Will Jane Doe End Up As Jane Don't?

NBC News isn't responding well to Internet gossip Matt Drudge's claim that they're spiking a Lisa Myers interview with Juanita Broaddrick, also known from the Paula Jones case as "Jane Doe #5," who claims then-state AttorneyGeneral Bill Clinton raped her in 1978. When asked by Don Imus, Tim Russert snapped: "I mean, you know there's a videotape available if you want where it says President Clinton murdered people. I mean, you know, put it on the screen." [For more, see box.]

No one expects NBC News to put on scurrilous, uninvestigated charges against the President. But has NBC News lived up to Russert's PR claim, that every story needs to be "locked up" with a verification of the five W's before it airs? Unfortunately, it doesn't take long to remember NBC's failures on this score.

On April 8-10, 1991, NBC's Today aired three days of interviews with Kitty Kelley, who made wild charges that Nancy Reagan had an affair with Frank Sinatra in the White House. No "lock-up" there.

On October 8, 1991, on the very morning before the Senate would ultimately vote to delay Clarence Thomas's confirmation vote, NBC's Today interviewed Anita Hill. When Katie Couric asked Hill about the details of the charges against Thomas, Hill would only say "I don't want to get into the details," saying it was in an FBI report before the Senate. She gave the same answer when asked how many times Thomas harassed her: "I cannot say how many times." Couric moved on to questions about why the Senate hadn't moved more quickly on her (unproven, and at this point, undetailed) charges. The five W's were still missing.

Perhaps the worst example came on November 7, 1993, with completely uninvestigated sexual abuse allegations against Catholic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin just before U.S. church leaders gathered to discuss clerical sexual abuse. Notice how many of the five W's Gary Matsumoto was lacking in his leadoff story on Today, filed even before the accuser came forward: "Cardinal Joseph Bernardin is at the center of rumors swirling in Chicago that he himself will be named in a lawsuit concerning sexual abuse.... Cardinal Bernardin says he has not seen the lawsuit, and does not know the precise charges. The news reports do not specify who committed the abuse, but allege it took place in Cincinnati between 1975 and 1977, when Bernardin was Archbishop there. That is where it is expected to be filed this morning in a federal court. The news reports also say the plaintiff is a 34-year-old man who now lives in Philadelphia."

NBC made Bernardin's accuser the number one story on both Today and the Nightly News that day. From the 12th to the 14th, Today repeated the allegations in ten anchor briefs. Today followed with a debate on the 15th and another interview on the 20th. On the 17th, the magazine show Now raised the charges in connection with the Catholic Church's failure to rescind celibacy requirements for priests. The accuser, Steven Cook, later recanted the charges.

With a record like this, it's hard for Russert to assert the moral high ground. Whether or not NBC ever considers Broaddrick and her corroborating witnesses worthy of air time, NBC's double standard is obvious. - Tim Graham