The fledgling cable network MSNBC has made itself into the 24-hour Monica Scandal News Broadcasting Company. You can just hear the liberals: so much obsession with Bill Clinton's wretched affairs proves the fallacy of a liberal bias in the news media, does it not?
Well, no. Obviously, a channel in complete obedience to the White House would be a 24-hour change-the-subject channel, showing Clinton meeting with world leaders and kissing small children who pledge not to smoke. Surely you can't say that about MSNBC.
But anyone who watches MSNBC quickly learns that while the subject may not be the liberals' favorite, old-style liberal network business as usual is the norm. It's not what they report, but how they report it.
Several months ago, MSNBC star Keith Olbermann gave a guilt-ridden commencement speech at Cornell University, telling graduates how he felt like vomiting after covering the Monica story every night. But his hallowed sense of journalistic ethics certainly didn't suffer when comparing Ken Starr to an infamous Nazi. On August 18, he asked Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau Chief James Warren: "Can Ken Starr ignore the apparent breadth of the sympathetic response to the President's speech? Facially, it finally dawned on me that the person Ken Starr reminded me of facially all this time was Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses. If he now pursues the President of the United States, who, however flawed the apology was, came out and invoked God, family, his daughter, a political conspiracy, and everything but the kitchen sink - would not there be some sort of comparison to a persecutor as opposed to a prosecutor for Mr. Starr?"
After a wave of viewer outrage, Olbermann apologized for his comparison of persecutors: "To those people who were offended I sincerely and humbly apologize. I meant only what I said. Facially, the two men look vaguely alike. But I am primarily of German descent, so I carry with me an inherited shame and guilt about this. So despite the innocence of the intent of my remark there, I should have been much more sensitive about invoking that name in this context and for having not been so, I am very sorry." But ever the smart-aleck, Olbermann couldn't help burying his "humble" apology in insincerity: "Still ahead for us tonight: Did Olbermann's apology go far enough? We'll have the latest poll numbers on that."
Every night, Olbermann declares his personal disgust that this annoying presidential-perjury thing is still going on, and he decries it all as an overpoliticized spectacle. On September 17, he asked Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne: "The phrase Chris Black just used...'partisan wilding.' What a wonderful description of this. Had politics as a whole ever been lower in this country, at least since the McCarthy era ended?"
Of course, the "partisan wilding" doesn't apply when Olbermann compares Starr to a Nazi. Or when Olbermann remarks after a wire service reported Gingrich called Clinton a "misogynist" - "Can the Speaker of the House claim any moral high ground when today he says the President is a man who hates women but he himself divorced his first wife while she was undergoing treatments for cancer?"
All this media love for bipartisanship would be touching if they ever practiced it in their journalism.
Or try MSNBC's "The News With Brian Williams." Williams, Tom Brokaw's heir apparent, began a recent show: "These are days of almost McCarthyistic charges and countercharges in the nation's capital. With a President vowing to stay and fight, and others nakedly embarking on a campaign to get him, the President's poll numbers are softening, the party lines are hardening."
Now tell me, is this not precisely the kind of language being used by David Kendall, James Carville, and the rest of the Clinton attack machine?
Even in the middle of the afternoon, you get a heaping helping of pro-Clinton damage control from the folks at MSNBC. Afternoon host Edie Magnus complained just before the release of the Clinton testimony videotape: "The Republicans of course are coming out and saying this was serious, bipartisan, collegial, cooperative, respectful conversation, and the Democrats are coming out and saying 'They rammed it down our throats.' There was never any discussion. This is a rush to judgment purely to embarrass this President. My question at the get-go is already it smells. It's the weightiest thing they do, to remove a President from office, and already it smells." (Some question.)
In a nutshell, MSNBC is just another TV network placing its politically correct thumb down hard on the scale in favor of Bill Clinton, even as he staggers and bleeds. The 89-percent pro-Clinton press might hate MSNBC's focus, but they can't help but like its Clinton-excusing, Republican-bashing message.