AUSTIN, Texas -- Excuse me, but something seems to be slipping into obscurity with no media comment whatever, and as Arthur Miller wrote in "Death of a Salesman," "Attention must be paid."

The event was a modest announcement by the Office of the Special Prosecutor that there is insufficient evidence to bring a charge of wrongdoing against Bill or Hillary Clinton in the Whitewater investigation.

That story lasted exactly one news cycle, and then we dropped it like a hot rock. If that's a one-cycle story, just what the HELL has been going on for the last six years? Six years, $52 million, and there is no there there? There never was, and I'm sorry to play I-told-you-so, but I told you so. So what was this madness about?

David Maraniss of The Washington Post has this nice riff that he does about Bill Clinton as the Republicans' Moby Dick. They've had their harpoons in this white whale since '92, but they can't kill him -- he keeps dragging them to their deaths in his wake.

Gene Lyons, the veteran Arkansas political reporter, always saw it as a media foul-up, starting with Jeff Gerth's front-page story in The New York Times, which he ruthlessly dissects in his book "Fools for Scandal." The rest of the media pack ran around for years saying, "Well, it was Page One in the Times, so there must something to it," even though no one could ever find much to it.

The eternal problem for out-of-state reporters trying to do Arkansas stories was that bizarre stew of old Clinton enemies, incestuous politics and entrepreneurial weirdoes who turned Clinton-hating into one of the country's most picturesque industries. Lyons and Joe Conason vividly describe some of the more outrageous practitioners of Clinton-hatred in "The Hunting of the President."

Then there is the blame-the-victim school, which holds that if Clinton had behaved himself, none of this ever would have happened.

OK, he didn't do anything wrong in Whitewater, he didn't do anything wrong in Filegate, he didn't do anything wrong in Travelgate -- but he sure had a highly improper relationship with a White House intern, although how that came to be a subject for an obsessive prosecutor assigned to investigate a real-estate deal is still hard to comprehend.

Right to the end, the special prosecutor was still complaining about the Clintons' failure to produce relevant documents in a timely manner. I can't understand why the Clintons weren't more anxious to cooperate with Kenneth Starr, can you?

I think Jeffrey Toobin, the legal writer, may be onto the root of the problem in his book "A Vast Conspiracy." His thesis is that we have witnessed the criminalization of politics.

That it led promptly to lunacy beyond description is indisputable -- I forget why we had to read about Rep. Henry Hyde's youthful indiscretion or Rep. Bob Livingstone's love life, but I distinctly recall that the only man in America having a good time was Larry Flynt. The whole thing was perfectly bonkers.

To this day, I cannot explain why Henry Cisneros wound up in the dock, much less why his ex-ladyfriend is in prison or why her brother-in-law was pursued by the FBI.

The FBI is clearly part of the problem, and one sees yet another distorting effect of this season of madness in the fallout from the Wen Ho Lee case. The farcical congressional hearings on the case amounted to Republicans giving Louis Freeh a free pass because he has been so politically useful to them. The driving force behind the misbegotten Lee case was, once again, political: The R's were hot to prove that the Chinese money that Clinton got in '96 had somehow damaged the national security. Who cares that a man's life was ruined in the process?

Now we are left with the tragic case of Clinton-haters in the post-Clinton era. What can we do to help these bereft citizens?

Fortunately, they seem to be able to switch focus to Hillary Clinton with little difficulty, so if she wins her Senate race, they can just keep on keeping on. And the rest of us? Any chance we could learn anything from this? Media?

The New York Times was willing to re-evaluate its performance on the Wen Ho Lee case in the wake of new evidence -- an act of great honor by that newspaper. I wonder if the members of the Washington press corps are willing to hold a Whitewater post-mortem to see if they can figure out why they let that story get out of control and run them.

There were lots of sensible citizens through the soap opera, but few in the Washington media corps. The citizenry at large, once again, deserve great commendation for having kept their heads while all about them were losing theirs. They had no trouble distinguishing between the job that Clinton was doing and their opinions of his personal life. Way to go, Americans.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.