So now the war that couldn't be won by air power has been won. The president who couldn't survive the Monica scandal looks comfortably toward another year and a half in office. And the pundits who are never embarrassed no matter how wrong they are, are gearing up to pronounce again.
Surely it's one of the strangest things our Information Age has spawned, this cadre of People Who Pronounce. They go on television, after any big political event and on shows scheduled just for them, and deliver judgments -- scolding, deploring failures, predicting someone's demise.
And then, without apology or even acknowledgment, however howlingly wide of the mark, however foolish their pontificating, they return to do it again -- just as pompous, superior and smug.
Of course, as a lowly print pundit, I'm jealous. While we lesser mortals plug away at our keyboards, faceless and slim of pocketbook, our on-air colleagues pronounce their way to fame and big bucks on the speaking circuit. Jealousy being unseemly, I should keep my grumbling private -- except for one thing: I'm convinced these Beltway Broadcast Bombasters are one reason the public dislikes and distrusts all of us in the media.
Think about it: The public hears the press's prideful professions of objectivity. They know our conflict-of-interest guidelines direct us to give any gift of fruit or flowers to the hospital and forbid us to march in protest on a controversial subject: All this so we may appear pure and free of any judgments that might affect the openness of our minds or the fairness of our reporting.
Yet the same news operations, both print and broadcast, are delighted to have their stars go on television -- with a nameplate conveniently identifying their media affiliation -- and babble heatedly about public officials. They then ask the public to read or hear the news stories these journalists write or edit the next day about these very same officials -- and to count on their fairness and open-mindedness.
But of course people don't.
And why would they? Think of some of the pronouncements! Most famously, we have Sam Donaldson's solemn declaration on ABC's "This Week" at the beginning of the Monica scandal that the remainder of Clinton's presidency would be measured "not in weeks, but days." What a feast such airy speculation makes for the talk shows and late-night comics.
Or take almost everything about the war in Kosovo. It had no sooner begun than the pundits were deploring the lack of an exit strategy. On the heels of that came assertions the public would never support it -- followed by the armchair generals' assurances that no simple air war could ever accomplish NATO's aims.
Then came the notion (voiced, for example, by Newsweek's Washington bureau chief, Evan Thomas) that Slobodan Milosevic's indictment for war crimes would make it awfully tough for NATO to negotiate with him. Less than a week later, negotiations with him produced an apparent peace plan.
These fustian frolics often include the demand for someone's head. Broadcast reporter Cokie Roberts, among many, wanted Saddam Hussein's head. "Clearly we've got to strike the head," fightin' Sam Donaldson joined in. Others wanted Milosevic's head. Clinton's head, of course, the punditocracy sought in droves.
Even when Clinton has held onto his head (clearly not always), the Beltway Pundits have found him a fat target. Let him give a major speech, and the likes of Mara Liasson of National Public Radio and Brit Hume of Fox News will snidely assess it -- then expect people to take their White House reports seriously the next day. The last State of the Union effort was a "campaign speech," groused Alan Murray -- before returning to direct news coverage of Clinton as Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal.
True, many TV pundits are not reporters. Former White House staffers go on television to trash the ex-boss, columnists to expand their reach. People can watch or not, depending on the size of their appetite for disdain. But when reporters and editors -- people whose objectivity we're to rely on -- join the professional sneerers, what are we to make of it?
One thing we make of it is a judgment about the trustworthiness and fairness of these journalists' work. And how can these judgments not carry over to their news organizations -- and to the media as a whole?
It's enough to send a lesser light into a tumid little tirade of her own.
I'm not dumb enough to predict the demise of the pronouncers. But I don't mind asking for a few heads.