445. That’s the magic number of the week, the number of pages of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s report on his didn’t-it-seem-endless investigation into wrongdoing by the President. (I wonder how many people went to their local newsstand today and played that number for the daily lottery?) The abrupt, unexpected announcement that the Starr report had been completed and was on its way to Congress on Wednesday caught the TV networks flatfooted: Where were the dramatic images for this momentous event to broadcast?
Flicking the dial from CNN to MSNBC to the breaking-news cut-ins on what we used to call the “major networks,” we saw the same tedious shot: A team of government workers lugging boxes and boxes containing the Starr report and its back-up documentation into the Capitol building. It made for pretty dull viewing, which was compounded by dull multiple-pundit speculation on what information those boxes contained. (Bravo to CNN’s Jeff Greenfield, by the way, for consistently resisting the temptation to speculate while always analyzing this entire imbroglio from fresh, skeptical angles.)
President Clinton won in the imagery department, delivering a dramatic speech to a group of Florida Democrats that, with its inclusion of a more thorough (read: desperation verging on groveling) apology for his shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky, made for more striking television. But the Starr report is destined to find its greatest exposure through another medium: the Internet. Those 445 pages are due to be posted by late Friday afternoon on the Library of Congress’ “Thomas” site, and you can bet cyberpolitical junkies around the world will be jamming the site. (To get around the jam, check out the full text on Time Online.) You can also bet that the President’s response to the report, frantically being cobbled together as you read this, will be pushed out there into the ‘net-world ASAP and duly devoured. Who says reading is a lost art, that print is dying? At this point, it would seem to have a lot more life left in it than the Clinton Presidency.