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MediaWatch: August 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 8

Torricelli's Prenatal Studies

NBC's Lisa Myers deserves credit for catching a liberal Senator in a lie and calling him on it. On the July 11 NBC Nightly News, Myers was the only network reporter that went after Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey) for an emotional embellishment he made at the Senate fundraising hearings. 

In his opening statement Torricelli lectured that he wanted to avoid the ethnic stereotyping spread by organized crime hearings held by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn.). Waxing nostalgic, Torricelli recalled, "It was among the first memories of government in the United States that I have, and probably the first hearing of the Senate I ever witnessed. It was only a flickering television screen, but I will never forget it."

Just one problem with Torricelli's moving anecdote. As the July 10 Roll Call documented, he made it up. The Kefauver hearings lasted from May 1950 to August 1951. Roll Call explained: "Torricelli couldn't have remembered the Kefauver investigation, or even that flickering screen. The future Senator was born on August 26, 1951. The final gavel fell on the Kefauver subcommittee hearings on August 31, 1951."

Brian Williams set up Myers: "A freshman Senator from New Jersey is in a little bit of trouble for what he wanted very badly to be a very big dramatic moment on the much-anticipated first day of those campaign finance hearings going on the Hill. NBC's Lisa Myers tonight looks between the lines and finds all that was lacking was the truth."

Plante Goes Back to Basics

Here's an idea for TV reporters: dig up some old quotes from President Clinton and see how he's lived up to his promises. Sounds like Journalism 101, but it's rarely been done. CBS reporter Bill Plante tried this out on the August 6 CBS This Morning. He told anchor Jane Robelot: "That tax and spending bill, those two bills he signed yesterday, are not exactly what Mr. Clinton wanted when he came here. He came to Washington calling for universal health care and government spending to stimulate the economy. We looked around yesterday and we came up with this quote from an interview he did in November of 1994.... He said, 'All these extreme Republicans,' that's a quote, 'promising tax cuts and spending increases and balanced budgets, all this ridiculous stuff,' unquote."