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Where's That Iran-Contra Idealism?

Ten Years Ago, Media Bigwigs Beat Their Breasts at a "Constitutional Crisis," "Shredded Democracy"

Today, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee resumes its fundraising investigation by focusing on Clinton fundraising calls from the White House, as well as the delayed response to subpoenas asking for White House coffee videotapes. Last week, the networks presented this struggle as - yawn - another tiresome sideshow of partisan bickering. (They did not explain that is exactly the line Democratic spin controllers wish to get across.) How different it was than the attitudes of ten years ago:

Sam Donaldson on ABC's World News Tonight, May 15, 1987: "Senior officials here are defensive about the President's loss of memory. Said one, the President of the U.S. is entitled to say he doesn't remember. But beyond entitlement, they are concerned about the implications. At best, it tends to reinforce the notion that Mr. Reagan isn't up to the job. At worst, the idea that he isn't telling the truth."

Barry Serafin on ABC's World News Tonight, May 17, 1987: "Whatever the differences, the current hearings and investigations make Watergate seem a little less like ancient history."

Carl Stern on NBC Nightly News, July 31, 1987: Reagan said he didn't think any laws were broken and Stern rebutted: "If a President believes there's no indication that a single law was broken, why does he believe that 23 individuals already have requested and received immunity from prosecution, criminal prosecution for what they testify about...Exhibits this very week show that Meese's own investigators identified violations that might have included misappropriation, conspiracy, conversion, fraud, embezzlement, certainly false statements."

Stern added: "And just to top it all off, Tom, remember it was the President and the Attorney General who asked for a special prosecutor. That requires a finding of reasonable, credible evidence to believe that a significant crime may have been committed. So how can it be said there's no indication a single law was broken?" In 1993, Stern left NBC to become a flack for Janet Reno's Justice Department, which hasn't matched a "dishonest" Ronald Reagan in asking for an independent counsel.

Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News, August 3, 1987: "And when the public phase of those hearings ended today with the testimony of Secretary Weinberger, we were left with an astonishing record of deceit, ignorance, naivete, good or bad intentions, failed policies, and discredited public servants, and this story is not yet complete."

Sam Donaldson on ABC's This Week, July 12, 1987: "The colonel [Oliver North] has been brilliant at his performance before the committee, but he hasn't been right. I think he has done a disservice to the President, who he claims to serve. Because what he has suggested to the committee and the country and my children is that you should lie, you should cheat, you should cut corners, you should do anything you want if you personally believe that a) someone has authorized you to do it, and b) it served the interest of the United States as you see it...Not only is Oliver North not a national hero, but he is someone we do not want to emulate if we are going to keep a free society." Looking in hindsight from the Clinton era, the media's Iran-Contra idealism looks like another cynical exercise in partisan spin control. - Tim Graham