The front pages of the country's various (if not varied) newspapers have for some time seemed strange, with photographs showing unfamiliar men peering out from behind desks at the United Nations. But if something seemed to be missing, the time for reassurance has arrived; Charlie Van Doren's sweating brow is back in its old spot on page one.
Along with thirteen other contestants, Mr. Van Doren was arrested yesterday for perjuring himself before a grand jury. The press, meanwhile, rubbed its hands in anticipation of an orgy of moralizing.
At first one cannot help wondering whether we haven't been through this trial before. It becomes clear, however, that these people deserve a second ordeal, because they are guilty of two crimes. And it is fitting that the present perjury investigation follows the previous trial, because perjury is only the secondary crime. The first trial, a public one in which the Columbia instructor was indicted and sentenced by the press (acting on behalf of the entire nation) concerned Van Doren's really horrendous offense: getting caught.
There was a certain glamour about the Van Doren who tried to get away with it. Up to a point there was public sympathy, based on begrudged admiration for this daring young man who went along with the crooked rules of the game to make some cash. But when the bottom fell out, Van Doren was nothing more than immorality personified.
It is interesting that the condemnation has been so out-spoken and self-righteous, because it indicates that the crime involved strikes close to home. People who merely defy the nation's values are crackpots, and are dismissed lightly because their sins aren't frighteningly poignant. But the tremendous pre-occupation with Van Doren's guilt shows that he has done much more than defy American values; he has embodied them.
After all, Charles Van Doren was not alone in placing a price tag on education.