Champagne Toasts to the Jones Dismissal
Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz, whose entire book Spin Cycle is premised on the notion of a Clinton-hating press, greeted the Paula Jones dismissal with the question: "What will the press do without Paula?" Lost in the hindsight is the real story of dismissive media coverage of Jones and its dramatic contrast with the fawning over Anita Hill: Although she announced her charges of harassment on February 11, 1994, the networks (with the exception of a 16-second brief on ABC) waited almost three months to even mention Jones's name. So did NPR's Nina Totenberg, who broke Hill's unproven charges. The Los Angeles Times was the only major newspaper to devote a regular story to the Jones press conference. (The New York Times ran four paragraphs, The Washington Post dismissed it as "another ascension of Mount Bimbo." The Wall Street Journal ignored it.)
When Jones filed suit in May 1994, the networks aired only 15 stories in the first five days, less than one-fourth the 67 stories they devoted to Hill in the same time frame. There were no sympathetic features on sexual harassment, no stories looking for Washington's reaction, no biographies of Jones. CBS's Hill-Jones gap was 17 to 1.
Time and Newsweek interviewed Jones in June 1994, but both failed to publish anything from it. "We're certainly under no obligation to print anything," Time Washington Bureau Chief Dan Goodgame declared. Instead, Time carried a Michael Kramer column on "Why Paula Jones Should Wait." Newsweek repeated its attacks on Jones' character: "Former Clinton aides are depicting Paula Jones as a groupie, who, far from acting like a victim of harassment, hung around Clinton's office 'gigg-ling and carrying on' after her alleged hotel encounter." They never said this about Anita Hill, although the book The Real Anita Hill noted one of Hill's co-workers said: "My clearest recollection is of her sitting on a couch outside [Clarence Thomas's] office, very nicely dressed, flipping through magazines."
The Jones suit received only eight full evening news stories and three morning show stories in all of 1996. Three of the evening stories and two morning stories focused on the RNC ad ridiculing Clinton's claim he could not be sued since he was on active military duty as commander-in-chief. The other five relayed court actions.
In mid-October 1996, The American Lawyer magazine issued a paradigm-shifting cover story by Stuart Taylor charging Jones's evidence was much stronger than Anita Hill's. In the three weeks after it appeared, the story didn't draw a sentence in the three newsweeklies. Other than a brief citation as an example of media bias by ABC's Jeff Greenfield on October 31, the networks ignored it until January. Taylor explained recently to The Washington Post: "There was a huge, pent-up, Clinton-is-getting-away-with-too-much feeling in the press that was suppressed during the election, partly because they didn't want to elect Dole."
Many still haven't touched the American Spectator scoop of June 1996 about the Chubb Group and State Farm paying millions to Clinton lawyer Bob Bennett. But the same networks who swarmed over Bob Dole's loan to Newt Gingrich and its implications on Dole's lobbying clients haven't bothered with what those insurance companies might want from Clinton. Virtually the entire media took a pass. - Tim Graham