President Eisenhower, upon his retirement, warned of a “military-industrial complex” that threatened fundamental changes in the American power structure and public policy. He was probably right.

But, today, new social forces and institutions are at work reshaping America’s values and political agenda. President Clinton’s trip to Lake Tahoe this past weekend is a perfect example of how this new alliance — the “government-media complex” — works.

It doesn’t take a political scientist to see through the premise of this excursion — one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, in which Clinton has played the role of Santa Claus. This time, he came bearing $26 million in taxpayer goodies — from new postal trucks to new sewage pipes — all in the name of preserving the environment. He also promised more money and more gifts next year.

The establishment media dutifully credited Clinton and Vice President Al Gore with trying to “save Lake Tahoe.” And that’s really what this weekend’s activity was all about — one giant photo opportunity at one of the most beautiful areas on earth.

Apparently, Clinton can get away with anything — even the most blatant acts of hypocrisy — during such excursions without so much as a blush from his cheerleaders in the press. Let me give you an example.

During a boat ride on the lake, Clinton dropped a dinner plate overboard to test the clarity of the water. In 1968, the press reported, a plate dropped could be seen to a depth of 105 feet. Clinton’s plate could only be seen to a shocking level of 90 feet.

Had any of these reporters ever been to Lake Tahoe before? Did they understand the enormity of the lake and the variations in clarity from one end to another? Did they understand how such conditions have more to do with turbulence in the lake due to boating activity and surface temperatures than with changes in the environment since 1968?

Nobody bothered to ask such probing questions, apparently. They had seen it with their own eyes. The president of the United States dropped a plate, and it disappeared from view after dropping only 90 feet. Never mind the fact that if Clinton had dropped a plate in the Potomac, it would have disappeared after about three feet. In fact, it may have disintegrated at that level as well. But Clinton isn’t spending any money on trying to clean up the water in the nation’s capital. Oh, no. It wouldn’t make for nearly the photo op.

You also have to ask yourself what the radical environmentalists must think about Clinton dropping plates in the lake. Now, granted, when Clinton finishes a meal, I understand there isn’t much left on his plate to despoil the waters. But, still, this was a plate. Is the president encouraging people to drop debris in the lake? What would the Environmental Protection Agency think about an ordinary private citizens dropping a dinner plate in the lake? I gotta believe there would be some penalties levied. Clinton, however, can do no wrong. His motives are pure. And motives to his friends in the media are more important than actions.

Of course, this action by Clinton pales in comparison to his behavior last year in Utah when he single-handedly federalized millions of acres of land, placing them off-limits from coal mining that might compete with his friends in Indonesia. Little-noticed by the press was Clinton’s bulldozing of so-called “old-growth” trees to simply create a better photo opportunity for the president.

Imagine that! In their tree-hugging zeal, Clinton’s Forest Service and other federal gencies have prevented logging beneficial to the forest — logging that would help create homes, jobs and other goods and services. Yet, knocking down trees is OK if it helps Clinton score political points and makes a better picture on the front page of the New York Times. It was hypocrisy so breathtakingly stunning that it sailed right over the heads of the establishment press.

At least I hope it was a case of stupidity — or, simply, ideological blindness. Otherwise, we’ve got even more to fear from “the government-media complex” than I think.

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