1997's Notable Quotes In Review
by L. Brent Bozell III
December 11, 1997
Political news seems trapped between the off-year, lame-duck-White-House blahs and the tabloid temptations of negligent nannies and surging sextuplets. Nevertheless, political reporters and pundits still can't resist displaying their liberal passions. Fifty-seven judges nationwide have just voted on the Media Research Center's "Best Notable Quotables of 1997."
The desire to drive up the negatives of conservatives still runs strong. In the "Quote of the Year" category, Sam Donaldson came close to winning by telling Jay Leno in January that he thought Newt Gingrich is "like Lenin. They both made a revolution by shooting people - Newt shot Democrats, Lenin shot everybody - and then they didn't have enough sense to stop shooting once they had won."
That's certainly an unfortunate mangling of metaphors, but at least Sam's carrying a dash of whimsey. In April, long-time Los Angeles Times reporter and columnist Robert Scheer didn't put an ounce of humor into denouncing the GOP's failure to pass the Kennedy-Hatch socialism-for-kids health plan - and for his efforts, won the Quote of the Year: "The mood of the Republican congressional leadership is so ideologically obtuse as to doom even this modest first step down the path of responsibility. They would rather kill people than raise taxes."
It boggles the mind the lengths to which some reporters go to excuse the Clinton administration's scandalous behavior. Thus, the "Lanny Davis No Controlling Legal Authority Award" (for Clinton scandal denial), and the 1997 winner, NBC weekend "Today" show anchor-mannequin Jodi Applegate: "So a couple of White House aides helped Webster Hubbell find work, and he did find work, some of it with Democratic donors. It may not look good, but is there any proof anything was done wrong?...All right, similar kind of question about Jorge Cabrera, a convicted drug smuggler who gave $20,000 to the DNC, wound up at a fancy dinner with Al Gore, wound up at a White House Christmas party with Hillary Clinton. But they gave the money back when they found out about his background. It may not look good, but is there any proof that anything was done wrong?"
Two days after Clinton delivered a thoroughly unremarkable Inauguration speech, Los Angeles Times TV writer Howard Rosenberg's heart was still a-flutter. "His sturdy jaw precedes him. He smiles from sea to shining sea. Is this President a candidate for Mount Rushmore or what?" He gushed uncontrollably. "In fact, when it comes to influencing the public, a single medley of expressions from Clinton may be worth much more, to much of America, than every ugly accusation Paula Jones can muster." That earned Mr. Rosenberg the "Clinton Camelot Award."
Of course, Clinton is not the only liberal icon to receive a Dick Morris-style toe-sucking. Los Angeles Times reporter Elizabeth Mehren won the overall "Media Hero Award" for her recent flattering of St. Anita Hill: "Hill bears only passing resemblance to her rather stern image from newspapers and television. At 41, she is slender to the point of willowy. Her features are elegant, and while she is intense while discussing her political baptism-by-fire, she can also muster a warm smile and a hearty laugh - qualities that had little occasion to surface in the nine hours that changed Hill's world. So, she was asked, does she sometimes feel like the Joan of Arc of sexual harassment? Sure, Hill replied, and here came the mirth the Senate never saw: 'I refuse to die, though.'"
Then there is "The Politics of Meaninglessness Award," given to the journalist who can best entertain us with the silliest analysis. This year's winner is USA Today founder Allen Neuharth for his canonization of George McGovern. If McGovern had been elected in 1972, see, "The Cold War would have ended in the '70s rather than in the '90s. McGovern, in his campaign, debunked the threat and invincibility of the so-called evil Soviet empire. Republican and Democratic presidents preached that myth for four decades, until the U.S.S.R. self-destructed." That's not the end of history - it's the beginning of insanity.
A runner-up in that category was my personal favorite. It was a CNN story of earth-shattering proportions, with an introduction that is, indeed, wise counsel for the Western world: "Could your lawn mower kill you? Perhaps. A new study finds that you could be risking your life every time you cut the grass...CNN's Ed Garsten tells us that matching you with the right [lawn] mower may mean the difference between life and death."
And that's the way it was in the news, in 1997.