Infinite Scandals, Infinite Apathy
by L. Brent Bozell III
March 30, 2000
The scandals of the Clinton administration just won't stop. If it isn't Bill Clinton, it's Hillary; if not Al Gore, it's Janet Reno. A day doesn't go by without a new revelation of wrongdoing -- or its cover-up -- from what we were promised would be "the most ethical administration in history," but is easily the most corrupt ever.
On March 29, the latest stink bomb exploded. A federal judge ruled Bill Clinton had violated the Privacy Act in releasing Kathleen Willey's supportive letters last March, after Willey charged the President with sexual harassment. That document dump was a crime, making the President of the United States a C-R-I-M-I-N-A-L. Except for the Fox News Channel, the networks met this news with a resounding yawn. ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NBC gave the story just seconds each.
What in the world -- literally -- was more important that night? Topics getting bigger coverage that night included a movable stadium in Japan (ABC); baseball's opening day (CBS); British Prime Minister Tony Blair's pending fatherhood (NBC); and how female sexual preferences are linked to the length of their index fingers.
The same protective dynamic surrounded National Journal's March 24 report that the State Department's Inspector General is conducting a criminal investigation of Tony Coelho, the chairman of Al Gore's presidential campaign. Investigators found numerous financial irregularities when Coelho was head of the U.S. exhibition at the World's Fair in Portugal in 1998. While Coelho listed 85 sources of income and a net worth of more than $10 million in his financial-disclosure forms, he leased an $18,000-a-month apartment at U.S. taxpayer expense in Portugal and hired his niece as a $2,500-a-month assistant to his deputy. The broadcast networks did absolutely nothing on this story. CNN covered the story, but anchor Bernard Shaw's primary question was: "Does this thing have legs?" Translation: We don't really want to cover this any longer.
On the same day the Coelho story hit the streets, a House Appropriations subcommittee released a report showing that Hillary Rodham Clinton's trips to New York on military aircraft last year for her Senate campaign cost more than $182,000 over a seven-month period, with taxpayers footing 80 percent of the bills. In a separate study that counted more trips over a longer period of time, the Republican National Committee found flights by "Mrs. Clinton and her entourage" into and around New York cost a lot more -- $905,000 -- with taxpayers getting back only about 3 cents on the dollar. The RNC report included $ 630,000 for highly expensive trips aboard Air Force One with President Clinton that the House analysis didn't cover.
The First Lady is using taxpayer-funded aircraft for explicitly partisan and political purposes. While Presidents have traditionally used these perks in running for re-election, what should the rules be for a First Lady running for the Senate in New York? In effect, the taxpayer is making an in-kind contribution to one side of a Senate race, but reporters aren't attempting to address the ethical quandary. They're barely touching the story at all. So much for all that enthusiasm for campaign finance "reform."
NBC's Andrea Mitchell aired a fairly tough story on the "Nightly News," but ABC and CBS did not. With the exception of a couple of dismissive sentences in Time, all three news magazines last week ignored the Republican allegations of military plane misuse, while all three hounded her opponent, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, for his comments and actions surrounding the police shooting of an unarmed black man.
People without a long memory of political coverage might assume the media just don't like scandal stories without sex or a cigar. But it wasn't always so. A long, long time ago -- nine years to be exact -- The Washington Post had a much lower threshold for scandal. In April of 1991, they devoted entire pages over the outrage that then-White House Chief of Staff John Sununu made personal trips using military aircraft. Over the next two months, they put Air Sununu on the front page on 11 different occasions, and even created a furor when he took a government limousine trip to a New York stamp auction. After clubbing Sununu with 27 stories in two months in 1991, not only did the Washington Post fail to assign its own reporters to study the military-plane math, they gave the House Appropriations study on Air Hillary's ongoing New York shuttle just 500 words on page 6, and promptly dropped the matter.
The Air Hillary story is emblematic of the major media's utterly corrupt approach to political coverage. We won't cover this military-plane thing. We'll let the Republicans do the math. If we cover it at all, we'll present it as another partisan food fight. We're not interesting in any governing principle except electing Senator Hillary.
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