Thursday, April 15, 2010

How the press has changed

My history book club met last night and got me thinking about how much press coverage of scandal has changed in U.S. history. We were discussing The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant, which describes a fair number of sexual liaisons among its characters. It came to our attention that sexual misbehavior of political leaders in that time, and indeed in the time of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, were not covered in the press.

Today there seems to be little chance that a Clinton or an Edwards could get away with much of the kind without it being splashed across the news channels and other media.

However, it you look back a couple of hundred years, there were many published charges from attacks on the wives of President Jackson and a member of his cabinet, to charges that President Jefferson sired a child by his slave Sally Hemings, to the charges of infidelity implicated as a cause of the Hamilton-Burr dual.

What could cause the pendulum to swing so violently? I suppose that the Victorian age intervened between the free-swinging 18th century and the more prudish press of the mid 20th century. Since World War II, we have seen a sexual revolution (birth control pills, legalized abortion, Playboy and Penthouse, etc) which has made sex a much more acceptable topic for discussion, and the creation of a mass market for television news -- providing graphic depiction of peccadillos in living color.

Where do we go from here?

No comments: