Scandal glut

February 15, 1994|By Stephen Roberts

AS WE Americans become more and more simultaneously attuned to the regular news alongside equally important Celebrity Affairs, certain misapprehensions are bound to occur. And some of these are likely to be quirky ones.

Recently, for instance, I momentarily became convinced that superstar Michael Jackson and figure skater Tonya Harding might somehow be involved in the Whitewater affair that persistently dogs President Clinton.

Absurd, you say? Well, of course it is -- on a purely rational level. It's entirely possible that neither Jackson nor Harding has set foot in Arkansas for the past decade, and neither, so far as I know, has ever been a close business associate of the president's.

Still, the confusion is understandable, and I don't fault myself one iota.

While drifting off to sleep in front of the TV some night, I must have allowed the three stories to overlap in my semi-consciousness. Naturally, a day or two later, I managed to straighten things out completely.

After all, I'm no fool. It was silly for me to have wondered if President Clinton, his brother Roger, and/or George Stephanopoulos and David Gergin might have conspired to attack and put out of commission skater Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding's long-time rival for U.S. figure skating supremacy.

And equally off (the rational) mark were my briefly-held notions that Michael Jackson might somehow have been involved in selling some swamp land in Arkansas and illegally weighing down taxpayers with a failed S&L, and that President Clinton settled a controversial civil suit out of court for millions upon millions of dollars.

Yet, the perils should be obvious to all readers. With all the simultaneous scandals given just about equal weight by much of the electronic media, millions of Americans simply must be inordinately bollixed up about who did (or allegedly did) what to whom.

And the ensuing problems should be apparent, too. When it comes election time, how many millions of voters might be casting "mistaken ballots," blaming politicians for things that apolitical celebrities did?

Or, on the other side of the coin, thinking that the celebs were at fault when it was actually the real-life politicians.

How to avoid these mix-ups? That's a hard one! Once sensationalism has sledded this far down the slippery slope (to use an Olympics metaphor), it seems almost impossible to reverse it.

But why not at least try something? Were it up to me, I'd have the Federal Communications Commission label all broadcasts about celebrities and their untoward behavior and nefarious misadventures, "For Entertainment Purposes Only!"

Naturally, not even this warning label wouldn deter all American voters from getting inextricably confused and confounded. But it would probably do some good!

But here comes the tricky part: What to do when a politician is also a celebrity, as is the case with ex-Col. Ollie North, who's now running in a primary to become the Republican candidate for Senate in Virginia?

Should the TV coverage of his campaign require the "For Entertainment Purposes Only!" label across the bottom of the screen? Would that be fair to Ollie? Would it be fair to voters?

That's a tough judgment call that I wouldn't want to have to make.

Yet, we have to take action quickly, before the '94 elections roll around. If not, otherwise sensible Americans might conceivably end up casting important ballots while believing that Tonya and Michael spearheaded the contra resupply effort, and that Ollie was allegedly whacking Nancy Kerrigan on the legs, and so on.

The problem is serious, the time to take smart, appropriate measures is now!

Stephen Roberts writes from Clinton, N.Y.

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