MAKE THE POLLS STOP INSTEAD OF THE PROBE
by L. Brent Bozell III
August 20, 1998
If the media coverage of the aftermath of Clinton's
counterfeit confession were a TV commercial, it would sound like this:
"Ken Starr, you've just presented the evidence to force the President of
the United States to admit he's lied to the country for seven months. Won't
you now please leave for Disney World?"
Minutes before the speech, CNN's Jeff Greenfield predicted
Clinton's address would cause a surge in his polling numbers since all
presidential addresses trigger that reaction, rendering the poll meaningless.
Too bad no one at the networks was listening. Within
minutes, Dan Rather was reading the result of the latest CBS poll: 18 percent
thought the President should resign, 12 percent thought he should be
impeached, and 63 percent thought Ken Starr should end his investigation now.
First, reflect on the utter extremes being offered: should Clinton resign, or
should Starr quit? Where was the line for "wait for Starr to complete his
investigation and report to Congress"?
The next morning, the poll plugging continued. CBS
"This Morning" ran its CBS/New York Times poll results every half
hour, showing 58 percent were "satisfied" that Clinton had said
enough (but, in a surprising burst of pollster balance, 66 percent wished he
would have admitted the affair in January). Then we were told 62 percent
believe Starr's Lewinsky investigation should be dropped now that Clinton had
testified. ABC's "Good Morning America" reported the ABC poll found
59 percent agreed he'd said enough, 60 percent opposed resignation (an 11
percent increase in one day, they noted), and a whopping 69 percent said the
Starr probe should end now.
NBC's "Today" declared the NBC poll didn't ask if Starr's
investigation should end, but whether impeachment proceedings should begin, to
which 66 percent said "No."
Obviously, these polls reflect to some degree the diet of
Clinton-excusing, Starr-bashing drivel the networks have doled out for seven
months. The pro-Clinton spin didn't end with Clinton's drive-by 250-second
address, either. For example, NBC viewers were treated to Tom Brokaw asking
the Christian Coalition's Randy Tate: "But once the President does make
the kind of critical lapse in judgement, the wrong mistake, as he described it
tonight, once he says he regrets that, is that not also a lesson for the
With human nature being what it is, the public also couches
its answers on what they believe to be the pollster's idea of acceptable
discourse. Almost nobody can be imagined telling a network pollster: "I
want to hear about this story until the last intern quits!" On CBS, Bob
Schieffer said a White House aide told him Clinton gave away no details
because "if the President had gone into detail, the American people would
have gone South." But if they really wanted this story to end, why do the
networks keep finding audiences glued to the latest update? It seems the
President isn't the only American lying about this scandal.
The public's been led to believe this is a trivial pursuit.
While Reagan's approval ratings dropped dramatically for sending arms to Iran,
Clinton's numbers rallied for ending up in the arms of an intern. It didn't
have what Newsweek called "constitutional gravitas." Somehow, a
public that only gets scandal coverage on TV packaged simply as
"sex" thinks of Clinton as if he's just another flawed but harmless
TV celebrity figurehead walking the dog, instead of a man who's pledged to
uphold the Constitution as the chief law enforcement officer of the United
None of the networks tackled the legal logic of their
instant polling. Clearly, a majority should demand an end to the Lewinsky
inquiry if the allegations were proven false. But the opposite happened -
Starr secured Lewinsky's testimony and forced the President to admit he lied
to everyone, which could be a felony - and the media mob is still trying
to give Starr the hook. Is it normal criminal procedure to fold an
investigation after the principal target crumbles in the face of the evidence?
Does that make any sense?
Well, yes, if your objective is getting the Starr juggernaut
called off before more damaging truth comes out. Remember, CBS started
pressuring Starr to quit in March. On March 2, Dan Rather announced their
biased poll with a biased delivery: "New indications in a CBS News poll
out tonight of how the public perceives Republican special prosecutor Ken
Starr's investigation. Our poll suggests only 27 percent believe Starr is
conducting an impartial probe. And 55 percent think it's time for Starr to
drop his investigation."
We're in a very strange era when the media encourage less
truth to be disclosed to the public. The pile-up of network polls calling for
Starr's retirement represents nothing but the media's own favorite way of jury
tampering, a little journalistic obstruction of justice. Thank God Ken Starr
isn't paying attention.
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