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Bush talks, Clinton walks

Op-ed by Brent Baker, Vice President for Research and Publications at the MRC as printed in the August 23, 1999 edition of The Washington Times 

By Brent Baker

No one has claimed to have witnessed George W. Bush use cocaine or any other illegal drug, but that didn’t stop reporters over the past weeks from repeatedly pressing him for a definitive answer about his alleged history of drug abuse. That media interest in a rumor about possible criminal acts committed decades ago stands in stark contrast to the media’s widespread refusal to pursue the charge by Juanita Broaddrick that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her in 1978.

The drug questions were fueled in late July by a week-long profile of Mr. Bush in the Washington Post. Reporters Lois Romano and George Lardner insisted, "We need to ask the cocaine question. We think you believe that a politician should not let stories fester. So why won’t you just deny that you’ve used cocaine?" ABC invited Ms. Romano to be a guest on the July 27 edition of "Good Morning America" to dismiss Mr. Bush’s answer: "He’s basically declared that his life began at 40 and that we’re supposed to not ask about that other fellow before 40 and I don’t know if he can hold to that position." 

No such invitation to appear on a network news show materialized after Ms. Romano interviewed Mrs. Broaddrick back in late February for a Post story which ran four days before Mrs. Broaddrick recounted her charge on the Feb. 24 edition of "Dateline NBC." 

That long-delayed interview with Lisa Myers failed to spark network television coverage. Indeed, CBS’s "This Morning" has yet to mention her name and ABC’s "Good Morning America" has never aired a story or full interview segment, though the show briefly raised her name one day in a larger interview. The closest "NBC Nightly News" came was an end-of-the-show plug for that night’s "Dateline" segment, but Tom Brokaw only referred to how the show would feature "controversial allegations" in "an exclusive interview with the woman known as Jane Doe No. 5, Juanita Broaddrick." The following weekend the ABC, CNN, Fox and NBC Sunday morning interview shows all discussed Mrs. Broaddrick but even that failed to generate any mention on the broadcast-network morning or evening shows. 

Three weeks later, at Mr. Clinton’s first solo press conference in ten months, in 21 questions posed only ABC’s Sam Donaldson asked about Mrs. Broaddrick, leading to "World News Tonight’s" first mention of her name, but neither CBS or NBC uttered a syllable about her in their summaries of the March 19 press conference. At this point the "CBS Evening News" hadn’t mentioned Mrs. Broaddrick since its only story on a Saturday in February, but instead of broaching her charge, anchor John Roberts highlighted how Mr. Clinton "said he and Mrs. Clinton love each other very much."

In contrast to an eyewitness accusing Mr. Clinton of committing a felony, there is no one accusing Mr. Bush of drug use, but nonetheless last week reporters kept demanding he answer drug questions and then treated the very occurrence of the queries as justification for news stories. On Thursday night, Aug. 19, ABC anchor Charlie Gibson asserted "the question is dogging his otherwise smooth campaign." NBC anchor Brian Williams called it "the question that will not go away." (Mr. Bush’s evolving answer during the week, in which he expanded his drug-free years from seven to 25, gave the networks a convenient story hook, but Mr. Clinton’s evasive press conference answer about Mrs. Broaddrick -- "There’s been a statement made by my attorney. He speaks for me, and I think he spoke quite clearly" -- did not motivate them to pursue her charge.) 

Viewers of Thursday’s "NBC Nightly News" were treated to three minutes on the subject and ABC’s "World News Tonight" gave it three and a half minutes -- which is exactly three minutes and three and a half minutes more time than the two shows devoted in February or early March to Mrs. Broaddrick’s charge. The "CBS Evening News" aired a piece for the second consecutive night on Thursday on the drug issue, thus giving twice as much attention to Mr. Bush and drugs as to Mrs. Broaddrick. Thursday morning ABC’s "Good Morning America" brought aboard former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos to analyze the controversy and NBC’s "Today" ran a pre-taped interview with Mr. Bush during which the interviewer raised the drug question. "Today" returned Friday with a discussion about media coverage.

Don’t count on members of the media to realize their hypocrisy. Thursday afternoon on MSNBC, the Republican National Committee’s Cliff May tried to point out the media’s "double standard," since "we have right now a credible allegation by Juanita Broaddrick that while Attorney General Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her and he won’t answer." Host David Gregory cut him off: "Now hold on. You know what Cliff, I’m not going to let you go there. We are not talking about this today. We’re not going to turn that into this."

Washington Times | Back to Op-Ed Archives



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