Listening to the hoo-haw over Donald Trump’s jock talk feels surreal to a person my age (66) because I remember when the public finally came to hear about Jack Kennedy’s, um, interesting sex life, decades after the fact.
At the time, media deliberately kept secret Kennedy’s profoundly disquieting abuse of staffers:
The relationship began on Alford’s fourth day on the job, when she was asked to the Kennedy residence for a new-staffer cocktail party. Dave Powers escorted her up to the deserted apartment, and she kicked around with a couple of other office girls, drinking daiquiris, nibbling cheese puffs, and waiting for the president. Within seconds of his arrival—signaled by the partygoers’ jumping formally to their feet, for this was part of the thrill of being in the inner circle: the fun and debauchery of the endless party, and the awesome formality of the American presidency—Mimi was in his thrall. When JFK invited her on a private tour of the joint she eagerly agreed, and before she knew it they were standing alone together at the open door to Jackie’s bedroom.
“This is a very private room,” John Kennedy said to her, and as she tried to comprehend what he meant by that puzzling remark, he maneuvered her smoothly into it. And then he nailed her—a virgin, a Wheaton sophomore, a girl who wore a circle pin and a side part, and who had ordered two drip-dry shirtdresses from the Johnny Appleseed’s catalog before coming to Washington—right there on his wife’s bed. The one with the horsehair mattress and the stiff board to accommodate his bad back.
He was romantic, sharing late-night dinners with her and putting love songs on the record player, and he was sexually sadistic, asking her to perform sexual services on his friend Dave Powers—the president’s “leprechaun”—which she once did (while JFK stood in the pool and watched), to her everlasting regret.
THROUGHOUT THE MARRIAGE, John always had girls: there were girlfriends and comfort girls; call girls and showgirls; girls on the campaign trail and girls who seemed to materialize out of thin air wherever he was. There was also the occasional wife of a friend, or the aging paramour of his randy pop, for those moments when the fancy ran to mature horseflesh or masculine competition. His penchant for prostitutes demoralized the agents assigned to protect him: “You were on the most elite assignment in the Secret Service,” the former agent Larry Newman told a television interviewer a decade ago, “and you were there watching an elevator door, because the president was inside with two hookers.”
You can be sure the public did not know about this at the time, not even about his affair with Marilyn Monroe. Note: Bobby Kennedy’s affair with Marilyn Monroe has only been conclusively established very recently.
And if major media didn’t tell us about that stuff, we didn’t know. Quite simply, the major media had the power to manage news: “All the news that’s fit to print,” as the New York Times puts it.
And the times (the Cold War) provided the bigs with at least some justification: Did we really want the public roiled over the way Kennedy treated interns when we were all building fallout shelters and schools were providing nuclear attack drills?
Well, fast forward. Along comes Matt Drudge and – without asking any boffin’s permission – blows up Bill Clinton’s sexcapades, and puts it all online. (I suspect that’s the main reason the current administration in the US is trying to “get” Drudge on copyright issues. [The problem is, he only uses titles, and as any permissions editor knows, one cannot copyright a title. But the admin will think of something to bring him down, you may be sure.])
So now what’s changed?: Media are shedding jobs and subscribers the way local trees are shedding leaves, in huge piles. The guy who did some reno for me in 2014 told he that he was a j-chool grad and that *almost no one in his graduating class now works in media.*
Of course not. We don’t need them to tell us what is happening. We just need someone, somewhere in the world to tell us what is happening = an information revolution.
Thought experiment: What if all we ever knew about Trudeaupia was derived from the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and the National Post? Not from independent sources like Blazing Cat Fur, which would have been impossible before the internet.
It would be an understatement to say that lots of people in government and big media do not like this state of affairs. But just stopping it is difficult. To save their ships, big media are slowly becoming state media, arms of current progressive administrations (the administrations most likely to employ and protect them). One thinks of German media conspiring with Angela Merkel to hide information about sexual assaults on German women by migrants.
That has meant, essentially, abandoning the historic role of the Fourth Estate. Historically, in the West, it has NOT been the job of media to make the government look good. That was why media had privileges, why I could wave a press card and get close to the scene of a news story.
Two big worries: First, I’m not so much worried that US media are acting as PR for Hillary Clinton but that, if they succeed as her state media, they will turn to suppressing independent media. In the old days, suppressing indie media wasn’t as big a concern because the indies had so much less impact. This’ll get way worse before it gets better.
My second worry is that so many of us are so stunned these days that we can’t see that the only thing that has changed re politicians’ sex lives is that we now know about them – mainly thanks to indie media. But then maybe that’ll change soon anyway.
See also: From our American friend: The Second Presidential Debate: The View From Athens