Diane Sawyer's Situational Ethics

Diane Sawyer's recent "20/20" interview with Kenneth Starr proves with a vengeance that the media culture's take on Monicagate has become positively Orwellian: Good is Evil.

Space doesn't allow a recital of all the objectionable Carvillesque attacks Sawyer proudly launched on this soft-spoken officer of the law. So let's just explore the themes.

1. Repression. Sawyer suggested Starr was disqualified for the Monicagate probe because of his personal opposition to adultery. The segment began: "Tonight, an exclusive interview with independent counsel Kenneth Starr, a man accused of trying to impose his personal beliefs on everyone else." Flip to Sawyer asking Starr: " So to the people who say you're a prude, you're a puritan, you're the sex police, you say what?" Sawyer continued: "The man who has held a country captive finally speaks...When is this going to be over?"

All this, in the first few seconds. Ugh. Surely Sawyer knows better than this. She knows Mr. Starr is "imposing" nothing of the sort. He is following the law, which says that perjury is an offense against the judicial process. She knows Mr. Starr is not "holding a country captive," and that Bill Clinton has dragged the investigation for months, constantly delaying Starr's probe with cheesy claims of Secret Service and government attorney-client privilege. She knows these things. And yet, now Mr. Starr, just like that, is the man "accused."

Sawyer pointed out what she felt was Starr's uptight religious upbringing: "What was the most rebellious thing you did?" Starr replied: "I'd have to stop and think. I was not rebellious. I really was not. Sorry. I kind of played by the rules, and that's the way I lived my life."

A pretty fair answer, don't you think? But watch how Sawyer turned that qualifier into an immediate disqualifier: "So what happens when this man becomes independent counsel and begins investigating a President charged with covering up, lying under oath about a sexual relationship?" She asked Starr: "Do you think in that sense, you were out of touch with the political judgment of the American people, who say everyone was covering up sex. There was gambling in the casino in Casablanca and you are the only one who is shocked. We are not shocked."

Double ugh. Sawyer knows full well that it's not Starr's job to be "in touch with the political judgment" of the people. It's Starr's job to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by Clinton or his intimates, period. To suggest otherwise is simple obfuscation with a generous helping of sensationalism.

2. Pornography. Here's where Sawyer's logic completely collapses upon itself. She suggested the American people are not shocked about the President's wild life, but were shocked that Ken Starr included the tabloid details of the President's encounters in his referral to Congress. Sawyer complained: "I think there were 62 mentions of the word 'breast,' 23 of 'cigar,' 19 of 'semen.' This has been called demented pornography, pornography for Puritans. Were there mistakes made in including some of this?"

What is she talking about, "demented pornography for Puritans"? I highly doubt Sawyer the religious scholar has ever studied Puritan predilections for pornography. This feigned outrage is again designed to obscure the facts: The President specifically - and repeatedly - has denied a definition of sex which included contact with Monica Lewinsky's breasts or genitals. To prove the perjury, Starr had to provide the intimate details. Yet Starr is to blame for "mistakes made"?

3. Certainty. In Sawyerian theology, certainty is to be feared, and ambiguity is the path to righteousness. She declared: "As you know, you have been cast in the role of a moral crusader in an ambiguous world, that you are self-righteous, sanctimonious, that you have moral certainty into areas where other people have doubt and humanity. What do you think about extramarital sex?" Later, when Starr defended the explicit nature of his referral, Sawyer suggested: "It seems to me, listening to you, that you have no doubt that what you did in the referral was the right thing. You have no doubt that proceeding against the President in the way you have proceeded is the right thing. There is something about certainty that scares a lot of people."

In other words, good is evil. Insisting that a President abide by something called the truth, and insisting that reality somehow matters becomes a much greater offense than lying under oath to protect yourself in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Sawyer's bluster is nothing but politically convenient situational ethics.