MediaWatch: August 24, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 14

Tossing Bouquets at "Humiliated Hillary"

First lady painted as Hero Instead of as Complicit in Deceit

The impending arrival of the truth about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky spurred a wave of supportive TV coverage for Hillary Clinton. On August 14, the Friday before Clinton testified, CBS’s Eric Engberg and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell filed odes to the First Lady.

Mitchell poured this syrup: "Politician, strategist, lawyer, protector — in a marriage that friends say is based on brutal honesty and unconditional love." Mitchell asserted: "Close friends say she knew everything from Day One and still went on NBC in January to deny all." Instead of disparaging a lying First Lady, Mitchell worried: "So how does she cope? What other wife would tolerate so much embarrassment? Two clues to Hillary Clinton’s character: friends say she is deeply religious and incredibly angry, blaming Ken Starr, not her husband." Mitchell didn’t wonder: Is it a "deeply religious" activity to lie to millions of Americans?

The next night, ABC’s Juju Chang joined in, focusing on how Hillary’s "unflinching loyalty has earned her a new level of respect" in high approval ratings. "Hillary Clinton has used her fierce determination, which used to be seen as a negative, to turn what could have been a humiliating experience into a position of strength."

CBS’s Bill Plante declared on the August 17 Evening News: "Bill Clinton stands to be embarrassed by what he says today, but Hillary Rodham Clinton stands to be humiliated." He showed the January Today interview and claimed: "Friends of Mrs. Clinton say that she probably didn’t know back then whether Lewinsky’s story was true. Now, however, sources say the First Lady is aware her husband is changing his story."

Minutes before Clinton’s speech that night, CBS’s Eric Engberg noted: "Unlike any other scandal in memory, the country has been acutely aware that what it is witnessing is not just a political thunderclap, but a family tragedy. For seven months, she has been the first defender as well as First Lady. Had she not done her job so well, it’s not likely the President would have stood up so well in the opinion polls."

Over on NBC Mitchell revised her account from Hillary pals: "Friends say she’s known all along something happened, but no details, so chose to believe her husband’s early denials." Mitchell did not explain how Hillary would have learned the real story about Lewinsky from weekend leaks in the newspaper seven months late if her marriage was based on "brutal honesty and unconditional love."