Columnist Ellen GoodmanBy Susan Kreifels
Twenty years ago, syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman believed women's issues such as day care, breast cancer and abortion needed to be on the national agenda, not the women's section of the newspaper. "The personal is political," she advocated.
How leaders "treated their family and how they treated the public" were not mutually exclusive, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist told a packed crowd yesterday at the East-West Center.
But that notion has gone amok in the nation's capital, falling into the "politics of personal destruction" by politicizing the private sex lives of politicians.
And she blamed the media for feeding the frenzy.
"There's no sophisticated balance between private and public," Goodman said. "We know less about our neighbors and more about political figures . . . It's sexier to cover character than policy."
Goodman, speaking as the center's 1998 George Chaplin Fellow in Distinguished Journalism, said a less-hasty press must find the right balance by fitting events "into the context of life."
Goodman minced no words on her feelings about the impeachment resolution passed Saturday by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Republicans' justification for impeachment -- President Clinton lying under oath -- was "complete bull. It's about sex."
She said an impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate will leave no winners in its long and ugly trail. Americans may "step back and say, 'My God, did we really impeach a president because he lied about sex?'"
Goodman said personal issues such as family, marriage and morality are still important. "They're just not about high crime and misdemeanor."
And while reporting on the character of politicians is still fair game, "character is not strictly sexual behavior."
Goodman said the more important barometer of character is a politician's attitude toward public policies such as welfare reform.
The only good news to come from the controversy, Goodman said, was from citizens who rejected Washington media calls for Clinton to go. "Citizens don't need the Washington establishment to tell them what to think," Goodman said. "They're way ahead of the media."
And she gave this advice to a local teacher who asked what to tell children about politics, character and the impeachment: "Have them read. Teach them the art of critical thinking."