MediaWatch: December 1996

Vol. Ten No. 12

Paula Jones: Still No Anita Hill

Tim Russert asked Mary Matalin on the November 24 Meet the Press about Supreme Court arguments coming up in January in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case: "How big of a political story and a media story is that going to be?"

An odd question coming from the Washington Bureau Chief of NBC News who had not yet assigned a story he thinks might be "big." Other than a mention in one ABC story, the networks have not aired a story in the two months since The American Lawyer released the piece by former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Stuart Taylor charging, "Paula Jones's allegations of predatory, if not depraved, behavior by Bill Clinton is far stronger than the evidence supporting Anita Hill's allegations of far less serious conduct by Clarence Thomas."

Admitted Taylor: "I say this as one who voted for President Clinton in 1992 and who may do so again (with multiple misgivings), and as one who lamented Justice Thomas's confirmation to the Supreme Court, and who disagrees deeply with much of his arch-conservative jurisprudence."

Taylor's article spurred William Powers, the new media columnist for The New Republic, to ask in his December 16 cover story: "If Clinton may well have to stand trial for sexual harassment during his second term, and if the case against him is strong...isn't that relevant information the voters should have had as they cast their votes?"

Powers' most revealing episode was a lunchtime interview with New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Andrew Rosenthal. When asked why the Times had never given readers a thorough look at the Jones case, Rosenthal said "I don't have a very good answer to it." Rosenthal also compared Jones' charges of (non-consensual) sexual harassment charges with story of consensual adultery with Gennifer Flowers. Said Rosenthal: "We just don't think that that kind of private behavior is relevant to his public responsibility."

Asked if the culture of the Times, rocked by the front-page play of Kitty Kelley's unproven Nancy Reagan-Frank Sinatra sex allegations, affected their judgment, Rosenthal admitted: "Yes, there is a huge New York Times culture issue here..You will find, I hope, a great shortage of 'is under investigation' stories [in the Times]...and two, an aversion to personal behavior stories or whatever you want to call them. Sex stories."

Rosenthal eventually answered Powers: "Did we have a responsibility to remind voters of it [the Jones suit] before the election? I guess we did not." Powers noted Rosenthal added that if Clinton were found guilty in the Jones case, only "then it would be a story for The New York Times." Tell that to Clarence Thomas.