Where's the Obvious Analysis?
by L. Brent Bozell III
April 17, 1997
As the news business changes to an every-minute, 24-hour news cycle, all our media outlets claim they have to change their style to compete. Hard news is passe - by the time they get around to it, networks, news magazines, even morning newspapers claim hard news is old news. Therefore, they must reward us with analysis, synthesis, perspective on the news.
But when it comes to the Clinton scandals, we're getting precious little of either. Obviously, the newspapers deserve credit for getting on the fundraising scandal beat last fall and sticking with it, but their analysis isn't nearly as impressive. The news magazines are dragged along kicking and screaming. And the networks provide neither: who wants talk of good government when there's cult mass suicides to cover?
Consider Webster Hubbell. Here is a guy who was Associate Attorney General of the United States, the third-highest ranking law officer in the land. (And let's face it: at the height of his power, he and the White House were going around the supposed number one, Janet Reno.) He was charged with stealing a half a million dollars from his law partners in Arkansas, and lavishing the money on furs for his wife and other greedy moves. After he resigned in disgrace, the White House leaned on all the President's buddies to pay him another half-million dollars for supposed "jobs" that asked for no substantial work.
Imagine the outrage a 30-second ad on this could engender with the average American - yes, we know you work hard for $25,000 a year, but if you have good friends in Washington, you can rip off your law firm and then grab another half-million on your way to prison! This paints a picture of real Ivan Boesky-style criminal excess. So where is the obvious analysis, the synthesis of all these hard-news revelations?
Answer: the Democrats in the media don't want the dots connected. How can they rub their hands together at the thought of making trouble over Gingrich paying his $300,000 "fine" if people focus on Hubbell's ill-gotten million? These media people love catching Republicans in hypocrisy - the Supreme Court nominee who smoked pot, even the family-values presidential contenders with second marriages - and love making their conservative base wriggle with disapproval. So why not upset the liberal base of the Democratic Party, who despise the role of corporate money in politics, with tales of corporate payoffs - be it Hubbell or Hillary Clinton's Tyson-peddled $100,000 in cattle trades? Making liberals wriggle is out of the question.
Even imagine accepting all of the non-operative White House spin lines. Even if Hubbell was possibly innocent after being charged in 1994, how politically smart does it look to pile a fortune on an accused embezzler who used to run the Justice Department? Even if Hubbell was innocent, his potentially crucial role as a Whitewater witness makes the White House look like they're engaged in a hush-money gambit.
It's bad enough for the press that it took us years to grasp the overall outline of this story. But even now, as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times do all the heavy lifting, the news magazines' sympathetic spin is hard to take. On March 17, a Time headline read: "So far, White House officials appear not to have broken the law - but their squirming is painful to watch." Time's April 14 story was headlined "The Hubbell Rescue Mission: The White House seems to have a credible story, but what took so long, and why does it look so bad?"
And the networks can't even forward the basics to their audiences. Apparently, they don't mind being stonewalled and manipulated. After all, what are party tools for? The New York Times first put Hubbell's pre-prison bonanza at $400,000 in a March 6 front-page story. No network coverage. Two weeks later, the same paper found James Riady of the Lippo Group put up $100,000 of that after five days of meetings with White House officials. No network coverage. On April 6, the Los Angeles Times noted White House lawyer Jane Sherburne wrote "monitor cooperation" by Hubbell's name on a 1994 Whitewater memo. No network coverage. The Washington Times reported Hillary Clinton ordered the Resolution Trust Corporation in 1993 to keep her aware of any media inquiries on Hubbell. No network coverage.
Not only are liberals never impaled on spears of hypocrisy. They also never suffer from stonewalling for their leader. Almost to a man, Democrats have countenanced all of the White House's lies, abuses of power, and potential crimes. But then, how could the media possibly point the finger at someone else in their circle of sympathizers, when they twiddled their fingers insisting "character didn't matter" and then "both parties do it" until the election was over?