The hard news on the Starr report, with all its damning detail, is now over. Here comes the spin - for the news media, they call it "analysis" - and the response of the President's most devoted media lackeys is to focus on what's not in it: the final word on Whitewater, Travelgate, and Filegate.
And they're making James Carville look reasonable by comparison.
Geraldo Rivera, soon after announcing the Starr probe was threatening to make him "suicidal," exemplified this approach on CNBC: "Whitewater mentioned two times! Travelgate not once! Filegate not once! Not even a reference to the infamous talking points! Jonathan Alter, my good friend at Newsweek said 80,000 stories had been published, 80,000 stories on those three topics, on Whitewater alone, 80,000 just on Whitewater!"
Alter had used that figure in Newsweek, arguing the media "badly underplayed" that "Starr found nothing even vaguely impeachable in the Clintons' conduct in those 'scandals.'"
Stop right there. Eighty thousand stories? Using a news database like Nexis is a great way to measure media coverage - but only if used accurately. One assumes Alter didn't read the "80,000" stories when he typed "Whitewater" into the computer, so we have no idea what was in them, or how many included stories on whitewater rafting. How many of those 80,000 were not news stories, but rather editorials or letters to the editor? How many were oblique references to new hirings of people who used to work on a Whitewater investigation? Or graduates of the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater? Who knows?
And what about the time frame? If you go all the way back to March of 1992, when the story first broke in the New York Times, you have to consider the many angles surrounding the story that are broadly defined as news: the appointment of special counsels, the congressional investigations, the Supreme Court rulings on evidence or attorney-client privilege, Susan McDougal's non-Whitewater-related trial - the list is endless.
Now play with some math here. There are more than 500 newspapers in the Nexis database. The Whitewater story has gone on for six and a half years. If there were 80,000 stories and you divided this by 500 dailies, divided by 78 months, that equals about two stories a month per paper, if that was all Alter was using. Now, throw into the that database mix all the magazines, the transcripts from different television and radio outlets... and Alter's number becomes insignificant.
"We have done some research of our own," announced a crusading Rivera. On screen viewers saw story tallies just from the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Without any source offered or time frame given, Rivera announced the totals: 5,456 "references" to Whitewater, 217 to the talking points, 273 to Travelgate and 157 to Filegate. Again, without any definition of parameters, for NBC he claimed 746 stories "referred to" Whitewater, 62 to Filegate, 94 to Travelgate and 52 to the talking points. Rivera demanded: "Will all of the media, including NBC, give even a fraction of the airtime and the newsprint that we gave to these allegations to the fact that no impeachable offenses were found? When are we going to say to the President of the United States, 'we're sorry'?"
Memo to Geraldo: Assuming your drive-by research is correct (which I don't), how many of these were negative to Clinton, and how many were shameless pro-Clinton puff pieces like yours?
Now add the political reality: Geraldo considers the fact that Kenneth Starr has convicted 12 people, including a jury verdict convicting the sitting Governor of Arkansas and the President's close Arkansas business partners on multiple felonies, to mean nothing. Besides, had Starr included articles of impeachment over Webster Hubbell's hush money or Hillary Clinton's relationship with Craig Livingstone, Geraldo would have dismissed them as garbage anyway.
And why won't Geraldo tell the truth, anyway? Starr did not absolve Clinton on these charges. Starr is still investigating these charges.
NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer returned to the newfound favorite theme of the liberal press - media overkill - presenting a few numbers of his own to liberal columnist Molly Ivins: "Over the past month there have been something like 400 segments on network news shows dealing with the President's scandal. To be very honest, 300 of them have aired on the main morning shows like this one. Is that too much coverage and why?" Ivins drawled on with something about the media's failing as democracy's watchdog: "while this watchdog's been chewing on this juicy scandal bone, the burglars are walking off with all the silver in the house."
I really have no idea what Ms. Ivins meant by that, but the correct answer was: Mr. Lauer, where were you "reporters" in your coverage of Bill Clinton from March 1992 to January 21, 1998?