Everybody's in showbiz
Clemens circus is monument to age of entertainment
Posted: Tuesday February 12, 2008 2:47PM; Updated: Tuesday February 12, 2008 4:31PM
Many moons ago, Mad magazine ran photos of prominent politicians with a concise expression of disgust at the bottom of each: Ecccch.
That sentiment comes to mind whenever I see assorted members of the House Oversight Committee, Roger Clemens and his carnival barker attorney Rusty Hardin, squirrely Brian McNamee and his syringes, that avuncular old undertaker Bud Selig, wolverine-smiled Donald Fehr, and just about anyone else associated with baseball's steroid scandal. It's a scurvy crew and must-see TV.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the hearings in Washington, D.C. are custom-made for an age when anything and everything -- from congressional and court proceedings to home renovation and willing public humiliation -- are considered entertainment.
In our fame-crazed culture, the public's right to know has merged with its right to watch and be amused. Thus, with all the attention and dough at stake in matters like the steroid mess, it's nigh on impossible for anyone involved to stay in the arena of serious-minded inquiry. The temptation is to play to sentiment and the cameras as the larger issues are diminished.
The recent display of congressmen and their aides canoodling with Clemens prior to his hearing only fuels the suspicion that it will be yet another instance where celebrity and grandstanding rule the day. The O.J. trial, the Monica Lewinsky investigation/Bill Clinton impeachment, the Robert Blake and Phil Spector trials, the Clarence Thomas confirmation, the 2005 congressional steroid hearings and more played out with some combo platter of star-struck judges, jurors and politicians, sleazy witnesses, big-name defendants, tawdry storylines, saturation media coverage and rapt audiences that were mostly along for the trainwreck. Why will this be any different?
What makes this scandal so hard to take is that the cheating went on openly for so long and the appearance of guilt clings to so many in the game. Anything other than an even-handed approach that best serves justice will be a sham of a mockery of a travesty of mockery of a sham, to use Woody Allen's classic line. The only good I see from the Rocket's surreal antics -- vehement denials, 60 Minutes appearance, press conference, taped phone call, congressional lobbying -- is that his attorney is trying to do his damnedest to make sure the system does its job doggedly, thoroughly and by the rules of innocent until proved guilty. Fehr is doing likewise by continuing to shield what surely smells like a legion of scoundrels. That's what any defense lawyer worth his alligator shoes should do.
It is worth noting that when prosecutors are elected officials, the truth can get sacked in favor of courting votes by showing results -- any results (see: Mike Nifong's little misadventure in the Duke rape case.) And in our culture, an accusation is usually equated with guilt. There's real contempt in the phrase "lawyering up" -- as if the accused is wrong for resorting to a guaranteed right to a stour defense. We are all in peril without it. But in Clemens' case, applying a pat of butter to one's inquisitors beforehand is going a bit too far and emits more than a faint odor of likely guilt. It also makes one yearn for someone to get to the bottom of it all in a dignified fashion and that appropriate steps will be taken to correct the problem of performance enhancing substances, whether Clemens is guilty or not.
Call me a cynic, but I'm not holding my radish-and-Twinkie-scented breath.
Clemens might have spared us, and perhaps himself, had he maintained a quiet, steadfast profession of his innocence right through the hearing -- or, if he is indeed guilty, 'fessed up at the outset. Owning up to one's mistakes takes courage, but it often comes with a great reward: forgiveness. Then again, pride and a competitive drive are tough to ignore. So we're getting a spectacle in front of a bunch of elected officials, more than a few of whom are prone to moo-moo eyes when famous athletes are in the room.
Yeah, it'll make for great TV, but don't be surprised if the aftertaste makes you say, "Ecccch."