originally published 2-14-20 on TheBradBlog
On October 24, 1998, a group of activists from across the United States gathered in Washington DC to protest the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton in the first rally ever organized on the internet.
Darrell Hampton's umbrella group "We the People" was generally outraged at Starr's excesses; White House staffer Bob Weiner railed against Ken Starr for subpoenaing him for eating ice cream with a fellow Democrat; the fledgling group "Censure and MoveOn" (later to become MoveOn.org) was featured; and my "Truth in America Project" focused on the biased media promoting the investigation, media that had recently gained its dominance from the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
We all understood the long drawn-out Grand Jury investigation of Bill Clinton had found no crimes, and so Starr et al manufactured a perjury trap to have an excuse to impeach the President. As I said on the Ellipse in front of the White House, "Is it okay for a big government attorney to work with a private civil lawyer to see if they can figure out a way to get a man to lie about his sex life so they can prosecute him for it?"
But what was just coming to light, and what has had a lasting damaging legacy, is the effect of the 1996 Telecommunications Act on our political landscape.
Brief history: When radio and television were first invented, broadcast pioneers and government officials recognized that radio had the potential to entertain and inform, but when used improperly, also to brainwash a population. So Congress passed the 1934 Communications Act, which limited any one owner in the United States to owning just 9 stations nationwide: 3 AM radio stations, 3 FM radio stations, 3 TV stations. The thinking was that by having multiple local owners, no one person could dominate the (publicly owned) airwaves with political rhetoric.
Ah, those were the days...
Over the years, those rules were relaxed. By the time Ronald Reagan was president, one owner could have 20 AM, 20 FM, and 20 TV stations.
Then, in 1996, President Bill Clinton worked with Republicans in Congress to change that law so one media owner could own as many radio stations nationally as it could buy.
Huge media companies like Clear Channel (now iHeart media) had their purchase contracts signed the minute the ink was dry on the Act. In no time, every small, medium and large radio station was owned by just a handful of companies, companies that programmed the peoples' airwaves in no time flat with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, coast-to-coast, who then pummeled the President into impeachment.
Why did Independent Prosecutor Ken Starr ignore four prior investigations (United States Park Police and FBI and House and Senate committees) deeming that suicide was the cause of death of Clinton's longtime friend and Deputy White House Vince Foster, who was found dead in his car at Fort Marcy Park in 1993, killed by a single gunshot through his mouth? Because Rush and the rest were screeching about it on hundreds of radio stations nationwide. According to Brett Kavanaugh in 1999 --- he had provided legal cover for the investigation --- Starr was looking into "a lot conspiracy theories, a lot of controversy. He took the time and made the effort to turn over every stone, to find the truth."
The truth was, the right-wing propaganda machine was unleashed, giving Starr political cover.
Starr gave Talk Radio a full three years to push the "Clintons are murderers" theory before releasing his conclusion that Foster had indeed shot himself. By then, the damage was done, and the Far Right today continues to spread those falsehoods over those same public airwaves.
But the Talkers kept finding new reasons to screech. Filegate! Filegate! Starr investigated, and after years, exonerated the Clintons. Travelgate! Travelgate! Starr investigated, and after years exonerated Bill Clinton.
Then came Paula Jones. David Brock wrote in Richard Mellon Scaife's American Spectator Magazine, a $1.7-million project intended to promote conspiracy theories against the Clintons, that a woman named "Paula" had once had a liaison with then Governor Clinton in a hotel room. Conservative lawyers and PR guru Susan Carpenter McMillan found her, and two days before the statute of limitations ran out, she filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against President Clinton. (Judge Susan Webber Wright eventually threw the case out, finding it to have no merit.) But the talk-radio onslaught continued.
Discovery in that case given to Ken Starr by Jones' attorneys led to Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern who bragged to college friends she was going to Washington wearing her "Presidential kneepads", who told her erstwhile friend Linda Tripp she's had several affairs with married men, and who infamously showed President Bill Clinton her thong, saying, "Wanna play? I'll play."
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