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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday April 4, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 14)

Elian’s Miami Militants; "Sex and Lies? That’s Totally 1998"; Gergen Gurgled

1. Time’s Tim Padgett found only the anti-communist side of the Elian Gonzalez controversy can be described with words like "hard-line," "militant," and "a heavy touch of Joe McCarthy."

2. Only U.S. News & World Report touched on Clinton scandal news, especially Judge Royce Lamberth’s finding that Clinton violated the Privacy Act. Time just jibes: "Judge sez White House letter dump on Willey was illegal. Sex and lies? That’s totally 1998."

3. Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter surprisingly suggested that until the Democrats see the light on school choice, "give a slight edge on education to Bush."

4. U.S. News Editor at Large David Gergen gurgled over his former employer, saying we will miss Bill Clinton "trying to focus our attention on the technological and scientific revolutions that are sweeping over us." Even though his Justice Department is suing some of the revolutionaries.

On the covers of this week’s newsmagazines: Newsweek featured human genome research. U.S. News & World Report promoted their list of the nation’s top graduate schools. Time asked where will humans be in the future. It’s not on the Web site yet, but Time’s Michael Weisskopf reported on the Clinton-era staff of the Tennessee Valley Authority and how they quickly started shuttling favors to Al Gore aides like lobbyist/fundraiser Peter Knight, former Gore chief of staff Jack Quinn, and long-time Gore contributor Franklin Haney.


All three magazines featured full reports on the burgeoning Elian Gonzalez controversy. For the most part stories focused purely on the facts of the case. Linda Robinson’s report for U.S. News and the dispatch by Joseph Contreras and Evan Thomas in Newsweek were mostly balanced, although Contreras and Thomas did refer to "hard-right anti-Castro groups" and oddly compared Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas’s statement that local police would not participate in Elian’s removal to "a Southern governor resisting school integration 40 years ago."

Newsweek’s "Conventional Wisdom Watch" box awarded down arrows to both Al Gore and ABC’s Diane Sawyer for their handling of the controversy. For Gore, they sneered, "Ill-timed residency offer is craven pander to Miami hard-liners. Would Dad have done it?" and for Sawyer, they charged: "Interviews Elián (he's 6!), adding nothing to debate, just for a ‘good TV get.’"

The lone exception to the reasonably balanced reporting on Elian came from Tim Padgett of Time. The bias came from the labels he applied to prominent members of the Cuban American community in Miami. He did report on how Castro is politically manipulating this dispute to serve his own purposes, but he reserved labels such as "militant", "Joe McCarthy", and "hard line" for the Cuban exiles in Miami:

"ABC at first avoided showing the six-year-old saying he didn't want to go back to his father in Cuba -- a statement that could have been coached. But Armando Gutierrez, the family spokesman and a veteran political operator with a heavy touch of Joe McCarthy in him, angrily accused ABC of reneging on a promise to broadcast that very statement. The next morning, the network aired it. And by week's end another family spokesman said Elian ‘expresses fear about being with his father. He's afraid he will be punished.’ Now, who could have put that idea in his head?"

Padgett added: "It isn't hard to understand the visceral emotions Elian stirs up among many Cuban exiles, especially those who were imprisoned by Castro or had a close relative who, like Elisabeth, drowned in the Florida Straits while rafting toward freedom. ‘We're Elian's true peers,’ says militant exile leader Jose Basulto. ‘We want to save him from the life we had to live in Cuba.’ But the hard-line Cuban-American leadership also wants to preserve the political clout it enjoyed during the cold war."

Castro suppresses all political opposition in Cuba, tramples on human rights and imprisons innocent people and it is the exiles alone who are militant.


The other major political story of the past week (despite going almost completely unnoticed by the broadcast media) was federal judge Royce Lamberth finding that Bill Clinton violated the federal Privacy Act in releasing private letters from Kathleen Willey who had accused him of sexual harassment. Newsmag coverage? Zero in Newsweek and Time. Oh, except that Time’s "Winners and Losers" feature listed Clinton as a loser with the quip: "Judge sez White House letter dump on Willey was illegal. Sex and lies? That’s totally 1998."

However, U.S. News White House scribe Kenneth Walsh did produce a full report on the Clinton scandals, including the Privacy Act ruling and the White House emails: "Suddenly, it seems like old times again: Nasty accusations pepper the White House, the president under attack, his enemies renewing assaults on his character. Most Americans don't seem to care, of course, but the long-range problems for Clinton could be worse than people think. At the very least, anyway, the familiar whiff of scandal is once again in the air. Last week, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth found that Clinton committed a crime – a misdemeanor violation of the Privacy Act – when he and senior aides released personal letters two years ago to refute allegations by White House volunteer Kathleen Willey that the president had groped her. The letters suggested that Willey still admired the president, even after his alleged sexual advance. White House officials say the Justice Department will probably appeal Lamberth's ruling, but additional investigations into Clinton's behavior could result if Lamberth is upheld."

Walsh also mentioned disbarment hearings, and, "Congressional Republicans plan to investigate claims that the White House improperly withheld a computer disk containing E-mail messages from Lewinsky to two witnesses appearing before a grand jury that was looking into her affair with the president. The existence of the disk – along with thousands of other E-mail messages sought under subpoena between 1996 and 1998 – had been previously unknown outside the White House. Some could shed light on the fundraising excesses of the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, potentially raising problems for the vice president's current campaign."


Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter began predictably, complaining that the federal government has jumped to fund new jails but won’t fund crumbling old public schools. He found fault with both Bush’s and Gore’s plans, but also promise: "If you’re in thrall to neither the teachers unions nor Gingrichite ideology, it’s obvious the best education plan for the country is some combination of the two."

Surprisingly, Alter stumped for the threat of vouchers, even as he acknowledged their current withering scrutiny in the courts: "The threat of vouchers is the only way to convince lousy schools that they have to improve schools that they have to improve – or else. In Camden, N.J., this year, 10 out of 22 elementary schools found that not one of their fourth graders passed the state’s reading-proficiency test. Not one student." (Italics his.)

He concluded that charter schools ("new, less regulated public schools chartered by states instead of controlled by school districts") "represent a promising and politically palatable compromise between the status quo and vouchers," and claims that until Gore and "the Democrats march more proudly under the banner of public-school choice – give a slight edge on education to Bush."


Lastly, U.S. News Editor at Large David Gergen editorialized on why we should be sad to see his former employer Bill Clinton go off into the sunset – because he believes in science and technology. Gergen proclaimed that despite polls to the contrary, "we may miss him more than we think. It's not just the fact that he seems more presidential than the two candidates seeking to replace him. After all, he had to grow into the job, too. Nor is it the way his trip to India and Pakistan reminded us of his capacity for extending American friendship to other peoples. No, we may miss something different. Bill Clinton, more than any other national figure, is trying to focus our attention on the technological and scientific revolutions that are sweeping over us. In the early years of his presidency, he didn't pay much attention. He allowed investments in scientific research to slip, and he was slow to appreciate the Internet. But he has now awakened, and his imagination is on fire. In January, he went to Caltech, where he delivered the best single speech on science of any president in memory. Last month he spoke eloquently about information technologies at an Aspen Institute conference in Silicon Valley. Next week he will tour the country in search of ways to close the digital divide."

Funny thing, I always thought a different Bill, one with the last name of Gates, had a far bigger role in the amazing technological achievements of the last few years. But the visionary Clinton’s Justice Department is suing his band of technological revolutionaries. If Gergen seriously believes people will miss Clinton’s science speeches, he must also believe that Al Gore did invent the Internet.

-- Paul Smith





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