When the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton was dismissed on April Fool's Day, members of the "objective" news media popped champagne corks with the President's aides to celebrate. When the President's lawyers settled out of court with Jones for $850,000, the media reaction was just a fatigued sigh of relief. Any relevant points connected with the settlement were already yesterday's news.
In very brief obituaries of the Jones suit, the networks all focused on how Clinton settled because he "was not prepared to spend even one more hour on the matter." Only NBC's Lisa Myers and the Fox News Channel's David Shuster even touched on a central question of the settlement: how will the President pay this large amount? Myers reported "Sources close to the President are optimistic the money will come from his insurance policies, not from the Clintons themselves." The Washington Post was clearer, reporting that sources said funds would come from his legal defense fund and a separate deal with Chubb Group Insurance. "'When all is said and done not a penny will come out of his pocket,' said one person close to the situation."
That blatant assertion that the President would pawn off the Jones case on his personal sexual-harassment insurance policy and Democratic contributors jerked not a single media knee. Now let's go back to April of 1997, when Speaker Newt Gingrich had to reimburse the House Ethics Committee for their $300,000 investigation of his college course. Using campaign funds would be an outrage, they suggested. NBC's Lisa Myers suggested payment was a political problem: "In Washington tonight Newt Gingrich is trying the political equivalent of a triple somersault. How does he make good on that fine leveled against him for ethics violations, at the same time please his fellow Republicans and his wife."
When Bob Dole announced he'd help Gingrich with the assessment, CBS quickly jumped on the potential conflict of interest, since Dole was a lobbyist for Fortune 500 businesses, including tobacco companies. After a full story from Bob Schieffer, CBS anchor Paula Zahn quickly connected the loan to current legislation: "The suggestion of some kind of tobacco connection to the Gingrich-Dole loan deal comes as the tobacco industry is reportedly working on a $300 billion deal to settle government and private health lawsuits."
Other journalists jumped on the Dole-Gingrich arrangement. Newsweek's Evan Thomas implied Gingrich was a crook, bemoaning that Dole had "become an influence peddler so he can post bail for Newt Gingrich." Former New York Times and U.S. News reporter Steve Roberts also noted Dole's tobacco connection and asked "Do we really want a Speaker of the House who owes $300,000 to a guy who's a principal of a major lobbying firm?"
On ABC, Cokie Roberts was also troubled. "I think the real problem with it is not anything illegal or unethical. I think that it is people will look at it in the same way that they looked at the House banking scandal - which was not illegal - and say 'Oh there they go in Washington again, everybody just taking care of each other.' And it contributes to that whole view that everybody inside of Washington is in cahoots."
Where were these outraged citizens to inquire if we really want a President of the United States indebted to large insurance companies or donors to his legal defense fund after settling the Jones case? There's one very good reason that may have occurred: the media as a whole have, intentionally or unintentionally, decided to never give the public the vaguest of impressions that the President had sexual-harassment insurance.
Use any search engine and try to find more than a handful of stories which connect State Farm and the Chubb Group insurance companies to the President's defense since the Wall Street Journal broke the story on February 8, 1996. These two paid $891,000 to Clinton lawyer Bob Bennett in December 1995. Byron York expanded on the story in the June 1996 American Spectator: the companies paid up despite the fact that State Farm denied providing insurance for "any loss caused by illegal discrimination." More to the point: the policies also do not cover any intentional act, either the sexual harassment or the political harassment that caused her to file charges of defamation. Nor was Clinton's claim timely, since he waited more than a year after the Jones suit was filed to notify the insurers. So why would these large corporations pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Clinton's lawyers, and why don't the media care?
The 89-percent pro-Clinton press have signaled they will continue to ignore the many questions that surround this case. They began their Paula Jones coverage with three months of silence, and will end it with the same complete lack of interest.