MediaWatch: March 8, 1999

In This Issue

Anita vs. Juanita: The Awful Double Standard; NewsBites; Fashioning a Future for "Senator Hillary"; Lewinsky Scandal Illegitimate; Russert, Myers Overcome Lack

Anita vs. Juanita: The Awful Double Standard

She was an unknown woman with a salacious tale of how a man she had supported turned into a sexual predator. Her tale was old, and she had no eyewitnesses. But she seemed to have nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward. After many years of silence, her timing seemed much too late to matter in assessing the man’s suitability for high office.

That may sound like Juanita Broaddrick, whose interview with NBC’s Lisa Myers detailing her charge that Bill Clinton raped her in 1978 finally aired on February 24. But it is also a fitting description of Anita Hill when she accused Clarence Thomas of mere sexual harassment in October 1991. The similarities end there. For Hill quickly became the center of a story threatening Thomas’s chances for confirmation to the Supreme Court, and within a week, a feminist heroine. Mrs. Broaddrick suffered a different fate at the hands of the network morning and evening news shows: near invisibility.

In 1994, MediaWatch revealed the vast differential between the networks’ coverage of Anita Hill’s first five days in the spotlight to those of Paula Jones. In the first five days of Hill’s charges (October 6-10,1991), the network evening shows (on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and PBS’s NewsHour) aired 67 stories. (If a count began with Jones’ February press conference, the networks supplied just a single 16-second anchor brief; if the count began with her sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton in May, the number was 15.)

But in the first five days after Juanita Broaddrick has charged the President with rape in The Wall Street Journal (February 19-23), the number of evening news stories was two. That’s a ratio of 67 to 2. Once The Washington Post added to the Journal account on Saturday, February 20, both CBS and CNN aired one story. On February 24, the night of the Dateline interview, PBS’s Jim Lehrer discussed the story as a media controversy with NewsHour media reporter Terence Smith.

In 1994, MediaWatch also compared the gap in morning show coverage between Hill and Jones. From October 7 to 10 (since the Hill-Thomas hearings began on the 11th), the networks aired 66 news stories and 18 interview segments on Hill in four days. The morning shows totally ignored Jones in February 1994, but for the first four mornings after the Jones lawsuit was filed, these shows aired 14 news stories and 8 interviews (almost all of them on NBC). But in the Broaddrick story’s first four mornings (February 19 to 22), the coverage was 18 seconds on NBC’s Today and a brief mention on ABC’s Good Morning America. So, to be generous, call that 84 to 2.

Two outlets that didn’t exist when Hill came forward have covered and discussed the Broaddrick charges in depth: FNC (since early February) and MSNBC (since Dateline’s interview was announced). All the Sunday morning shows except Fox News Sunday ignored Broaddrick on February 21. But on the 28th, only CBS’s Face the Nation tried to pretend it didn’t exist. For a complete picture of the major media’s reluctance, let’s review them one by one for February 19-28:

World News Tonight has reported nothing. Nightline has done nothing. Good Morning America aired a brief mention from Charles Gibson on the 19th and two questions to Clinton flack Paul Begala on March 1. Meanwhile, carried a long story dated the 25th by Josh Fine noting "ABC News also has had a series of conversations, many of which were off the record or on deep background, with the retired nursing home operator. She has now permitted us to put those statements on the record." On the February 28 This Week, Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts asked guests about Broaddrick, and argued with George Stephanopoulos that Clinton should be asked for more details.

On Saturday the 20th, CBS Evenng News showed a 1:51 story by anchor John Roberts. CBS This Morning aired nothing. Face the Nation asked nothing about it.

The World Today featured three pieces. On the 20th, Bob Franken filed a three-minute-plus report. On the 26th CNN's Bruce Morton checked the debate over feminist reaction. Two days later Gene Randall looked at calls for Clinton to address the charge. While they aired 20 segments on Hillary’s Senate bid, Inside Politics has aired just four Broaddrick segments: part of a Howard Kurtz interview on the 25th; a Bruce Morton report and an interview with feminist Eleanor Smeal and conservative Betsy Hart on the 26th; and a March 1 segment on CNN’s Broaddrick poll with pollsters from both parties.

NBC Nightly News did not touch its own network’s scoop, despite promoting ABC’s Monica Lewinsky interview in two stories on March 2. Today aired only a brief until the Myers interview. The morning after the interview, it carried a report by Claire Shipman and a Katie Couric interview with Clinton ally Alan Dershowitz and Dorothy Rabinowitz, who wrote the Wall Street Journal story. On the 26th, Matt Lauer asked NOW’s Patricia Ireland tough questions, including whether she’d ask Clinton to resign, since that’s what she demanded of Sen. Bob Packwood. On the 28th, most of Meet the Press focused the Broaddrick story.

. The NewsHour has only aired one Terence Smith discussion with Jim Lehrer. While NPR’s Nina Totenberg broke Anita Hill’s unproven charges into the mainstream press, NPR broadcast only one report on Morning Edition on the 25th, the day after the NBC interview. All Things Considered (and Totenberg) have not filed reports. (The New York newspaper Newsday, which joined NPR in breaking the Hill story, has likewise printed only one news story.)

Adam Cohen wrote a one-page article in the March 1 issue (the same week "Senator Hillary" got nine), noting the "vociferously conservative" Wall Street Journal editorial page printed it first, and argued "the story seems unlikely to have much traction."

While Hillary drew nine pages in the March 1 edition, the only mention of Broaddrick was in the snippy "Conventional Wisdom Watch" feature, which declared: "Should have leveled (unproven) assault charge in ‘78, or ‘92. But sounds like our guy." On March 8, the only coverage was a one-page Jonathan Alter piece dismissing everyone associated with the charges with the headline "Disgraceful All Around."

U.S. News & World Report.
The March 1 edition had nothing, but the March 8 edition carried a story by Angie Cannon and Marianne Lavelle noting it "had all the makings of a bombshell," but "the nation’s response [was] deafening silence...even GOP attack dogs bit their tongues." They quoted feminist Eleanor Smeal saying it "isn’t provable" and "People have had it."

The Los Angeles Times.
Other than a brief wire report on the 21st, they offered only one news report, a media navel-gazer by Josh Getlin and Elizabeth Jensen, with the subheadline "Whether a woman’s allegation of sexual assault by Clinton in 1978 is true is secondary to competitive pressure." In the story, Times national editor Scott Kraft sniffed Broaddrick can "almost certainly not be proved or disproved today." In addition, TV writer Shauna Snow wrote up several notes about the Dateline interview and its ratings.

The New York Times.
The newspaper that published Kitty Kelley’s allegations about Nancy Reagan’s sex life on page one also touched the Broaddrick story as a media critique, lamenting that "smaller outlets on the Internet and cable television" are "overwhelming the slower and more sober judgments of mainstream news organizations." The Times followed up with a short mention from White House reporter James Bennet and a few TV articles from reporter Lawrie Mifflin.

The Washington Post
did more on the story, from two stories on the 20th, to several full-length stories on the media debate by Howard Kurtz. White House reporters mentioned the story in passing.

The February 28 Post carried a commentary by former reporters Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach ahistorically charging, "We are moving toward a journalism of assertion rather than a journalism of verification, and the cost for society is high." But it wasn’t demonized cable news channels or the Internet which broadcast Anita Hill’s charges without verification. "Clinton’s fitness for office is beyond the scope of reporters to decide," they wrote. Tell that to Clarence Thomas.


No Fine Print

As Washington debates the fate of the surplus, President Clinton declares save Social Security first, and now Medicare as well. How will he save Medicare, scheduled to go broke in 2009? By expanding the program to cover prescription drug costs.

On the February 25 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather promised a look "beyond the photo-op to the fine print." Instead, Scott Pelley supported Clinton’s plan with emotional pleas from an elderly lady.

He began: "In Tucson the President called for a revolution in Medicare, not only to save the insurance program, but also to expand it....Medicare’s lack of prescription benefits is a quiet crisis." Pelley found a woman dressed in a pink bathrobe with an oxygen tube in her nose. "Peggy Halpert cannot afford all of the medicine she needs to breathe." Halpert explained she would rather receive tax money than support from her children: "I refuse to take my grandchildren’s college money...I refuse to take their money to support me."

While Pelley noted Medicare could claim a quarter of the budget in 20 years, and more if they add prescriptions, he let Halpert envision more government: "I think if Medicare paid for my drugs, it would leave funds for me at the time when I’m going to need more help to come in and do things for me." Pelley strangely suggested: "You’re fighting for your independence." Halpert affirmed, "And I’ll fight to the day I die for that."

Tax Flacks
NBC’s Tom Brokaw also framed the budget in Clintonian terms on the February 17 Nightly News: "Bill Clinton has about a year and a half left before a new President is elected, and he has a lot of ground to make up after last year. He’s hoping you’ll help by turning your back on a big tax cut. Does that sound like the world has been turned upside down? It is the new battleground after impeachment: Social Security and Medicare for the future or fewer taxes right now?"

Dan Rather issued a similarly disingenuous report on that night’s Evening News: "There’s no cooling off period, either, about the President’s plan to save Social Security by bankrolling it with money from the U.S. budget surplus. President Clinton was out today trying to sell it to what could be a tough-sell audience on the nation’s campuses. Republicans in Congress favor using the surplus for across-the-board tax cuts."

Republican National Committee spokesman Cliff May took exception to the network misrepresentations: "Every Republican in Congress has said that 2/3 of the surplus should be reserved for Social Security and that the fight was over whether the remainder should be spent by government or given back to the taxpayers."

Good News?
Putting scandal aside, ABC’s World News Tonight got back to promoting liberal causes on February 17 with two consecutive stories.

The tide began with a report on several campus protests by students who want their colleges to toughen up regulations of sweatshops that produce clothing sold on campus. Peter Jennings noted in his introduction that a "college administrator said that after so many years of apathy, it was nice to know that college students care about something other than basketball and bonfires." Then Bill Blakemore’s opening line set the tone of reminiscence: "It feels like the ‘60s: students occupying administration buildings, campus protests on a matter of principle."

Jennings continued: "There is another issue that is causing some controversy at colleges and at high schools. The Justice Department has launched its first investigation into whether mascots with Indian themes violate the civil rights of Native Americans." Bob Woodruff began with Erwin High School in Asheville, North Carolina, with the team names "Warriors" and "Squaws."

Woodruff concluded: "The Justice Department is not telling them to change, it is gathering facts, trying to find a solution that both sides can live with." U.S. News columnist John Leo noted in the March 8 issue that Erwin officials say "gathering facts" will "take staff 12 full working days to provide it. One of the requests is for the names and racial identifications of all students who have performed as student mascots."

Fashioning a Future for "Senator Hillary"

The political press found a quick remedy for post-impeachment blahs: promoting the wife of the impeached man for the U.S. Senate. The networks devoted more than 20 morning and evening reports and interviews to "Senator Hillary." CNN’s Inside Politics could have been called Inside Hillary: in the ten weekdays from February 15 to 26, the show aired 15 full reports and five interviews on her future.

The tone was typically promotional. On the February 16 Today, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked: "When you are used to being a star like the First Lady, how does it feel, do you think, to be one of 100?" That night, CBS’s Dan Rather added an "editor’s note" about Hillary aiming too low: "One of the arguments reportedly being made to Hillary Clinton by those urging her to run, is you win a Senate race in New York and you might be in position to run for President later. Is she thinking about running for President or Vice President in 2000, instead of for the Senate? No one in a position to know will say."

Time and Newsweek both made Hillary their cover girl on March 1, and both devoted nine pages to her. Time’s Romesh Ratnesar found "political hacks were salivating at the prospect of a celebrity death match between Clinton and New York’s imperious Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani — a notion that makes the state’s Democrats as giddy as 12-year-olds at an N’Sync show." Ratnesar ended by quoting Robert F. Kennedy: "‘Come my friends, ‘tis not too late to seek a better world.’ That sort of belief in the possibilities of American politics no longer exists. Hillary’s run might just be a step toward restoring it."

Newsweek’s Evan Thomas and Debra Rosenberg declared: "In an ironic, Washington-hating age, Hillary’s sometimes self-righteous dutifulness may seem quaint or hokey, but to her, public service is still a real and urgent obligation. It has been since she shone in her Methodist youth group as an earnest teenager...Her model would be Robert F. Kennedy, who was not so much the junior senator from New York as a global crusader. Like RFK, she could make camera lights shine in dark places of neglect. Unlike RFK, Hillary actually likes the minutiae of policy wonkery." They ended: "She has always been a strong woman. But she has never had such a golden chance to show her strength and put it to use, on her own terms."

Newsweek claimed: "Much of the Washington media establishment would be all too ready to see her fail." Not from the looks of these reports.

Lewinsky Scandal Illegitimate

CNN's Near-Unanimous Town Meeting

The Tuesday after the Senate impeachment vote, CNN delivered three hours and 34 minutes of prime time discussion framed around the liberal agenda that the media were wrong to pursue the Lewinsky story: A two-part "Conversation with America: We the People" town meeting with a Larry Ling Live sandwiched in between (featuring five liberals versus just one conservative). No conservatives were among the on-stage town meeting panelists: former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, Sally Quinn of the Washington Post and former Republican Senator Howard Baker.

The show accepted the premise that the Lewinsky story was an illegitimate invasion of Clinton’s privacy that distracted from the real issues. Much of the show revolved around host Jeff Greenfield’s question "How do you put the genie back in the bottle?" Cronkite answered: "The responsible press has to, first of all, ignore the salacious scandal on which the tabloids live," meaning ignore Lewinsky-type stories as journalists should not "deal in people’s private peccadillos, their moral values, if you please, unless those peccadillos affected their job."

Conservatives would argue that the media failed in not pursuing the Gennifer Flowers story back in 1992, but Quinn lamented how alternate media outlets made it impossible for the story to be suppressed: "The Washington Post and the New York Times refused to write about Gennifer Flowers. She was having a press conference and playing tapes, and we weren’t writing about it. And it was all over the news, and everybody was talking about it. And finally, the Washington Post was forced to write about it. I think that’s a problem."

Republican House Manager Lindsey Graham made a brief appearance, but the first person CNN went to in a remote from his North Carolina district declared she was pleased Graham failed: "I’m glad President Clinton stuck in there, Hillary stuck by his side and the family stayed together."

One minister condemned Clinton, but most reflected views closer to a Presbyterian minister in Madison, Indiana: "My own 10-year-old daughter would sit there and hear all of these things going on on the TV. And she’d point out, but the President is for education, the President has done these other things. Those are the things that are important even to a small child at 10 years old." A Los Angeles Catholic priest insisted: "The future of the human family is not determined by what the President does with his sex life in the White House. It has to do with what we’re going to do about 14.5 million children who are poor in this country...and the Congress doesn’t have time to debate any nuclear test ban treaty."

Other invited guests used the CNN platform to denounce conservatives. Harvard’s Dr. Alvin Poussaint charged: "It was not just about, quote, sex or even perjury. It was also about bringing down someone who they ideologically oppose. He also supports abortion. So I think there’s an undercurrent here, all of these different issues, human rights issues, has to do with disenfranchised groups in the society becoming more of America in a democratic way, that somehow the reactionary elements are trying to suppress."

Russert, Myers Overcome Lack

It took NBC five weeks and the end of the impeachment trial before it ran its exclusive Lisa Myers interview with Juanita Broaddrick, conducted January 20, on the February 24 Dateline NBC.

Confirming the Drudge Report disclosure that there was an internal fight to suppress the story, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz told CNN the day after it ran that he knows "people at NBC who felt this interview was ready for airing at least a couple of weeks ago."

Fox’s Brit Hume credited Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert with standing by his colleague and putting up the successful inside fight to overcome opposition to the story from NBC News President Andy Lack.

On the February 28 Fox News Sunday Hume offered his inside information: "Two people deserve credit for this story at NBC News. One of them is Lisa Myers who got the story and the other is our colleague Tim Russert, who fought for it, and had to fight for it, which is not a fortunate commentary about the news media today, that you know, that there had to be this great battle to get this story on the air. This story, once that interview was done, and the reporting that accompanied it was done, should have been on the air immediately. It should have been on the Nightly News."