As I write this, it was 20 years ago today that the story was broken of a 23-year old White House intern who was having sexual relations with the president of the United States.
The Drudge Report, which originally reported the story, celebrated the 20th anniversary of this breaking news by displaying several links about the event. It was this story that really catapulted Matt Drudge and his website into uncharted waters. It is now a favorite news site amongst conservatives, many libertarians (myself included), and probably even some on the left. Drudge should be celebrating this event because he is now worth likely somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million.
But it wasn’t the sexual scandal of Bill Clinton and the ensuing impeachment that is really the big story. It is certainly memorable, and perhaps entertaining, but the actual story probably didn’t change our lives all that much in the long run.
The significance of the story is that it marked a change in modern news and communication. It broke the first hole in the gate that was managed by the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers are the establishment media.
Newsweek magazine had the story and was supposedly going to report it, but ended up killing the story. There were likely other outlets that knew of the story.
To this day, we don’t know what would have happened if the internet was not in existence in 1998. Maybe the story would have never been released, or maybe it would have just come from the National Enquirer. It probably would have gone down as an unsubstantiated rumor.
The internet was in its infancy in 1998. But for anyone paying close attention, it was Drudge’s story about Lewinsky that really signaled a changing of the guard.
We will never go back to the world of 1990. It is too late for the establishment to stop it. And since the internet plays such a vital role in our economy and our lives every day, it would be impossible for politicians to shut it down for any significant length of time. Politicians would rather have their constituents on Facebook than having them stand outside their office with pitchforks.
To be sure, the establishment media is still there and kicking. It still does great damage and influences people to a large degree. But it also faces competition as it never did before.
Most people get at least some of their news from the internet now. Whether it is from actual news sites or blogs or social media, there is a lot to choose from. Of course, there is a lot of inaccurate and bad information out there, but at least one can search for the truth. At least you have a chance of finding something that you are looking for.
In the old days, you basically had to walk around in a virtual state of ignorance. If you were curious about some obscure fact, there was almost no way to easily find it out, unless it happened to be in the Almanac or Encyclopedia. You could go to a library, but the search could be daunting, and it may not even have what you are looking for.
Now we have the free flow of information between billions of people on the planet. We can get first-hand accounts of things that happened instead of relying on the news to report what they want to report. We are no longer dependent on 3 or 4 television stations that report basically the same thing.
For this reason, I don’t understand why so many people are pessimistic about the future. There are certainly a lot of things to be concerned about in terms of foreign policy, civil liberties, and living standards. But we have one of the greatest things going for us in that the gatekeepers no longer have a sealed gate. We don’t have to rely on them for information any longer.
This is very positive for the prospects of liberty. It is the establishment and the cronies who rely on false information and propaganda to continue a system of government control. It is much easier to manipulate the people when you have control over the information that they are fed.
That control has shifted, and libertarians should celebrate this fact. The truth is on our side. Therefore, anything that opens up communication and the free flow of information is beneficial because more people can hear the truth.
Things changed in the 1990s, and it has grown far more powerful than we could have imagined. Drudge’s story about Monica Lewinsky signified that change in 1998. It allowed tens of millions of people to shut off their television and close their newspapers and turn on their computer.
We are better off for it, and we have more liberty because of it.