WHITHER OLLIE?… Anniversary stories are the journalistic equivalent of strawberry Pop-Tarts; a steady diet won’t do, but in a pinch, they make for reliable, easily-prepared filler. Editors start off the year with a lengthy calendar that reads like a high school history final crib sheet, where the moon landing bumps up against the Battle of Bull Run, and the Reichstag fire shares real estate with the Gulf War. That kind of news predictability is otherwise in fairly short supply, which is why journalists tend to find anniversary pieces pretty addictive. For logical reasons, a good political scandal can generally make the grade in this town, especially on a slow news day: there’s usually a lengthy paper trail, and some sort of big-picture morality play at work.
So over at Slate, Timothy Noah has an interesting, obvious query: Where, exactly, is the coverage of Iran-Contra’s 20th birthday?
After all, it was two decades ago last weekend that Ed Meese conceded publicly that the White House had illegally sold weapons to Iran to fund anti-government fighters in Nicaragua — a shocking admission that, at least briefly, triggered impeachment buzz — yet somehow, so far, the occasion hasn’t merited a single major press mention. (Yes, there’s a lot going on right now, but as Noah points out, the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend wasn’t exactly the busiest of news days.) He comes up with two likely explanations:
1) We like our political scandals simple, involving sex, or money, or (preferably) both; that whole arms-for-hostages tangle was complicated enough the first time around,
2) The whole sordid saga upends the current Grand Unified Theory of late Reagan-era officialdom, and the generally-assumed roles thereof (i.e., Bush I as unalloyed statesman, Bob Gates as the Man in the White Hat, etc).
Good, plausible guesses both, to which I’d add:
3) Give it time. There’s still the Tower Commission (launched 20 years ago tomorrow), and that presidential apology (20 years next March — mark your calendars now). My own, admittedly fuzzy, memories of Iran-Contra involve those congressional hearings that pre-empted late-afternoon Little House on the Prairie reruns, and made a star out of Ollie North. If I had to guess right now, I’d predict the first pieces will appear on or around the launch of the first big Iraq investigation of the new Congress.
Any wagers out there as to when Iran-Contra might finally get the big anniversary nod? Make your guesses below; the lucky winner will be compensated in traditional, generous Monthly fashion.