Media Reality Check

I ndependent Counsel Ken Starr's decision to forego an appointment as dean of Pepperdine University's law and public policy schools ruined a favorite line of Clinton spin controllers, both in the White House and the press. Nearly every national media outlet has carried allegations of collusion between Starr and conservative philanthropist Richard Scaife, who donated over $1 million to Pepperdine's public policy school (only one of several million-dollar donors). But none of them ever proved any collusion took place, or even proved that the two have ever met. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Starr's decision didn't stop the right-wing-conspiracy story line: In the... continue reading
A recent Wall Street Journal /NBC News poll asked Americans which they would prefer: a tax-cutting candidate, or a candidate who favors more spending on education and child care. Only 39 percent preferred the former, while 55 percent chose the latter. One possible reason for this preference is that tax cuts get bad press. Network news reports generally portray tax reform as an election-year sop to the rich at the expense of the poor. And viewers probably think there is no philosophical or economic rationale behind tax cuts, since they are rarely told of one. This is the conclusion of... continue reading
W ashington 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... continue reading
N ow that Judge Susan Webber Wright has made the "courageous" decision to dismiss the Paula Jones suit (just as she tried to delay it until 2001 before the Supreme Court overruled her), the media's focus returns to Kenneth Starr. For years, liberal media figures have drubbed Starr as a partisan, pointing fingers at Starr's speech at Pat Robertson's Regent University, or his thoughts of filing an amicus brief in the Jones case. Typically, the media invested in polls to see if their attacks had worked. For the first time, the pollsters gauged an approval rating for an independent counsel,... continue reading
Moviegoers are taking in the Hollywood gospel of Primary Colors this week: that a thinly fictionalized President with his heart in the right place should feel free to live it up and then lie and violate any oath he takes as long as he cares about the right things. How strange: a movie that clings to the very point its author made in the book. On August 8, 1997, the author of Primary Colors, former Newsweek and CBS News contributor Joe Klein, elaborated on his philosophy on Tim Russert's CNBC show. Russert asked: "You told The New York Times something... continue reading
K athleen Willey charged on national television that the President of the United States sexually harassed her in a room next to the Oval Office. For that charge, she has now been subjected to four days of media skepticism and hostility. That's quite a change from the seven months of media blackout Americans witnessed from the break of the Willey story last summer: On July 30, 1997, CBS Evening News aired a brief story on how Paula Jones' lawyers had subpoenaed Willey to testify. Bill Plante noted: "But unless and until this case is settled, this is only the beginning... continue reading
A s former "right-wing hit man" David Brock pens an abject apology to President Clinton, perhaps the media need to send an open letter of apology to Newt Gingrich. For years now, they've recalled the stump speech from 1992 when Gingrich compared the Democrats' stands on families to Woody Allen, then infamous for carrying on a romance with 21-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, an adopted daughter of his companion, actress Mia Farrow. But was it a gaffe - or an eerie vision of the Democratic Party to come? Now, as Clinton refuses to respond to public inquiries about an alleged sexual relationship... continue reading
T he women in Bill Clinton's past get vastly differing receptions from the media. Gennifer Flowers was a trash-for-cash bimbo. Paula Jones was a big-hair nightmare out of a trailer park. And Susan McDougal, who looted a failed savings and loan that cost the taxpayers more than $50 million, who fraudulently took a $300,000 Small Business Administration loan and never paid it back, is a victim. But she's better than a victim. Since her conviction on multiple felony counts, she's a celebrity, appearing from prison via satellite to condemn the man who persuaded a jury she was a crook: independent... continue reading
K enneth Starr's decision to subpoena White House spin artist Sidney Blumenthal drew hoots from the networks. ABC's Jackie Judd concluded: "Even some current and former federal prosecutors say that Starr is out of bounds and he should get on with the issues that really matter in the Lewinsky case." CNN's Bernard Shaw asked: "By calling before the grand jury people such as Sidney Blumenthal, is Ken Starr acting illegally?" On NBC, Tom Brokaw suggested: "That will have a chilling effect on the First Amendment, won't it?" But what the networks didn't tell you is that Blumenthal has spent the... continue reading
W hite House spokesman Mike McCurry made a candid admission in yesterday's Chicago Tribune . There's the first, most embarrassing half (see box), which suggests Clinton has no innocent explanation of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky; and the second half, which two of the Big Three networks aired without the first half, as quoted below. The Tribune reported McCurry urged Clinton to ignore the Big Three networks at his most recent press conference, but the soft treatment last night suggested no hard feelings: ABC's World News Tonight allocated 46 seconds to Monica matters. Peter Jennings noted that the grand jury... continue reading