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MediaWatch: September 7, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 14

NewsBites

Silent Splits
The highest ranking Democrat in the House refused to rule out impeachment of Clinton and a respected Democratic party elder suggested the President resign, but the networks stayed almost silent.

The August 23 Washington Post carried an op-ed by retired Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) stating that Clinton must disclose all of his illegal behavior, which Nunn concluded "will require personal sacrifice and may even require his resignation, but it would fulfill the President’s most important oath — to preserve and protect our nation." Network coverage? On Sunday’s Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert asked James Carville to react to Nunn, but no evening newscast or morning news show uttered a word.

The August 26 Washington Post reported Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said: "Impeaching the President — and effectively overriding the election of 1996 — should not be undertaken lightly...that doesn’t mean it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done; you just better be sure you do it the right way." Coverage of this major break away from the Clinton line by an influential and leading Democrat? One 15-second item on ABC’s Good Morning America.

That morning on Today, NBC’s Matt Lauer failed to raise the issue during an interview with Lanny Davis and Stuart Taylor, but he did note the Post’s August 24 front-page story on the Speaker of the House: "Stuart, Newt Gingrich has said he wants to see more information on this, he wants to see everything. And as you mentioned before, he’s looking, he says impeachment inquiries shouldn’t go forward unless they can find some sort of pattern of felonies, not a single human error. Does Ken Starr owe it to Newt Gingrich to show him what he’s come up with over these four and a half years?"

Lost in Space
Something was missing in the recent John Glenn encomiums offered up by Time and Today. The August 17 Time cover said of Glenn’s October space mission: "A gimmick? No, a timely reminder that we can still have heroes." But Glenn, depicted by Time’s Jeffrey Kluger as the quintessential "elder statesman," played an important role last summer in stonewalling and toeing the White House line during the Senate fundraising hearings. Time featured a brief interview titled "The Soul of a Senator," in which Kluger and Dick Thompson tossed softballs at Glenn: "Do partisan attacks cross the line into personal attacks these days?" Glenn was allowed to wax philosophical on the dangers of partisanship and the need to work together without any mention of last summer’s hearings.

Back then, Time only noted Glenn’s partisan antics in three captions, two under photos and one under a cartoon calling Glenn and Sen. Fred Thompson "old vaudevillians upstaging each other."

On the August 25 Today, reporter Mike Boettcher spoke almost entirely of Glenn’s career as an astronaut in the ‘60s, not as an obstructionist in the ‘90s: "He was an American hero then, and will be again when he makes his second trip into space." After the glowing piece, Jodi Applegate spoke of Glenn’s "terrific opportunity" and Matt Lauer wondered aloud: "How cool is he?" Even the avuncular Al Roker couldn’t resist: "He’s the best."

Tortured Mort
U.S. News & World Report Editor-in-Chief Mortimer Zuckerman lashed out at Bill Clinton in the August 31 issue: "How, we must ask, could someone be so reckless as to stake his public reputation and effectiveness as a national leader on the discretion of a young woman who was looking for a Washington adventure, a woman who would hold on to a dress as a souvenir of a sexual relationship? What appalling judgment to get involved with such a woman in the first place — and then expect her to keep quiet about it."

But the press never made his recklessness an issue. Take for example, the same Zuckerman in the February 10, 1992 U.S. News, ripping into Gennifer Flowers and an alleged Clinton-hating press: "The prospect of bringing down one of the best candidates in the Democratic field was far too exciting for second thoughts and clouded otherwise sound minds.... Legitimate press standards do not include rummaging in the garbage of White House contenders."