MediaWatch: July 27, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 12

Mrs. Clinton, You're Our Best Landmark!

Maria Shriver Leads Today’s Biased Buscapade with Hillary

Maria Shriver is a good Democrat. She’s joked about her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger: "When you marry someone, you marry them for sickness and health. [Republican politics] are Arnold’s sickness." But is she a good reporter? Maria’s current malady is her tendency to collapse into flattery in interviews with the First Lady, including Hillary Clinton’s recent bus tour of national landmarks.

On July 14, NBC’s Today show offered Mrs. Clinton an uninterrupted 16-minute broadcast from Thomas Edison’s lab. Viewers may have benefited from the Edison lesson, but the First Lady was the intended beneficiary of Shriver’s apple-polishing questions. Shriver committed a faux pas in a treacly tribute to the hard-working President. As the First Lady showed the cot where Edison napped, Shriver quipped: "You ever wanted to put one of those in the Oval Office?"

Shriver also insisted: "I know the way you prepare when you go out to tackle something. So no doubt you probably read everything ever written about Thomas Edison, and since we’re here in his library, what’s the most interesting thing you came across in all your reading?" Shriver didn’t ask adversarial questions, such as: Is this designed to divert attention from the Clinton scandals? Or: if these landmarks have been deteriorating, where’ve you been for the last six years?

Two days later, while replacing Katie Couric as Today co-host, Shriver presented a taped Hillary interview from the tour bus. Instead of focusing on museums, she lathered the First Lady with soccer-mom suckups, marveling at her personal strength: "Four states, ten or eleven stops. Four days. This is a real commitment for you. What do you get out of that? It is exhausting it seems to me." And: "Do you feel physically, emotionally, spiritually different when you get out of Washington, get on the road?" (For more quotes, see Notable Quotables inside.)

Shriver has used a different approach in covering Republicans. At the 1992 Democratic convention, Elizabeth Glaser, who contracted AIDS through a transfusion and transmitted it to her children, declared that her daughter didn’t survive the Reagan administration. Shriver met her after the speech to underline that attack: "You place responsibility for the death of your daughter squarely at the feet of the Reagan administration. Do you believe they’re responsible for that?" NBC’s employment of Maria Shriver has never signaled simply the appearance of liberal bias. It's the definition of liberal bias.