Pesky Internet gossip Matt Drudge is badgering a national news outlet again. Last year, it was Newsweek sitting on a story about some obscure intern named Lewinsky. This year, it's NBC News spiking an interview with Juanita Broaddrick, identified by the Paula Jones legal team as "Jane Doe #5." Broaddrick has claimed and retracted and now reasserted she was raped by then-Attorney General Bill Clinton in 1978.
After Drudge started scooping the juicy rumors (Tom Brokaw threatening to quit if they aired the interview?), others began looking for answers. On MSNBC, Don Imus asked Tim Russert about it. "If and when we lock up a story, we'll go with it. If we don't, we won't," answered Russert.
That's an honorable theory. Too bad it's not NBC's policy. Remember Anita Hill? She, too, had an accusation to make. Hers involved verbal harassment by a judge, not rape by the would-be President. She didn't offer a shred of evidence. In fact, all the circumstantial evidence and knowing witnesses pointed against her. NBC didn't wait to "lock up" her story. They covered her - live.
Fox News Channel then moved to report the NBC controversy, and Drudge quoted White House spokesman Joe Lockhart as threatening: "If you go with the story after NBC News decided not to, there won't be any argument about whether Fox News is right wing or not." (And get this for chutzpah: after Lockhart's threats were leaked, fellow White House flack James Kennedy complained to Fox that such threats were supposed to be off the record.) When Bill Sammon of the Washington Times asked Lockhart to comment on pressuring a network, Lockhart eventually responded: "If any of you think I'm in a position to pressure anyone, you give me more power than you think I have."
Here we go again, another administration scandal met with stonewalling, threats, and fatuous claims of non-intervention from Clinton press bullies.
Here's hoping NBC makes the right decision on this interview, and for the right reasons. Let's hope they're not postponing a completed report until after the impeachment trial is over. Let's hope they're still trying to get to the truth, no matter who it benefits. I, for one, am not going to hold my breath.
I hate to be a pessimist, but based on the year we've just been through, can you imagine what would happen if this interview did air? Let's imagine how the story would play out. Which of the following events would we be subjected to next?
1. Would Hillary Clinton appear again with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show to claim, "These would be very serious charges if proven true, but they won't be proven true"? Would Hillary blame the "vast right-wing conspiracy" for the charges, and would we hear the dutiful press corps again repeat this silliness ad nauseam for another year?
2. Would we see another breathless hour-long special from Geraldo Rivera on CNBC alleging that Richard Mellon Scaife bankrolled the American Spectator to pay off this Clinton accuser?
3. Would The McLaughlin Group's Eleanor Clift again insist, "This rather reeks of exploitation. If these women, had, you know, serious concerns, why didn't they speak out in 1992? Why didn't they come forward earlier?"
4. Would NBC anchor Tom Brokaw defend NBC's delay in an interview on Tim Russert's CNBC show: "Why didn't we put it on earlier? It didn't seem, I think to most people, entirely relevant to what was going on at the time. These are the kinds of charges raised about the President before. They had been played out in the Gennifer Flowers episode. The American public made a decision about his personal conduct, and whether it had relevance in his personal life "?
5. Would Anita Hill appear on "Meet the Press" again to declare: "We have to look at the totality of the presidency and how has he been on women's issues generally. Is he our best bet, not withstanding some behavior that we might dislike"?
6. Would Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales find his lord and savior Bill Clinton to be the victim of yet another "high-tech crucifixion"?
7. Would Time contributor Nina Burleigh tell the New York Observer that "women ought to line up to endure a little assault for the cause of keeping abortion legal and keeping the theocracy off our backs"?
8. Would Dan Rather announce a new CBS poll showing 80 percent of Americans still favor Clinton, including repealing the 22nd Amendment so he can be President for Life?
Okay, this is all too wildly improbable to even contemplate. But that's just the way the giants of objectivity reacted to the Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones stories. Nothing is beyond them. Nothing at all.