Walters. In this age of celebrity journalismrnpracticed by newspeople who wantrnto hinction as hookers while being perceivedrnas virgins, it is understandable thatrnWalters enjoys a status even greater thanrnDiane Sawyer’s while at the same timernconducting interviews that are cheesierrnthan Sawyer’s. It was Barbara Walters,rnyou’ll recall, who asked the questions thatrnrevealed the delusional emotional workingsrnof Monica Lewinsky.rnFinding himself surrounded by thesernvery important employees with their veryrnimportant concerns about very importantrnissues of journalistic integrity, ABC NewsrnPresident David Westin sought to calmrnhis corps of prima donnas by sending outrnan e-mail explaining that managementrnmost definitely had not sent LeonardornDiCaprio to the Wliite House for a realdealrninterview because, as he put it, “nobodyrnis that stupid.”rnThat statement proved to be both anrnintentional lie and the kind of misrepresentationrnof reality that results from isolation,rninsular thinking, and professionalrnconceit. The lie was the claim that DiCapriornhad gone to the Wliite House forrnno more than a “walk-through.” (Representativesrnof both the actor and the Presidentrnadamantly insist otherwise.) Thernmisrepresentation of reality was that nobodyrnin big-time news is “that stupid.”rnThe fact is, they are that stupid all therntime. American journalism has declinedrnto the point where its main imperativesrnnow seem limited to creating “news” byrntaking and publicizing political polls,rnwhich can then be used to influencern(rather than reflect) public opinion; andrnshoving microphones in the faces ofrngrieving citizens to question how theyrn”feel” about their child being killed, theirrnhome washing away, or their sudden afflictionrnwith some deadly disease. Withrnfew exceptions, what isn’t shallow in theirrncoverage is biased; and what isn’t biasedrnis prurient. This being the journalisticrnenvironment, what’s the differencernwhether Donaldson interviews Clintonrnor DiCaprio interviews Clinton —orrnwhether Donaldson and Clinton interviewrnDiCaprio?rnThe ideal coda to the ABC flap arrivedrna week after the story broke, in the formrnof the annual Radio and Television CorrespondentsrnAssociation Dinner. There,rnPresident Clinton told elaborate jokes atrnABC’s expense, while David Westin,rnlooking green aroimd the gills, pretendedrnto be good-naturedly amused. To roundrnthings out, there was also much joshingrnabout “cover-ups,” along with many humorousrnreferences to the presidential travailsrnof the past year. Perhaps thernevening’s most memorable moment centeredrnon a joke that had the Presidentrnseeking to end racism by asking a womanrnto remove her clothes and get “naked” —rna joke to which the crowd of politiciansrnand independent journalists respondedrnwith uproarious laughter, with no onernlaughing more uproariously than BillrnClinton himself In other words, whatrnwas, little more than a year ago, a disgrace,rna scandal, and a national trauma,rnwas now, in this roomfifl of big dogs andrninsiders, nothing more than a source ofrnmutually self-validating entertainment.rnAfter this lavish press dinner—whichrnreceived fairly extensive television andrnprint coverage —Chris Matthews, host ofrnCNBC’s Hardball, asked Newsweek reporterrnHoward Lineman if watching thernspectacle of journalists and elected officialsrngetting off on each other mightrnmake the average citizen uneasy. Finemanrnseemed not to understand the question.rnAs far as he was concerned, a traditionrnhad been honored, the Presidentrnhad been hilarious, and everyone presentrnhad had a ball. So where was the problem?rnBut the question Matthews raised wasrnrelevant, especially for journalists whornclaim to be concerned about both thernrapidly blurring line between news andrnentertainment and the increasingly lowrnesteem in which their profession is heldrnby the public. What cable news programming,rnC-SPAN, and the Internetrnhave given the average American is morernthan just expanded access; we now get,rnfrom time to time, an unobstructed peekrnbehind the wall. And it turns out thatrnwhat’s behind the wall is stuff like the Radiornand Television Correspondents AssociationrnDiirner, where together the Presidentrnof the United States and thernjoiunalists who cover him (supposedlyrnon our behalf) smugly amuse themselvesrnwith jokes not only about the Presidenf srnwanton sexual proclivities, but also theirrnshared inclination as newsmen andrnpoliticians to lie and then lie about lying.rnThe problem is not that politicians getrntogether and have a jokefest, or that journalistsrnget together and do the same. Thernproblem is that they do it together—andrndo it as though they were hidden fromrnthe contradictions and hypocrisies thatrnresult from such behavior. But journalistsrnare no longer hidden (although theyrnseem the last people to realize this). Thernirony is that the invasiveness of their professionalrnconduct has rendered their ownrnprivacy, like everyone else’s, nonexistent.rnEverything is visible now, including thernsocial habits of the inside-the-Beltwayrncrowd. And Howard Fineman’s glib obtusenessrnnotwithstanding, the spectacle isrnrepugnant: self-referential, self-congratulatory,rnalmost comically elitist. It isn’t inside-rnbaseball that is on display at eventsrnlike the Radio and Television CorrespondentsrnAssociation Dinner; it’s inside inside-rnbaseball, a game within a game wifliinrna game; How many layers of exclusivityrncan we create for ourselves?rnBut the problem for the Sams and Barbarasrnof the world is that we have reachedrnthe point—thanks in part to the Samsrnand Barbaras of the world—where anyonernand everyone thinks he’s a player.rnNot long after her interview with BarbararnWalters, Monica Lewinsky was reportedrnto be interested in a permanent positionrnon Walters’ daily talk show. The View.rnAnd why not? Wliat would be requiredrnof Miss Lewinsky in that situation is nornmore than what is required of Walters—rnor of Peter Jennings or Leonardo DiCaprio:rnthe ability to attract customersrnand add to the bottom line.rnPersonally, I’m sorry Lewinsky didn’trnget the job. Think of the outright hilarityrnthat would have ensued at the Radio andrnTelevision Correspondents AssociationrnDinner as Monica regaled her journalisticrncolleagues (and the President, too, ofrncourse), with her unique comedic insightsrnon how to, like, get ahead in life.rnJanet Scott Barlow writes fromrnCincinnati, Ohio. Her website, “OutrnHere: Commentary From MiddlernAmerica on Politics and Culture,”rncan be accessed at Myth ofrn”Red Fascism”rnhy Paul GottfriedrnIn a recent discussion with a youngerncolleague about his book-in-progresrnon American historian Richard Hofirntadter, I learned that, during the studerrnriot at Columbia in 1968, Hofstadter r(rn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn