Select one of the keywords
One Scandalous Story    by Marvin Kalb order for
One Scandalous Story
by Marvin Kalb
Order:  USA  Can
Free Press, 2001 (2001)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Forty-odd years ago, veteran journalist Kalb tells us, a fellow would have been ridiculed for reporting the kind of sexy unfounded innuendo that gets reported all the time these days. Everybody knew, for example, the JFK had (shall we be delicate? Why not) an eye for the ladies. But it was not front-page news, and rarely back-page news - not because anybody wanted to protect the president's reputation, but simply because such things were not considered reportable news. There was, in other words, a distinction between gossip and news. Oh boy, how things have changed ...

Take the Monica Lewinsky episode, which embarrassed a president and (in my opinion, at least) caused American journalism - heck, global journalism - to flip on its back and display its ugly underbelly prominently for months on end. Not only did it become front-page news, but it became more than that: it became pretty much the only thing anybody wanted to write about, or talk about. There's a Hitchcock movie, one of his really old ones (I think, don't quote me on this, it's called Blackmail), in which a man is sharing a meal with his family, and they keep saying the word 'knife,' until, on the soundtrack, the voices blur until that's only discernable word: knife ... knife ... knife. Everything else is background, because the poor guy can only think about one word. That's kind of the way it was with the news, around the time of the Lewinsky kafuffle. Lewinsky ... Lewinsky ... Lewinsky - everything else was background.

One Scandalous Story is subtitled 'Clinton, Lewinsky, & Thirteen Days that Tarnished American Journalism.' I think 'tarnished' isn't a strong enough word, but Kalb's point is well taken and dead-on accurate. The book chronicles the thirteen key days in the reporting of the Lewinsky story: the eight days before it broke, the day it broke, and the following four days, when all hell broke loose.

It's a book about journalists - even respectable ones - yearning, salivating, aching for a meaty story (1998 was a slow news year, at least at the outset) and then suddenly, like it was a gift from the gods, being handed the kind of story they could only dream of: the president of the United States had not only had an affair with a White House intern, but he had encouraged her to lie about it. This is the stuff that catapults a reporter from the middle of the paper to the front page, puts a journalist on the global map and, if he plays his cards right, keeps him there for years.

It is almost painfully appropriate that every journalist in America was scooped by Matt Drudge, who broke the story on his seedy, rumor-mongering website, a site that ran with every rumor, no matter how insignificant or undocumented ('Drudge placed no journalistic restrictions on the material he published ...' Kalb writes. 'If the story was juicy, sexy, and eye-catching, he would run it.') To call what happened in American journalism after that a 'feeding frenzy' is to monstrously understate it.

The Lewinsky story might have drenched reporters in a journalistic cesspool, but it's important to remember that journalism's pantlegs hadn't exactly been dry for quite some time. 'The Lewinsky scandal,' Kalb writes, 'did not, on its own, smash the standards of American journalism. It merely accelerated a disturbing trend that had been apparent for several decades.'

Which means, if you stop to think about it for a minute or two, that what we saw during the Lewinsky affair's journalistic heyday might be nothing, compared to what's down the road ...


Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews