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Twelve Months of Twaddle

As the Year of Our Intern heads ignominiously for the history books, revisiting the political biases of the press in the last 12 months revolves almost entirely around the events and the players in Monicagate. The media's performance since the story erupted last January 21 makes a mockery of the suggestion that they were somehow playing "Gotcha!" with Bill Clinton during this time.

Within days of the nation's introduction to Monica Lewinsky, the media were already tired of it. Time's Nancy Gibbs employed her typically overripe prose in recounting Clinton's what-me-worry State of the Union Address as a glorious respite from the crimes at hand: "He invited his exhausted audience to take a holiday from Lewinsky and spend a refreshing hour and 12 minutes feeling like a country again....He had become all human nature, the best and the worst, standing there naked in a sharp, dark suit [huh?], behind the Teleprompter. That which does not kill him only makes him stronger, and his poll numbers went through the roof...That may have been a miracle, but it was no accident: Americans are less puritanical and more forgiving than the cartoon version suggests, and this President is never better than in his worst moments."

On CNN's "Late Edition," former New York Times reporter Steve Roberts insisted that Internet Clinton-pest Matt Drudge's leak of a secret Newsweek probe proved that liberal bias was a silly hoax: "I think we can now safely conclude that this whole notion that the liberal media elite is coddling Bill Clinton and always plays to the Democrats is absurd. I mean the fact is who's been the undoing of Bill Clinton? Newsweek and the Washington Post, those raging conservative publications." But breaking the story did not mean these outlets spent the year bashing Clinton.

As the clouds grew darker for the President, the news magazines never lost their ardor for the man. In August, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter (no "raging conservative," to be sure) forecast how Clinton's removal from office actually would be a tremendous boon for him: "The best chance for Clinton to shine in history might be for Congress to force him to pay the price for lying about sex. In the unlikely event he is pushed from office, it would take only weeks, maybe just days, before a vast national remorse set in. We destroyed our lovable rogue prince of prosperity over this? Clinton would become a martyr to a legal system run amok. His defeat would mean victory over not just sheet-sniffing prosecutors but all those who would criminalize politics with endless investigations. As legacies go, balancing the budget might look puny by comparison."

Rather than defend the indefensible actions of Clinton (who for months dangled before his journalistic allies the improbable idea that nothing happened), media types opted to conduct what can only be described as a personal smear campaign against Ken Starr. MSNBC's mercifully departed Keith Olbermann compared Starr's face to that of Nazi henchman Heinrich Himmler and asked: "would not there be some sort of comparison to a persecutor as opposed to a prosecutor for Mr. Starr?" Time's fulsome Clinton ally Margaret Carlson was equally vindictive: "As much as Clinton stained the dress, Starr stained the country to nail him for it. And his party goes on and on."

Geraldo Rivera celebrated his new status as a six-million-dollar-man at NBC News by devoting his two nightly CNBC shows and his frequent "Today" show appearances to episodes of vicious Starr-stabbing, followed by gooey valentines to Clinton like this one: "Mr. President, we love you. I want to hug you. I want to hug you. Please do the right thing. Thomas Jefferson did not have this is mind, I swear to God....I would give Ken Starr the Nobel Peace Prize were he to be man enough not to refer a sex lie to the House for impeachment."

Geraldo wasn't the only journalist with an obvious infatuation with Clinton. Female journalists' rather primal attraction to the Perjury President was best exemplified by Time contributor Nina Burleigh, who used the New York Observer to recount her glee over launching this lubricious gibe about Clinton at the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz: "I would be happy to give him a blow job just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs." What a perfect evocation of the year feminism devoured its own.