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From the March 1999 MediaWatch

Sexual Harassment Charges Worse Than Rape?

Anita vs. Juanita: The Awful Double Standard

She was an unknown woman with a salacious tale of how a man she had supported turned into a sexual predator. Her tale was old, and she had no eyewitnesses. But she seemed to have nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward. After many years of silence, her timing seemed much too late to matter in assessing the manís suitability for high office.

That may sound like Juanita Broaddrick, whose interview with NBCís Lisa Myers detailing her charge that Bill Clinton raped her in 1978 finally aired on February 24. But it is also a fitting description of Anita Hill when she accused Clarence Thomas of mere sexual harassment in October 1991. The similarities end there. For Hill quickly became the center of a story threatening Thomasís chances for confirmation to the Supreme Court, and within a week, a feminist heroine. Mrs. Broaddrick suffered a different fate at the hands of the network morning and evening news shows: near invisibility.

In 1994, MediaWatch revealed the vast differential between the networksí coverage of Anita Hillís first five days in the spotlight to those of Paula Jones. In the first five days of Hillís charges (October 6-10,1991), the network evening shows (on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and PBSís NewsHour) aired 67 stories. (If a count began with Jonesí February press conference, the networks supplied just a single 16-second anchor brief; if the count began with her sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton in May, the number was 15.)

But in the first five days after Juanita Broaddrick has charged the President with rape in The Wall Street Journal (February 19-23), the number of evening news stories was two. Thatís a ratio of 67 to 2. Once The Washington Post added to the Journal account on Saturday, February 20, both CBS and CNN aired one story. On February 24, the night of the Dateline interview, PBSís Jim Lehrer discussed the story as a media controversy with NewsHour media reporter Terence Smith.

In 1994, MediaWatch also compared the gap in morning show coverage between Hill and Jones. From October 7 to 10 (since the Hill-Thomas hearings began on the 11th), the networks aired 66 news stories and 18 interview segments on Hill in four days. The morning shows totally ignored Jones in February 1994, but for the first four mornings after the Jones lawsuit was filed, these shows aired 14 news stories and 8 interviews (almost all of them on NBC). But in the Broaddrick storyís first four mornings (February 19 to 22), the coverage was 18 seconds on NBCís Today and a brief mention on ABCís Good Morning America. So, to be generous, call that 84 to 2.

Two outlets that didnít exist when Hill came forward have covered and discussed the Broaddrick charges in depth: FNC (since early February) and MSNBC (since Datelineís interview was announced). All the Sunday morning shows except Fox News Sunday ignored Broaddrick on February 21. But on the 28th, only CBSís Face the Nation tried to pretend it didnít exist. For a complete picture of the major mediaís reluctance, letís review them one by one for February 19-28:


ABC.
World News Tonight has reported nothing. Nightline has done nothing. Good Morning America aired a brief mention from Charles Gibson on the 19th and two questions to Clinton flack Paul Begala on March 1. Meanwhile, ABCNEWS.com carried a long story dated the 25th by Josh Fine noting "ABC News also has had a series of conversations, many of which were off the record or on deep background, with the retired nursing home operator. She has now permitted us to put those statements on the record." On the February 28 This Week, Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts asked guests about Broaddrick, and argued with George Stephanopoulos that Clinton should be asked for more details.


CBS.
On Saturday the 20th, CBS Evenng News showed a 1:51 story by anchor John Roberts. CBS This Morning aired nothing. Face the Nation asked nothing about it.


CNN.
The World Today featured three pieces. On the 20th, Bob Franken filed a three-minute-plus report. On the 26th CNN's Bruce Morton checked the debate over feminist reaction. Two days later Gene Randall looked at calls for Clinton to address the charge. While they aired 20 segments on Hillaryís Senate bid, Inside Politics has aired just four Broaddrick segments: part of a Howard Kurtz interview on the 25th; a Bruce Morton report and an interview with feminist Eleanor Smeal and conservative Betsy Hart on the 26th; and a March 1 segment on CNNís Broaddrick poll with pollsters from both parties.


NBC.
NBC Nightly News did not touch its own networkís scoop, despite promoting ABCís Monica Lewinsky interview in two stories on March 2. Today aired only a brief until the Myers interview. The morning after the interview, it carried a report by Claire Shipman and a Katie Couric interview with Clinton ally Alan Dershowitz and Dorothy Rabinowitz, who wrote the Wall Street Journal story. On the 26th, Matt Lauer asked NOWís Patricia Ireland tough questions, including whether sheíd ask Clinton to resign, since thatís what she demanded of Sen. Bob Packwood. On the 28th, most of Meet the Press focused the Broaddrick story.


PBS and NPR
. The NewsHour has only aired one Terence Smith discussion with Jim Lehrer. While NPRís Nina Totenberg broke Anita Hillís unproven charges into the mainstream press, NPR broadcast only one report on Morning Edition on the 25th, the day after the NBC interview. All Things Considered (and Totenberg) have not filed reports. (The New York newspaper Newsday, which joined NPR in breaking the Hill story, has likewise printed only one news story.)


Time
.
Adam Cohen wrote a one-page article in the March 1 issue (the same week "Senator Hillary" got nine), noting the "vociferously conservative" Wall Street Journal editorial page printed it first, and argued "the story seems unlikely to have much traction."


Newsweek
.
While Hillary drew nine pages in the March 1 edition, the only mention of Broaddrick was in the snippy "Conventional Wisdom Watch" feature, which declared: "Should have leveled (unproven) assault charge in Ď78, or Ď92. But sounds like our guy." On March 8, the only coverage was a one-page Jonathan Alter piece dismissing everyone associated with the charges with the headline "Disgraceful All Around."


U.S. News & World Report.
The March 1 edition had nothing, but the March 8 edition carried a story by Angie Cannon and Marianne Lavelle noting it "had all the makings of a bombshell," but "the nationís response [was] deafening silence...even GOP attack dogs bit their tongues." They quoted feminist Eleanor Smeal saying it "isnít provable" and "People have had it."


The Los Angeles Times.
Other than a brief wire report on the 21st, they offered only one news report, a media navel-gazer by Josh Getlin and Elizabeth Jensen, with the subheadline "Whether a womanís allegation of sexual assault by Clinton in 1978 is true is secondary to competitive pressure." In the story, Times national editor Scott Kraft sniffed Broaddrick can "almost certainly not be proved or disproved today." In addition, TV writer Shauna Snow wrote up several notes about the Dateline interview and its ratings.


The New York Times.
The newspaper that published Kitty Kelleyís allegations about Nancy Reaganís sex life on page one also touched the Broaddrick story as a media critique, lamenting that "smaller outlets on the Internet and cable television" are "overwhelming the slower and more sober judgments of mainstream news organizations." The Times followed up with a short mention from White House reporter James Bennet and a few TV articles from reporter Lawrie Mifflin.


The Washington Post
did more on the story, from two stories on the 20th, to several full-length stories on the media debate by Howard Kurtz. White House reporters mentioned the story in passing.

The February 28 Post carried a commentary by former reporters Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach ahistorically charging, "We are moving toward a journalism of assertion rather than a journalism of verification, and the cost for society is high." But it wasnít demonized cable news channels or the Internet which broadcast Anita Hillís charges without verification. "Clintonís fitness for office is beyond the scope of reporters to decide," they wrote. Tell that to Clarence Thomas.

 

 

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