Shortly after Mr. Johnson had taken over management of the Vietnam war from Mr. Kennedy, the new president decided that there was no further need to disrupt family life for an undeclared war. Consequently married men would no longer be drafted. My editor at The Washington Post assigned me to do a story on the rush to the altar which was sure to occur — but business at the marriage license bureau turned out to be bumping along at pretty much the usual rate. “That’s your story, then,” the editor said. “Give me ten inches.”
“A classic no-snow story,” an older reporter spelled out for me that evening after work. A no-snow story grew out of the world’s failure to live up to an editor’s expectations. Yesterday’s paper predicted snow, and yet there is no snow. Find out why.
Once the concept was explained to me I began to see no-snow stories everywhere, and still do. Saving Private Ryan’s failure to win the Academy Award for best picture gave rise to a regular blizzard of them. The “Natural Law of Unemployment’s” stubborn failure to exist has caused a decade of no-snow stories on the nation’s business pages. Where oh where can old Mr. Inflation be hiding?, the baffled editors cry. (The answer is the same one it has been since World War II: Mr. Inflation shows up whenever OPEC raises oil prices.)
Never has the real world so disappointed the American press as in the matter of Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton. The finest investigative journalists in all the land rooted and snorted about until they had raised what looked to them, blinded inside it, like the biggest shit storm ever to besmirch the Republic. And yet poll after poll showed that the rest of us saw only a light smudge of no particular consequence, barely above the horizon of our concerns. A persistent groupie finally scored. That’s what groupies do.
But the nation’s most learned and subtle public philosophers—men on the order of George Will, William Safire, William Bennett, William Kristol and the blessèd Father McLaughlin—immediately undertook our moral instruction. Loudly, unendingly, they explained us to us that this small sexual adventure between consenting adults was in fact a threat to the very foundations of the Republic.
To think otherwise would mark us as immoral, indecent, unethical, permissive and godless moral relativists who were in every respect disgraces to family and flag.
Worst of all we would be letting down, God help us, our editors.