In Sunday's "Outlook" opinion section, The Washington Post's
Howard Kurtz reviewed how Clinton has survived six years of scandals
despite supposedly tough media scrutiny. Kurtz asserted:
"The carefully hedged
denials, the dribble of information, the art of the spin -- all this is
strikingly familiar to the reporters who cover the Clinton presidency.
And, in interviews with me over the past year, most of them have expressed
the belief that the nation's leader has difficulty telling the
"While the public has
proven remarkably tolerant of a President who seems constantly mired in
the muck of scandal, the prevailing view from the Fourth Estate is that
this is one slippery character. Indeed, the cultural gap between the
constant press pounding of Clinton and his consistently high approval
ratings is baffling and frustrating to many reporters.
"Year after year, the
White House has managed to neutralize negative stories, contain their
impact or somehow relegate them to the fringes of the media world. This
relentless effort has served to shield the President from an avalanche of
As any CyberAlert reader
knows, Kurtz may be on target with regards to some newspaper reporters,
his claim is preposterous for television correspondents who work for
networks which have ignored most daily scandal developments. But, Kurtz
goes on to show how the media failed to pick up on scandal news similar to
today's ongoing intern scandal:
"Still, the press has
the power to legitimize scandalous charges or keep them off the national
agenda. It is worth recalling that when Gennifer Flowers alleged an affair
with then-governor Clinton in 1992, the networks initially ignored the
charges, except for a couple of references on NBC. The New York Times ran
only a few paragraphs on the bottom of an inside page. 'I am ashamed for
my profession,' Max Frankel, then the Times editor, said of other
editors who decided to give the story more
attention. 'We don't want
to report on the candidates' sex lives.'
"Two years later, when
Paula Jones charged at a conservative political conference that Clinton
had crudely pressed her for sex in a Little Rock hotel room, almost none
of the reporters at the gathering bothered to report it. Nearly three
months passed before Jones's subsequent suit became front-page news in The
Washington Post and other papers. Most journalists still felt squeamish
about such charges...."
Indeed, some past articles from MRC newsletters detail how many reporters
were enthusiastic backers of Clinton in 1992 and did as little as they
could on Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones. So here's an illuminating
trip down memory lane:
-- From the March 2, 1992
edition of Notable Quotables, a quote we ran under the title of "The
Press Primary: Clinton Wins Unanimously."
"The group of people
I'll call The Press -- by which I mean several dozen political
journalists of my acquaintance, many of whom the Buchanan administration
may someday round up on suspicion of having Democratic or even liberal
sympathies -- was of one mind as the season's first primary campaign
shuddered toward its finish. I asked each of them, one after another, this
question: If you were a New Hampshire Democrat, whom would you vote for?
The answer was always the same; and the answer was always Clinton. In this
group, in my experience, such unanimity is unprecedented....
"Almost none is due to
calculations about Clinton being `electable'...and none at all is due to
belief in Clinton's denials in the Flowers business, because no one
believes these denials. No, the real reason members of The Press like
Clinton is simple, and surprisingly uncynical: they think he would make a
very good, perhaps a great, President. Several told me they were convinced
that Clinton is the most talented presidential candidate they have ever
encountered, JFK included." -- New Republic Senior Editor
Hendrik Hertzberg, March 9 issue.
-- From the September 1992
MediaWatch, a Newsbite on how the network morning shows which skipped
Gennifer Flowers found it legitimate to discuss George Bush's sex life:
Dueling Jennifers. When
Gennifer Flowers' story came out, neither she nor anyone from the Star
was invited on any morning or evening interview show. But when The New
York Post ran a story August 11 publicizing rumors that President Bush
had an affair with aide Jennifer Fitzgerald, ABC's Good Morning America
and CBS This Morning brought on sources of the New York Post
story the next day.
ABC interviewed Susan
Trento, the author of The Power House, a book including the rumor.
CBS brought on her husband, Joseph Trento, a former CNN reporter who had
an interview with the supposed source of the rumor, Ambassador Louis
Fields, who died in 1986. On the August 15 Inside Washington, Newsweek's
Evan Thomas told a different tale: "Actually, we've heard the tape of
this old Ambassador Fields, who's now dead, talking to one of the
reporters, and the tape makes it pretty clear that he thinks it's just
-- From the March, 1994
MediaWatch, a front page article on how the media initially reacted to
Paula Jones. Note the assessment from Mickey Kaus of why reporters did not
treat her experience with Clinton as newsworthy.
Media Ignore Sexual
Harassment Charges -- When Made Against Clinton
Paula Jones: She's No Anita
At a 1991 ABC News
Christmas party, former ABC spokeswoman and Democratic Party veteran Kitty
Bayh brought pencils that read "I Believe Her," based on the
Hill-Thomas hearings. But since William Kennedy Smith was then on trial
for rape, she told The Washington Post: "I should have put
'I Believe Anita' on them."
In that same spirit, which
insists less on the feminist maxim of believing the woman first than on
believing the Democrat first, the national media chose to ignore the story
of Paula Corbin Jones, who told a Washington press conference on February
11 that President Clinton, as Governor of Arkansas, had sexually harassed
her in 1991.
According to Jones, while
working for an Arkansas state agency at a conference, troopers delivered
her to a hotel room to meet Clinton. There, he asked her to perform
fellatio on him, and even exposed himself. Jones has offered two
affidavits by corroborating witnesses, and threatened to sue if she does
not get an apology from the White House.
A major scandal? Hardly.
Three networks ignored it. ABC's World News Tonight gave it 16
seconds and The New York Times a few paragraphs. Three days later
in a "Style" piece on the "primal scream" of hatred
for Clinton expressed at a conservative conference, The Washington Post's
Lloyd Grove discounted it as "another ascension of Mount Bimbo."
Why no stories from the
same media which made the uncorroborated Anita Hill a heroine and sexual
harassment the gravest political sin? In the March 7 New Republic,
former Newsweek reporter Mickey Kaus described the scene at the
Jones press conference: "Afterward...reporters conferred with each
other to try to figure out whether what they'd just seen was 'a story'
and...whether anybody was going to report it. The consensus was that if
CNN carried it the networks would carry it, which meant The New York
Times might carry it, in which case it would be a big story."
Kaus explained why that
didn't happen: "Clinton is also the best President we've had in a
long time. That is the unspoken reason the sex charges haven't received as
much play as you might expect. Reporters are patriots, too; it's their
dirty little secret...Few journalists want to see the President crippled
now that he is making some progress in cracking large, intractable
Meanwhile, the February 7 Washington
Times reported that Hill has made half a million dollars in lecture
fees, and recently signed a two-book contract worth more than a million
dollars. All this despite denying that she had any intention of gaining
financially from her testimony, a flip-flop yet to be addressed by the
rest of the media.
Monogamy with a mistress? When you've been married seven times, I guess
monogamy takes on a new definition. How else to explain this exchange from
Larry King's January 23 interview with Gennifer Flowers:
Larry King: "If what
we hear is all true -- and this is a big if because there's a lot to go
down the road, and we don't ever want to make assumption -- how do you
explain that such a bright person and a brilliant politician would get
Gennifer Flowers: "I
don't think you really want me to answer this and be honest."
King: "Why? You know
him. Why do bad things happen to good..."
Flowers: "I'd think he
was thinking with another head instead of this one."
King: "Is that
something that he's always had a problem with you or not?"
King: "Because you
thought he was in love with you. He was
monogamous with you."
Flowers: "But what he
did want me to do many times was take
chances. I mean there was
one time he wanted me to have sex with
him at the Governor's
mansion with his wife out on the lawn just a feet away. And I said no.
Because I was concerned -- I was afraid. But he would have done that. So
he has the propensity to let that dominate his way of thinking at times.
He's a chance taker."
Monogamous if you don't
count his wife.
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