Presidential Candidates, the Internet, and Very Important News

Gossip is mischievous, light and easy to raise, but grievous to bear and hard to get rid of. No gossip ever dies away entirely, if many people voice it; it too is a kind of divinity.

--Hesiod, Works and Days

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Most United States voters spend hours each day contemplating things like taxes, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the trade deficit, and other weighty matters. Fascinated by the complexity of these and endlessly in search of enlightenment, they are grateful that there are presently 19 Democrats who have announced their intentions to seek the presidency and 74 Republicans who have done the same, each of whom explains complex issues in a manner that enlightens. (Included among the Democrats are such well-known figures as Christine Gerasimos Billings-Elias and Emperor Caesar, and among the Republicans people like Jedidiah Elijah Wendell Kennedy Banks and Freddy Irwin Sitnick. According to Project Vote Smart "announced" candidates are those who have formed or announced a Presidential exploratory or campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission or filed a statement of candidacy). Elucidation of complex issues by the candidates in debates and on the stump is done with such oratorical flourish that any day now one expects William Jennings Bryan to rise up from the grave and cry out in pleasure at the skill demonstrated by those seeking the office to which he thrice aspired.

Notwithstanding the pleasure the voter derives from the reasoned discussion by the candidates of serious issues, occasionally, exhausted by consideration of the substantive issues, the voter longs for a bit of fluff as a diversion that may also be useful in selecting a favorite candidate. And that is where the Internet comes in.

In the 2004 election a group of know-nothings was supporting a ticket led by a man who was a deserter during the Vietnam War and whose sidekick avoided military service by staying in school. They created rumors about John Kerry's war record by spreading lies on the Internet. Nurtured by that medium, the lies became news in the main street media. They were eventually accepted as true by some of the voters who had long labored to understand all the truly significant issues then confronting the country and had looked forward to casting votes informed by knowledge. Seduced by untruths, they voted on the basis of the lies spread on the Internet. In recent days we have once again been momentarily excused from our assigned task of studying issues by a bit of trivia brought to us courtesy of the internet.

On November 8 it was reported that one of the presidential candidates MAY HAVE LEFT A RESTAURANT WITHOUT LEAVING A TIP (emphasis added). During the election of 1940 this would not have been reported on any radio station nor would it have been mentioned in the New York Times. Thanks to the Internet, however, this has become REALLY BIG NEWS (emphasis added). Here's what happened.

Hillary Rodham Clinton dined at a Maid-Rite diner in central Iowa. At the conclusion of the meal she and her retinue left the restaurant and may or may not have left a tip. That news was told to NPR's David Greene by Anita Esterday, a waitress at the restaurant. Mr. Greene included it in an 8-minute report broadcast on Morning Edition on November 8.

No sooner was the tale told, than bloggers flashed the VERY IMPORTANT news all over the Internet. This VERY IMPORTANT news was then responded to by Ms. Clinton's staff. It contacted news organizations to let them know that in fact a generous tip had been left and other news organizations then rushed to the Maid-Rite to interview people to see who was telling the truth. NPR then broadcast a much longer piece describing exactly what all the parties to this event had to say about it and the New York Times, not wanting to deprive its readers of this important news, published a small piece of approximately 400 words describing the event and the campaign's response.

A Washington Post report on the episode added the important news that in 2000 Hillary Clinton left a Village House Restaurant in Albion, N.Y. without leaving a tip. After that event was reported Ms. Clinton called the server to apologize and sent the server a $100 savings bond. In the Iowa event a staffer returned and although stating a tip had been left gave Ms. Esterday and another waitress $20 each. Momentarily, this incident erased from the mind of the thoughtful American public all concerns about weightier issues.

Asked about the affair, the affronted waitress said to an inquiring reporter: "You people are really nuts. There's kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now-there's better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn't get a tip." Ignoring the fact that her complaint started the brouhaha, she has a point.

--Christopher Brauchli;
For political commentary see his web page,

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