CyberAlert -- 01/26/1998 -- Pope Split
Published: 1/26/1998 1:00 AM ET
Pope Split; Years of Ignoring Clinton Sex Scandals; Clift Again1) Newspapers all over the place in Pope headlines: Did he condemn Castro or the U.S.?
3) Now they cover a scandal. From the MRC archives: a) How reporters united behind Clinton before the '92 NH primary; b) How all the morning shows ignored Flowers but brought on guests in '92 to discuss Bush's supposed extramarital life; and c) How all the major media outlets chose to skip the 1994 Jones lawsuit.
There is news beyond Bill Clinton. One event this week which would have received a lot more coverage if it weren't for Clinton, the Pope's trip to Cuba, generated conflicting headlines over stories in Saturday (January 24) newspapers.
The Washington Times -
"Pope Challenges Castro to Embrace Democracy"
Los Angeles Times -
"Pope Exhorts Cubans Not to Leave Island"
New York Times -
"Pope Urges Cubans to Find Their Christian Roots Again"
Philadelphia Inquirer -
"Pope Talks to Youth on Faith, Freedom: He Urged Cubans to Turn From Sex and Drugs. To Loud Applause, He Cited Freedom Again and Again."
The Washington Post --
"Pope Criticizes U.S. Embargo: Blockades Hurt 'Most Needy,' Pontiff Says"
I guess the Pope really is all things to all media people.
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 bad publicity...."
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 gossip."
-- 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 Hill
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 domestic problems."
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 like this?"
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.
Eleanor Clift is still standing by her man. On this past weekend's McLaughlin Group John McLaughlin asked the panel to predict what will happen. Richard Lambert, Editor-in-Chief of the Financial Times, declared: "He'll leave naturally because he's a skilled politician. He's a popular President and nobody has any interest in booting him out."
Exclaimed Clift: "Hooray!"
One wonders what Clinton must do to lose Clift's support.-- Brent Baker
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