One of Washington's open secrets is that everyone, including the 89-percent pro-Clinton news media, believes Bill Clinton is guilty of acts of congress with Monica Lewinsky. That means he's also guilty of perjury, not to mention lying through his teeth to the American people. That's why media figures are fanning out to the evening chat shows to insist that presidential perjury about sex doesn't matter. Newsweek's Eleanor Clift yammered on Fox News Channel the other night that "I think if a married man commits adultery, lying sort of goes with it, and committing perjury in a civil case that's been thrown out of court, I think you'd have to look long and hard to find anybody in this country who has suffered a penalty because of that."
Just in case anyone was in doubt about how comfortable Eleanor was in her seventh legendary year in the tank for Bill Clinton, she also announced: "Stonewalling happens to be good lawyering and I'm glad the President and Monica Lewinsky have good lawyers."
All this leads to an interesting impasse for the press. Even after disparaging Ken Starr's focus on what Dan Rather insists nightly is just the President's "personal life," and all the chanting of the media mantra that the American people just don't care, the networks continue to show much more interest in Monicagate than the ongoing fundraising scandal. As NBC's Claire Shipman explained in February, "Who's thinking about Buddhist nuns when the issue is illicit sex in the White House?"
It borders on the ridiculous. Despite the bombshells about Johnny Chung passing the Democrats money from the People's Liberation Army and the Lenin-style rope salesmen at Loral, the Monica story has continued to take the lion's share of network scandal coverage.
A new MediaWatch study finds that in the three weeks from the New York Times' Chung scoop of May 15 through June 5, the networks offered 38 full stories (featuring reporters in the field) on Monicagate to only 15 on the Chinagate angle, and almost half of those were on ABC. CBS, CNN, and NBC lagged far behind. The tone was not always critical, or even objective. On May 21, ABC reporter Linda Douglass deflated the issue by underlining partisan glee: "Republicans hope to make a big show of their hearings over the summer, and lay the ground work for a scandal that they can talk about during the fall election."
The morning shows have focused much more on Lewinsky, airing 40 full reports on Monicagate to only six on Chinagate. As with the evening shows, ABC's "Good Morning America" aired the most on Chinagate. But what is "most"? Just two full reports and two interviews in a three-week span.
CBS and NBC were pathetic in the morning, with each airing only one full report on Chinagate, both on Memorial Day, the morning after Loral CEO Bernard Schwartz and other players appeared on the Sunday talk shows. How's this for priorities: NBC's "Today" aired 20 segments on Monicagate to its one Chinagate report.
I look back to 1987, when a day didn't go by without a news report on this incredibly important scandal called Iran-Contra. Yet, as David Frum noted in the Weekly Standard, selling missiles to Iran posed no strategic danger to Americans, while helping the Chinese increase the accuracy of missiles aimed at American cities certainly does. So why the disparity?
Let me venture several guesses. You can posit liberal bias, that the media aren't going to report damaging information against Clinton because in their liberal fog they don't see the story's importance. You could also suggest a procedural bias: the Chinagate investigation is in its germinal stages, and will be demeaned as a partisan probe, while Ken Starr's legal express is hitting on nearly all cylinders in the courts and addressing historical precedents in the use and abuse of presidential power. But the biggest reason still has to be sex. Network bosses are catering to the public's desire for intern love slave stories, a hunger missing when the subject is nuclear proliferation and export-control policy.
Developments continue to tumble out of the newspapers, which are still regularly ignored on the tube. In a June 4 front-page article, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz revealed "U.S. intelligence agencies are tracking a Chinese ship carrying weapons materials and electronics destined for Pakistan's major nuclear weapons laboratory." Clinton administration actions may have increased the possibility of an Asian nuclear war and of accurate Chinese missiles pointed at our urban centers, but network newscasts are giving us "Hey, did you catch those Monica pictures in Vanity Fair?" It's a sad truth, but we can't expect much seriousness from the network news any more, which explains why millions are leaving television and searching for news elsewhere. Where the networks are concerned, there's just nothing there.