MediaWatch: December 14, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 22

Is Henry Hyde a Hypocrite?

CNN, MSNBC Ignore Gore Flip-Flop

The December 4 Los Angeles Times article "Hyde’s View on Lying is Back Haunting Him" was lapped up by CNN and MSNBC, which painted Henry Hyde as a hypocrite for condemning lying now but defending it in Oliver North’s Iran-Contra case. CNN at least let North try to explain how the two cases were fundamentally different, but the stories all focused exclusively on Hyde while ignoring the fact that the same point could clearly be made about scores of Democrats who denounced lying then and seem unfazed by it now.

The same day the Los Angeles Times hit on Hyde appeared, a fax from the Republican National Committee arrived in media offices around Washington. It highlighted a June 30, 1987 story in the very same newspaper about Al Gore announcing his presidential candidacy. The Times quoted Gore as vowing to "restore the rule of law and respect for the truth and common sense to the White House." But the all-news networks ignored that.

CNN anchor Joie Chen noted Hyde’s words from the Iran-Contra days were "coming back to haunt him." Following two soundbites from Hyde from the Iran-Contra hearings, Frank Sesno posed this question: "Oliver North and Bill Clinton. Are the cases that different? Have the rules changed? Or is Henry Hyde a hypocrite?"

Sesno then let North respond to the charges and provided some context to the events, leaving the viewer with some sense that the cases were possibly different. North argued there was a major distinction between lying to protect the country’s national security interests and lying before a grand jury simply to protect oneself.

Meanwhile over on MSNBC, Gwen Ifill skipped over Hyde’s side of the story and offered none of the background Sesno presented, although she did acknowledge that Clinton aides "made sure reporters knew about the story." She added: "When Hyde was a member of the 1987 Iran-Contra committee he said lies should be judged quote ‘in the murkier grayness of the real world’ and he quoted Thomas Jefferson." In his coda performance on MSNBC’s The Big Show, Keith Olbermann gleefully ridiculed Hyde, at one point musing that "politics makes strange bedfellows. The Henry Hyde of 1998 must sleep with the Henry Hyde of 1987 — if he can."