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by Michael Winship

Media Can't Get Enough of Spitzer's Sex Scandal

Usually, I hate it when eyewitnesses to natural disasters or other true-life events say to television reporters, "It was just like a movie." No, goddamit, I think, it was just like what it was -- a huge freaking tornado tore your doublewide in half. Get real.

Nonetheless, I may be becoming a convert to the life imitates art theory. Even though the year is young, 2008 more and more resembles something out of a Fellini film.

Grab a seat and watch New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, imploding before our very eyes. Mr. Clean soiled and stained in a hubristic meltdown brought about not only by the fact that he was having sex with escorts but that he tried to hide the money that was paying for it. I see Michael Douglas playing Spitzer in the movie.

In fact, as I briefly channel-surfed immediately after Spitzer's short statement to the press Monday afternoon, Turner Classic Movies was airing Billy Wilder's "Irma La Douce," the comic story of a straitlaced law enforcement officer undone by a Parisian streetwalker. Fictional farce paralleling the real farce unreeling on CNN and MSNBC.

Everything about this year, especially the presidential campaigns, is making me feel vaguely cinematic -- like the talking camel in that old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby movie, "Road to Morocco." At one point in the action, nonchalantly chewing his cud, the camel turns to camera and says, "This is the screwiest picture I was ever in."

Here we are in March and nothing is what it was supposed to be. Like someone out of a Frank Capra movie, down on his luck John McCain comes from behind and beats back all the millionaires who plan to do him dirt, winning the Republican nomination.

Hillary was done for after Iowa, the media announced. Then she won in New Hampshire. Okay, said the pundits, she'd be history after Super Tuesday on February 5. Wrong again. Last week, she beat the alleged odds and won the popular vote in Texas and Ohio. Ryan Lizza writes in this week's New Yorker Magazine, "To watch Hillary Clinton during the final two weeks of the Ohio and Texas primary campaigns, as she defiantly ignored the pronouncements of her political demise and pounded away at her opponent in one more interview, at one more rally, was to bring to mind Jason or Freddy Krueger or the sitting governor of California, those Hollywood cyborgs and zombies who, despite bullets and stakes and explosions, will not under any circumstances be vanquished."

Unfair, but add to that now departed Obama foreign policy advisor Samantha Power's inopportune description of Hillary as a monster" and you readily conjure an image of Arkansas state troopers storming the Clinton presidential library with torches and pitchforks. Oh, and hookers.

The fact is, this already has been the most interesting, entertaining, informative -- and important -- presidential campaign in decades, despite the attempt of twenty televised debates to jabber us into narcosis. Never have the issues -- even NAFTA, thanks to Tim Russert and the Canadian government -- been so fully discussed this early in the election cycle. The controversies over Obama's mailers attacking Clinton's health care plan, or Clinton's red telephone at 3AM ad -- no matter how asinine you may think them, have triggered interesting national dialogues. And at the risk of stating the obvious, to have the Democratic race come down to the first serious African American and woman contenders is the kind of plot line that usually only comes to screenwriters in fever dreams.

Mudslinging slurs, fear mongering and negative attacks are untoward and maddening, but nothing new, so relax and try to enjoy the show. As Michelle Cottle blogged on The New Republic's website last Wednesday, "Enough with all the whining. Also enough with all the smack talk about how there must be something seriously wrong with Hillary/Obama as a candidate or s/he would have been able to close the deal by now. Horsefeathers. This isn't a primary in which Democratic voters are having a hard time making up their minds because both candidates are so disappointing. That's what's happening with the other team. Democrats' problem is that they have two candidates who are firing up the electorate, as seen in the consistently high turnout at the polls and the jaw-dropping fund-raising figures. ($30 million and $50 million in just one month? John McCain would kill for that kind of trouble.)"

The six weeks leading up to the April 22 Pennsylvania primary may now turn out to be the most entertaining thing to have happened in that state since 1723, when Benjamin Franklin first moved to Philadelphia. And the possibility of new primaries in Florida and Michigan -- probably conducted by mail -- and the continuing fight for the hearts and minds of superdelegates may keep this cliffhanger going right up to the end of August at the Democratic convention in Denver.

Sure, the sheer mathematics of the delegate count may ultimately make an Obama win inevitable. But all sorts of plot twists could occur between now and then. If the year so far is any indication, I'd like to think, as Al Jolson shouted in "The Jazz Singer," that very first talking picture, "You ain't heard nothin' yet!"

© 2008 Messenger Post Newspapers

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York

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Albion Monitor   March 17, 2008   (

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