Seven years ago, Peter Jennings regretted running the Gennifer Flowers story as "a bad beginning to the year that probably alienated a public already critical of news media." But on Tuesday night, Jennings and his show World News Tonight were the only one of the Big Three to peddle Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt's attack on Rep. Bob Barr.
John Cochran began: "Whatever you think of Larry Flynt or his pornographic magazine, he has shown that if you've got enough money you can put an ad in the paper offering up to one million dollars for dirt on Congressmen. And then mainstream journalists will report your allegations about the personal life of, well Bob Barr for starters."
ABC did not wait to verify Flynt's charges for themselves, as they waited five days to touch the Flowers story in 1992. ABC's Good Morning America interviewed Flynt Tuesday morning, hours after the Barr charges were made. In 1996, ABC interviewed former FBI agent Gary Aldrich on This Week with David Brinkley. After the panel asked blistering questions about the documentation of Aldrich's charges, ABC and other networks canceled their remaining interviews.
But ABC's Elizabeth Vargas only asked Flynt once "how thoroughly did you investigate this information before releasing it?" and then made vague references to "if it's true." She asked Flynt (interjecting "It might be a stretch") if he was a White House tool. This bias is not unique. ABC has a habit of biased bookings:
ABC did not extend a morning show invitation to Flowers for six years - until March 16, 1998.
ABC never invited David Brock or R. Emmett Tyrrell of The American Spectator or the Arkansas state troopers when Troopergate broke at the end of 1993.
ABC did not interview Paula Jones when she announced she was sexually harassed in February 1994. When Jones was interviewed for Prime Time Live by Sam Donaldson in June, Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson asked Donaldson: "Why does anyone care what this woman has to say?... Bottom line, Sam. Is she not trying to capitalize on this, in effect to profit from impugning the President?"
In November 1994, ABC did interview reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer to promote their hostile book on Clarence Thomas, Strange Justice. In addition to interviewing the duo on Good Morning America and Nightline, ABC's Michel McQueen filed a one-hour Turning Point special. One of the few new claims was Kaye Savage asserting she'd seen Playboy centerfolds taped up in Thomas's apartment in 1983.
When the August 11, 1992 New York Post revealed that authors Joe and Susan Trento claimed a dead ambassador once said George Bush had an affair with Jennifer Fitzgerald, Good Morning America had both authors on the next morning. ABC is not a careful judge of unconfirmed allegations. They prefer the allegations that hurt the officials they disagree with. - Tim Graham