Stop The Drive-By Media Analysis
by L. Brent Bozell III
September 17, 1998
The hard news on the Starr report, with all its damning
detail, is now over. Here comes the spin - for the news media, they call it
"analysis" - and the response of the President's most devoted media
lackeys is to focus on what's not in it: the final word on
Whitewater, Travelgate, and Filegate.
And they're making James Carville look reasonable by
Geraldo Rivera, soon after announcing the Starr probe was
threatening to make him "suicidal," exemplified this approach on
CNBC: "Whitewater mentioned two times! Travelgate not once! Filegate not
once! Not even a reference to the infamous talking points! Jonathan Alter, my
good friend at Newsweek said 80,000 stories had been published, 80,000 stories
on those three topics, on Whitewater alone, 80,000 just on Whitewater!"
Alter had used that figure in Newsweek, arguing the media
"badly underplayed" that "Starr found nothing even vaguely
impeachable in the Clintons' conduct in those 'scandals.'"
Stop right there. Eighty thousand stories? Using a news
database like Nexis is a great way to measure media coverage - but only if
used accurately. One assumes Alter didn't read the "80,000" stories
when he typed "Whitewater" into the computer, so we have no idea
what was in them, or how many included stories on whitewater rafting. How many
of those 80,000 were not news stories, but rather editorials or letters to the
editor? How many were oblique references to new hirings of people who used to
work on a Whitewater investigation? Or graduates of the University of
Wisconsin at Whitewater? Who knows?
And what about the time frame? If you go all the way back to
March of 1992, when the story first broke in the New York Times, you have to
consider the many angles surrounding the story that are broadly defined as
news: the appointment of special counsels, the congressional investigations,
the Supreme Court rulings on evidence or attorney-client privilege, Susan
McDougal's non-Whitewater-related trial - the list is endless.
Now play with some math here. There are more than 500
newspapers in the Nexis database. The Whitewater story has gone on for six and
a half years. If there were 80,000 stories and you divided this by 500
dailies, divided by 78 months, that equals about two stories a month per
paper, if that was all Alter was using. Now, throw into the that database mix
all the magazines, the transcripts from different television and radio
outlets... and Alter's number becomes insignificant.
"We have done some research of our own," announced
a crusading Rivera. On screen viewers saw story tallies just from the New York
Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Without any source offered or
time frame given, Rivera announced the totals: 5,456 "references" to
Whitewater, 217 to the talking points, 273 to Travelgate and 157 to Filegate.
Again, without any definition of parameters, for NBC he claimed 746 stories
"referred to" Whitewater, 62 to Filegate, 94 to Travelgate and 52 to
the talking points. Rivera demanded: "Will all of the media, including
NBC, give even a fraction of the airtime and the newsprint that we gave to
these allegations to the fact that no impeachable offenses were found? When
are we going to say to the President of the United States, 'we're
Memo to Geraldo: Assuming your drive-by research is correct
(which I don't), how many of these were negative to Clinton, and how many were
shameless pro-Clinton puff pieces like yours?
Now add the political reality: Geraldo considers the fact
that Kenneth Starr has convicted 12 people, including a jury verdict
convicting the sitting Governor of Arkansas and the President's close Arkansas
business partners on multiple felonies, to mean nothing. Besides, had Starr
included articles of impeachment over Webster Hubbell's hush money or Hillary
Clinton's relationship with Craig Livingstone, Geraldo would have dismissed
them as garbage anyway.
And why won't Geraldo tell the truth, anyway? Starr did not
absolve Clinton on these charges. Starr is still investigating these charges.
NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer returned to the newfound
favorite theme of the liberal press - media overkill - presenting a few
numbers of his own to liberal columnist Molly Ivins: "Over the past month
there have been something like 400 segments on network news shows dealing with
the President's scandal. To be very honest, 300 of them have aired on the main
morning shows like this one. Is that too much coverage and why?" Ivins
drawled on with something about the media's failing as democracy's watchdog:
"while this watchdog's been chewing on this juicy scandal bone, the
burglars are walking off with all the silver in the house."
I really have no idea what Ms. Ivins meant by that, but the
correct answer was: Mr. Lauer, where were you "reporters" in your
coverage of Bill Clinton from March 1992 to January 21, 1998?
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