Government and media are bigger snoops than Perot

Mike Royko

June 29, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

So now the biggest political issue is not the wheezing economy, danger in our streets, taxes, or even J. Danforth Quayle's favorite: why unwed young ladies don't keep their legs crossed.

No, the big issue is snooping, with President Bush and his flunkies wailing and moaning that Ross Perot is peeking in their keyholes.

They are warning us that if we are demented enough to elect Perot, he could turn into another Hitler, with the FBI, the CIA, the IRS and maybe the local Meter Maids peering through our windows and kicking down our doors.

We don't want that, do we? Of course not, because Americans have a high regard for privacy. At least their own. However, they really aren't that concerned about the privacy of others, which is why gossip magazines, tabloids and TV shows are so popular.

But let us consider who America's biggest busybodies are. Is Ross Perot really one of them?

True, he is alleged to have snooped George Bush, when Bush was vice president. And Bush's sons. Although Bush says he is now shocked, shocked, shocked, he didn't sound that way when Perot slipped him info on his kids. In fact, Bush sent a warm letter, saying Perot was a friend, and thanking him for his thoughtfulness.

So if Perot is a snoop, he's not big-time. He's nothing but a hotel house dick compared to the biggest prying eye and listening ear in this country.

That title, of course, belongs to the federal government, of which George Bush has been a part for much of his adult life.

We have Internal Revenue, poking into our finances, making up the rules as they go along. And Rule One is that you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent, which is almost impossible, since their rules border on the incoherent.

If you are in business, there are all sorts of federal agencies looking over your shoulder, telling you who you can hire and who you can't fire. If you tell an employee not to snore while sleeping on the job, you will wind up being stared down by a lumpish bureaucrat who will ask you whether you wish to plead guilty to cruelty, insensitivity, bigotry, mopery, or all of the above.

Unless you have always lived out of a shopping bag and slept on a street-grate, you're in a federal file somewhere. And with computers, the government is gobbling up more and more information.

After the federal government, the biggest snoop is the news industry. Which is kind of funny, since the questions being shouted at Perot during his press conference last week were from chronic snoopers demanding to know whether or not he is or is not a snooper. And editorials are now appearing, questioning whether we want a snooper in the White House.

That from an industry that has gone bonkers over what it calls investigative reporting, but is often nothing more than wild-eyed question-shouting.

Newspapers have always done investigative reporting, although

they didn't call it that. It was simply reporting. But they didn't take the position that just because someone was a public figure, he must have done something wrong. And even if he didn't, let's print it anyway.

That changed with Watergate, and Woodward and Bernstein becoming stars of page and screen. Suddenly, journalism schools were crammed with young fame-seekers, eager to get their diploma so they, too, could topple a president, write a best seller, and be played by Redford or Hoffman.

Now they're out there, careerists with their minicams, tape recorders, notebooks and laptops, demanding that Perot confess to charges that he is snoop, a Peeping Tom, or a porch climber. And when they finish that, they'll go ask his former employees if they remember him ever biting the heads off live chickens.

The industry that is now editorializing that Perot might be a dangerous peeper is the very same one that thought it was responsible journalism for reporters to stake out a private residence so they could grab Gary Hart when he emerged and ask if he had been doing the dirty deed with a lady to whom he was not wed. And to ask Bill Clinton -- even before the blond bimbo surfaced -- if he had ever strayed.

Some candidate will become an instant national hero when he responds: "I will answer that question when you tell me if it is true that your anchorwoman has been carrying on with your weatherman."

As for Perot, if he did snoop Bush's sons (which he denies doing), so what? Somebody should have done it. Then maybe one of Bush's lads wouldn't have ended up as part of the S&L scandal, looking like a well-groomed, white-collar con man.

Not only should Bush have thanked Perot, he should have spanked the kid.

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