None of our business

Bill Thompson

August 06, 1993|By Bill Thompson

BILL Clinton's friend Vincent Foster died July 20, apparently by his own hand. Foster's death was a tragedy. It wasn't a disgrace.

What has happened since, however, has been the worst kind of disgrace, a disgrace perpetrated by us, the news media and the public, in a quest for information that we don't need and shouldn't want.

But here we are, from prestigious news organizations such as the Washington Post to the cheapest, sleaziest talk shows on radio, trampling Foster's grave, defiling his memory, brutally dissecting his life. We have discussed and debated his death as if he were a laboratory animal whose demise might hold the key to some fascinating discovery.

Moronic talk-show hosts and their idiot listeners have tastelessly speculated about specific motivations for Foster's suicide -- and so have some of Washington's most learned pundits. Even people who had never heard of Vincent Foster before his death now take it upon themselves to analyze his psyche.

Some in the media have gone so far as to reduce this awful human tragedy to a mere political issue, theorizing about its effect on the public's perception of Bill Clinton's leadership.

This is sick, folks. It isn't legitimate public discourse. It isn't justifiable scrutiny of the government and those who run it. It's just sick.

The media have rationalized their speculation about Foster's suicide by pointing out that he was a key operative at the White House and a close, longtime friend of both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

If Foster died under mysterious circumstances, the commentators argue, then we must investigate, inquire and interrogate until we know precisely what happened. We must enforce the public's right to know.

But there is no evidence of foul play, no indication whatsoever that Foster's death was anything but a simple suicide.

The public's right to know is not what we are serving. We are pandering to public curiosity.

The fact is, no amount of probing and analyzing will ever tell us precisely what happened.

Foster shot himself. People commit suicide every day in this world, sometimes for reasons that the rest of us can understand, and sometimes for reasons that even the victims may not have comprehended.

Foster's death was mystifying, perhaps, but not mysterious. His suicide, as some have surmised, may have had something to do with his high-stress job as an adviser to the president -- or it may have had nothing to do with it.

"Maybe he just crawled into a space so dark he couldn't see his way out," said Dee Dee Myers, White House press secretary.

Maybe. And maybe he didn't crawl into that space. Maybe he was born there, or just looked up one day and discovered that he had been enveloped by the darkness.

We will never know -- and we shouldn't. Who are we, the press and the public, to demand an explanation for Vincent Foster's private agony?

What we do know, and what we need to understand, is this: For some people, life is a burden that eventually becomes too heavy to bear.

Several years ago, there was an excellent if commercially unsuccessful movie called "Permanent Record" that dealt thoughtfully and compassionately with the issue of teen-age suicide. In the movie, a high school student who seemed to have the world on a string threw himself off a cliff while his friends partied nearby.

Everyone thought the death was an accident until the dead boy's best friend received a note in the mail: "I wanted everything to be perfect."

I knew a teen-age boy who killed himself. I knew a young man in his 20s who committed suicide. I knew a woman in her 30s who attempted to take her own life only to fail and leave herself horribly maimed.


It is a question without an answer.

+ It is none of our business.

Bill Thompson is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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