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How About a Media Culpa? 

Op-ed by MRC Chairman L. Brent Bozell III as printed in the August 20, 1998 edition of The Wall Street Journal 


No matter what the final resolution for Bill Clinton, the scandal will not be over until the national media acknowledge the role they have played in this national disgrace. For the past seven months reporters and commentators have been serving the American public one helping after another of misinformation.

Some brazenly stoked the flames of Hillary Clinton's ridiculous "vast right-wing conspiracy" charge. On the Jan. 28 edition of "Public Eye," CBS's Bryant Gumbel asked James Carville: "Where does Lewinsky fit into this conspiracy theory? Is she victimizing the president or is she too a victim?" One month later, on "CBS Saturday Morning," host Charles Osgood recited this bit of doggerel: 

There is something in the air
Which this country best beware
For there is danger in the dirt
And lots of people could get hurt
And what we sow, we someday reap
Last night as I laid down to sleep
I dreamed an apparition: the swarthy
The unshaved ghost of Joe McCarthy.

The theme of Mr. Clinton as victim has been a recurring one. When Mrs. Clinton appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" the week after the scandal broke, Lisa McRee gave her this gift: "What is it about your husband, Mrs. Clinton, that seems to make him a lightning rod for these types of allegations?" When Paula Jones's lawsuit was dismissed on April 1, CNN's Bruce Morton asked: "Has anybody in the history of America, any President certainly, had his character so trashed, so publicly, for so long?" That same night, ABC anchorman Peter Jennings lobbed this softball to Clinton operative Mandy Grunwald: "Mandy, who do you think is now going to carry the water for the anti-Clinton clique in the country?" 

Back at the White House, Mr. Clinton's legal and political goon squads understood the untenable nature of the president's denial, so they waged war on the independent counsel. It is the unsavory type of thing lawyers and political hacks do, and we accept that as ugly politics. But it was wholly unforgivable for the national media to serve as handmaidens. 

A day hasn't gone by without reporters blackening Kenneth Starr's reputation. Dan Rather regularly paints him as a political ideologue, referring to him as the "Republican" special prosecutor. Newsweek's Eleanor Clift has labeled him a "public relations disaster," a "legal disaster" and "distasteful." To Time's Frank Pellegrini, Mr. Starr has "an unlimited supply of gall." From Newsweek's Jonathan Alter: "Thumbs down for him. . . . He will go down in history as the Peeping Tom prosecutor." 

Mr. Starr's investigation is "legal blackmail" (Ms. McRee); an "unprecedented push" and a "prosecutorial attack" (Mr. Rather); "the witch hunt" (Ms. Clift); "character assassination" (NBC's Josh Mankiewicz); "a titillating charge. . . . He's trying to do with innuendo that which he has been unable to do with evidence" (Mr. Gumbel); "Starr's tactics border on abuse . . . offensive" (ABC's Michel McQueen); "turning mother against daughter . . . on a mad tear" (Time's Richard Lacayo); "By calling before the grand jury people such as Sidney Blumenthal, is Ken Starr acting illegally?" (CNN's Bernard Shaw). 

Nothing compares with the venom spewed by NBC's Geraldo Rivera, the "news reporter" who is clamoring to become the network's chief anchorman. On book agent Lucianne Goldberg and her friend Linda Tripp: "They wanted to make money on a book, but once push came to shove they were perfectly willing to sacrifice the young former White House intern on the altar of hatred for Bill Clinton. . . . [Ms. Tripp] is a treacherous, back-stabbing, good-for-nothing enemy of the truth" (MSNBC, June 26). 

Of the independent counsel, Mr. Rivera said: "For Starr to pretend that you're talking about profound constitutional issues is the height of hypocrisy. He will do anything necessary, by any means necessary to nail the president of the United States" ("Tonight Show," July 13). Geraldo dismisses the investigator as a "self-righteous prosecutor" and the investigation as "an endless probe," a "panty raid."

No wonder Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry called Mr. Rivera "as open-minded as you would want a journalist to be." He is the Clinton machine's favorite propagandist. "[Mr. Clinton] scarcely had a day in office untainted by accusations of scandal," began Geraldo on his show in his impassioned defense on May 19. "His very frustrated political enemies have tried every imaginable attack on the President's so-far impenetrable armor. There's been Whitewater, Filegate and Travelgate . . . all now revealed basically as next to nonsense. Miserable flops costing taxpayers millions. How much of his vital attention is being consumed by Ken Starr's endless probe, by the Monica Lewinsky saga? . . . I watch him and I wonder how he does it. I watch and wonder how much is too much for any man." 

Last month on the "Today" show, he gave this prediction: "It's going to turn out that this president is the most maligned and assailed man in the history of the executive office and we'll all be deeply ashamed." It couldn't be further from the truth. But truth is a meaningless commodity for someone who has lost all concept of shame.

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