The online magazine Salon was launched in November 1995 and is a high-quality product. Time chose it as the best Web site of 1996, and Advertising Age has named it "Online Magazine of the Year." Its Table Talk section is the second-largest conferencing area on the Internet. It is referenced in endless reports as an authoritative news source.
Small wonder. It is also the most shameless pro-Clinton propaganda outlet on the market today. The activism of this magazine - founded by megabucks Clinton fundraiser William Hambrecht - has been two-pronged. On the one hand it frequently publishes articles, columns, and editorials promoting the loony "vast right-wing conspiracy" theory, which it takes as seriously as little children take Santa Claus. Headlines like "Hillary was right" and "The far right's desperate counterattack" should make even Barbara Boxer cringe.
And then there's the ongoing effort to salvage the Clinton presidency. One finds here another large group of stories which have sought to rationalize, even justify, Clinton's phallocentrism, while depicting his critics as bluenoses and wackos. For months, Salon has been asking why all of America can't be as enlightened about sex as the current occupant of the White House, or the writers for this hip cyberjournal.
On February 6, two weeks into the scandal, Salon's Jenn Shreve blasted "aging, mostly male media hacks [who] tut-tut over... the apparent enthusiasm with which [Lewinsky] discussed her sex life with friends and acquaintances." Those hacks, continued Shreve, who is Monica's age, don't realize that "Lewinsky's sexual past is?compared to most of my female friends?rather bland. Among my contemporaries, it isn't all that shocking to sleep with three different partners in a weekend, not all of the opposite sex?Sleeping with an older man, even a married one, is considered a triumphant rite of passage."
Four days later, Fred Branfman wondered, "Is our nation best served by a chief executive who regularly engages in towering fits [of temper] because of sexually frustrating nights spent in the presidential boudoir? Or are we... better off if the chief's sexual needs are better met, even if that allows him more sexual freedom than most of us who live lives of quiet desperation?" Branfman - who used to work for Gary Hart, which explains a lot - concludes, "We need to ask whether linking marriage and sexual fidelity, for our leaders as well as ourselves, really makes sense anymore."
On July 16, Steve Erickson deplored Kenneth Starr's "obsession with law that's become completely disconnected from any true interest in justice... the obsession of a man of so little human empathy and so removed from the needs and compulsions that drive and dictate daily life as most people live it - needs of the human heart and complusions of the human body... It's only as a cyborg of litigation that such a man is capable of existing at all." Two weeks later came a "satire" by psychoanalyst Justin Frank about a patient called "Kenneth S.," in which Frank diagnosed the special prosecutor as a "classic case of obsessional pseudo-objectivity and pseudo-logic; he uses both to keep his perversions secret."
Then came Clinton's pathetic August 17 speech. Even that triggered a pro-Clinton Salon spin: on August 25, Mollie Dickenson, in a story about "how sexual the pursuit of political power actually is," wrote, "The candidate's psychology is that he has worked... night and day for many years to get to the pinnacle, and now he is still working night and day, fighting the Congress, fighting the press, fighting even some in his own party, locked for political reasons in what is perhaps a loving but no longer passionate marriage, and he says to himself, 'What about the inner me? Where is my reward? I'm not getting any. I want sexual love!' This is the way it is."
On September 4, Branfman was back, insisting that the problem with Clinton's conduct isn't that it's been wrong, but that it's been "unsettling to the space the presidency occupies in our psychological geographies. [We need to] lower our expectations of who the president is and what he or she represents... History may be kinder to the Clinton presidency than his contemporaries have been. He may well be remembered as... the man who taught the American people as none before him that even presidents are mere mortals, and in so doing took the cause of democracy and republicanism to a new level."
Salon is what we get when we lower our expectations of what journalism is and what it represents.