The Ghost and Ms. L.--a Story for the Ages

Allan Manings, a Malibu resident, writes for television and the stage

The first reported sighting came during a February airing of a CNN newscast from Iraq. The correspondent, trench-coated against the uncertainty of the weather in Iraq, had just reported on the growing tensions between that nation and our own when President Clinton appeared to be ghosting his way into the picture. Faintly at first and then with increasing strength until he was as much a part of the picture as the reporter in Baghdad.

How clever of the State Department or the CIA, I thought. They know that CNN is seen worldwide, and thus possibly in Iraq, so they've electronically insinuated William Jefferson Clinton into a news broadcast. There couldn't be a more ideal way of showing Saddam that Clinton was taking care of business. Why they chose that 10-second clip of the president working a crowd of adherents and pausing to embrace Monica Lewinsky was mysterious. But then so is the working of government.

At first I accepted it as a graphic example of my tax dollars at work and thought no more of it until Mr. Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky reappeared that same night during a "Seinfeld" rerun. There they were, just as we left them on CNN, but now they were gracing the Soup Nazi's place of business. Certainly this was not going to impress Saddam too much, coming as it did during Ramadan.

First CNN and now Seinfeld? Desperate moments call for desperate measures and so quickly to the remote control, and just as quickly my worst fears were realized. The damn clip was everywhere. On every channel, all 364 of them, and seemingly at every moment. "Friends" had an increase of two in the house. "George and Leo" had to be retitled "George and Leo and Bill and Monica." Even the best efforts of "E.R." could not separate them.

What had happened, my TV repairman informed me, was that because the clip had been broadcast so very many times, millions of times, countless times, it had burned itself into the picture tube and was now a permanent fixture on my (and probably your) TV screen.

I accepted that explanation with greater equanimity than I accepted his bill and tried to adapt my TV viewing to getting used to seeing the President and the Intern all over the place.

Now that the clip has become so much a part of our lives, it causes some wonderment as to what the president was doing just before and after he hugged Ms. L. Did he hug other admirers? Did he just shake hands? These are just a few possibilities. Perhaps the broadcasters were being kindly and excised footage of the leader of the free world picking his nose or bent over to tie his shoelaces. Did they excise other FOBs declaring their affection and pledging unswerving support? We'll probably never know because that pungent culled clip lives on TV as a unit apart. It has a life all its own: no beginning, no end . . . just "the hug."

When the Emmy nominees are announced I expect to learn that the ubiquitous clip has been cited in two categories: Most Watched Shows Prime Time and/or Daytime. Certainly it will be a top-heavy favorite to walk off with the statuette for America's Stupidest Video.

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