Campaign Reform? What Media Chutzpah!
by L. Brent Bozell III
September 25, 1997
ABC White House reporter John Donvan said something crucial
on CNN's "Talk Back Live" last week. He explained that Paul
Friedman, the Executive Producer of ABC's "World News Tonight," has
decided the Paula Jones lawsuit is to be mostly ignored, that unless "it
matters to the public, that he will make the choice not to do the story."
Lost on Donvan (and presumably Friedman, too) was the arrogance in the bold
declaration that the press will decide what the public wants. Underscoring
that elitism, Donvan declared later that "I've always disagreed with the
notion that the news happens to us. We make decisions about it."
The network coverage - an oxymoron when referencing Clinton
scandals - of the Thompson hearings illustrates Donvan's point, and explains
why the hearings were doomed from the start. Reporters suddenly claimed that
witnesses would require marquee value before receiving coverage, a litmus test
absent from the journalistic rules of conduct when an unknown lieutentant
colonel testified on Iran-Contra in 1987. So what qualifies as "marquee
value"? Not the chairman of the DNC and not the National Security
Adviser. Worst of all, reporters then used their own spotty coverage as proof
of the hearings' failure. As CNN's Candy Crowley claimed: "Even if
Thompson should turn up a blockbuster revelation, will anyone know? Relatively
few people are watching and front-page coverage is spotty."
On September 9, ABC signaled how the networks were spinning
the story in sync with the Democratic Party line. Reporter Linda Douglass
suggested: "Today, one Democratic Senator held out an olive branch to
Senator Thompson. He said 'Look, forget the Chinese plot. The hearings are
important because they're exposing the evil influence of money in politics.'
At that moment, Senator Thompson's face relaxed. He said then he was sorry if
he left the wrong impression. And it's clear that many of the Senators want to
defuse the partisan warfare and get this whole messy issue behind them."
Peter Jennings' reply was priceless: "That will be a relief to the
Thus, hearings were only useful to the extent that they
buried the focus on Democratic wrongdoing and led to passage of a campaign
finance "reform" bill. When Roger Tamraz offered his colorful
testimony, what was the salient point? It wasn't the solid proof of a White
House out of control, violating national security procedures at every turn.
No, Tamraz was "a walking ad for campaign reform," said Bob
Schieffer on CBS.
On ABC, they went even further, actually using that
testimony to attack the GOP! Peter Jennings declared: "Even with all this
cynicism about fundraising, some would say disgust, Republicans have been
unwilling to bring any campaign finance reform bill to the floor."
Reporter John Cochran explained the GOP was trying not "to be seen as
stonewalling against campaign finance reform."
Stonewalling? For months, the Democrats have stonewalled the
Republicans' attempts to get to the bottom of the fundraising scandal, just as
they've stonewalled Republican to get to the bottom of Whitewater, Travelgate,
Ron Brown, Trooperagate, and a mountain of other scandals. And now
the reporters pull out the word "stonewalling" now and apply it to
Shades of labels past. In the second term of the Reagan
administration and throughout the Bush years, the favorite press mantra was
the "sleaze factor." Every time anyone remotely connected with the
administration hiccupeped, the dreaded "sleaze factor" was trotted
out, enough so that Bill Clinton would run for president on the issue,
eventually promising "the most ethical administration in history" as
an antidote. Quick. In the last five years, can you name me an instance when
"sleaze factor" has ever been attributed to the Clinton
Diverting the focus from the fundraising scandal to
"reform" legislation isn't just bowing at the feet of Democratic
damage controllers, it's a triumph of Clintonian chutzpah. Liberal corruption
is transformed into the best excuse for liberal legislation. (Could you
imagine the liberal media's reaction if the Republicans in 1987 had the
chutzpah to suggest that the obvious answer to the problems of Iran-Contra was
more Contra aid?) The laws that the DNC and the Clinton White House violated
with abandon are the very laws that the Democrats elected right after
Watergate passed to clean up the system. Shouldn't the Democrats be held a
little more accountable than the Republicans as they mangle their own
The Republicans should be having a field day. Lady Luck
doesn't put in this kind of overtime, year after year providing the GOP with
one opportunity after another to filet the opposition. It is amazing testimony
to the brazenness of Bill Clinton, who will lie with abandon, and the national
news media, which will insulate him from public scrutiny no matter what, that
he's still in office. And it's apparent the Republicans have no earthly idea
what to do about it.
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