just how far we have come. It also illuminates what those in the press who have set themselves up as the judge and the jury, the Index and the Inquisition, the religious police of Riyadh and the nameless A, B and C commissars of the Khmer Rouge are really up to.

This case is important because it is unlikely that Chuck Robb, who was by all accounts a superb governor of Virginia and is one of our most eloquent, intellectual senators, did anything at all with Miss Tai except get a massage from her. This might not have been smart, but then the Grand Inquisitor would surely have had some mercy and not have sent him to the rack.

There is no proof that anything happened between them. None has ever been put forward. Isn't our entire system of "justice," most definitely including just intentions on the part of one's fellow citizens, supposed to protect American citizens from such wild and unsupported charges, which are at heart really threats?

And if Robb and Collins had had an affair, from the standpoint of the public interest of this nation conceived in liberty, so what? That is a question for his wife, for his church, for his conscience, for his marriage vows. To put a man of a distinguished career up to Wednesday's "Christians to the lions" carnival atmosphere is something quite else again.

We are in a new period, for this time, there is not even a whisper of real charges against the accused. This time, more and more of the journalists interviewed did not even make excuses for our profession's sordid and infantile behavior. That's just the way it is in politics, most said.

This time we showed what it is really all about -- the cruel personal ambitions of many of the Yuppie-generation "me" journalists, a gnawing juvenile resentment of anyone in a position of authority, and a total derision of American institutions and what the "fun" of the witch hunt does to them.

I never in my life thought I would wish to be in Moscow.

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