MediaWatch: September 1992

Vol. Six No. 9

NewsBites: Rather Reveals All?

Rather Reveals All? Journalists aren't afraid to ask politicians about their personal life, but what about when the tables are turned? Tom Sherwood, a reporter for Washington's local NBC affiliate WRC-TV, turned the tables on Dan Rather in Houston by asking him if he ever committed adultery. A squirming Rather tried to evade the question by bravely throwing a colleague to the wolves: "You've been asking this to Tom Brokaw, have you?" Then he asked Sherwood if he'd ever had an affair. Sherwood assured him "I'm going to answer the question at the end of my story." As he walked away, Rather turned on his robotic anchorman persona, saying cryptically, "Well, thank you very much. Pleased to see you."

Coming Clean. In columns earlier this year, Hendrik Hertzberg and Mickey Kaus of The New Republic reported that most reporters hope Bill Clinton wins. Now another reporter has conceded the same thing. On Inside Washington August 15, Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas explained: "The Republicans are going to whack away at the press for the next couple of months as being pro- Clinton. And you know what? They're right. The press is pro- Clinton -- not 80-20, but I think at least 60-40. There are a lot of formerly liberal reporters out there who'd like to see the Democrats win." Formerly?

Brokaw on Bias. Network anchors and newspaper editors gathered in Houston on August 16 for a Freedom Forum seminar on bias in campaign coverage. "The panel at the Houstonian Club felt for the most part there was little or no bias," The Houston Post's Steve Friedman reported August 17. NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw asserted: "I am left with the conclusion that bias, most often, is left in the eye of the beholder -- like beauty."

But that bias is in Brokaw's eye according to another reporter on scene. The abortion debate become a media obsession in Houston, but in New York the networks virtually ignored the fact that the Democrats refused to let pro-life Gov. Bob Casey speak. Dallas Morning News reporter Ed Bark reported that at the same forum Brokaw admitted that Casey "was underplayed." Bark quoted Brokaw: "During the course of the convention, it just kind of got lost in a lot of stuff. I think he should have gotten more attention for not getting attention."

Dueling Jennifers. When Gennifer Flowers' story came out, neither she nor anyone from the Star was invited on any morning or evening interview show. But when The New York Post ran a story August 11 publicizing rumors that President Bush had an affair with aide Jennifer Fitzgerald, ABC's Good Morning America and CBS This Morning brought on sources of the New York Post story the next day.

ABC interviewed Susan Trento, the author of The Power House, a book including the rumor. CBS brought on her husband, Joseph Trento, a former CNN reporter who had an interview with the supposed source of the rumor, Ambassador Louis Fields, who died in 1986. On the August 15 Inside Washington, Newsweek's Evan Thomas told a different tale: "Actually, we've heard the tape of this old Ambassador Fields, who's now dead, talking to one of the reporters, and the tape makes it pretty clear that he thinks it's just gossip."

Defending the Democrats. While associating the Republicans with dirty politics is a liberal media mantra, network reporters defended the Democrats against charges that they spread the Bush infidelity rumors. On the August 12 Today, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell proclaimed: "I see no evidence that this was promoted by the Democrats, and the Republicans have been throwing around a lot of mud, the surrogates." Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Al Hunt agreed: "I don't think the Democrats had anything to do with this."

Then NBC reporter Jim Miklaszewski suggested: "I've talked to some reporters who have personally received faxes from the Clinton campaign. This story, according to these reporters, was in fact pushed by the Clinton campaign as early as a month ago." On Inside Washington, Newsweek's Evan Thomas also asserted: "It's true that Clinton's folks faxed around copies of the book to people. That's true." Was the Clinton camp involved? Network newscasts didn't ask.

MARILYN VS. HILLARY. While major media reporters flock to the defense of Hillary Clinton, asking if criticism of her activities is fair, Marilyn Quayle is fair game for cutting media remarks. In the August 24 Time, reporter Michael Duffy wrote: "Mrs. Quayle differs from the President's wife in many ways. While the First Lady's image is cuddly and grandmotherly, Marilyn Quayle can seem hard, intolerant, and combative." Duffy continued: "Ever since a Washington Post series on her husband last winter depicted her as a power-mad spouse who once kicked to shreds a framed picture of her husband playing golf, Mrs. Quayle has been trying to soften her Cruella de Vil [sic] nature."

In the same story, Duffy also wrote about Hillary Clinton: "No sooner had Bush been accused of infidelity than GOP chairman Rich Bond attacked Mrs. Clinton for likening marriage to slavery -- a gross distortion." Earlier this year, in the January 27 issue, Time Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Margaret Carlson called Hillary "an amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa, and Oliver Wendell Holmes."

WIN ONE FOR CONNIE. Pro-abortion Republicans just didn't do enough to satisfy CBS' Connie Chung. During convention coverage on August 17, Chung began complaining with her first question to Maine Gov. John McKernan: "You are such a strong supporter of abortion rights but you gave up, you succumbed to the pressure." Her second question: "Many people think you weren't organized, you didn't have your ducks in line, you didn't have the delegates."

After McKernan explained that they had only four of the six states required to force a floor fight, an exasperated Chung responded: "You know it seems like such a small number. Good heavens, all you needed was six state delegations to try and bring it on the floor, then obviously two-thirds of the delegation, but I don't think you were organized, sir."

HAUNTED BY REAGAN. Do those in the media subconsciously miss the Reagan years, when they had a more conservative Republican in the White House to lambast? At least two of them apparently do. During CBS News August 17 convention coverage, Dan Rather maintained that "the Republicans believe that this remains Ronald Reagan's election to lose. That he can lose it, yes, he may lose it, but it's Ronald Reagan's election to lose, even now." A few days later on the August 20 Today, Bryant Gumbel advised his audience that "The Vice President will also speak tonight, and then, of course, the big address by President Reagan."

INSULTING HILLARY'S CRITICS. Critics of Hillary Clinton's ideological activities and legal writings haven't been quoted as much as insulted, as the media's feminists assert that Hillary's critics are intimidated by successful women. On the August 18 Nightline, even Ted Koppel got into the act: "Let us not for a moment be confused into believing that this is only a conservative Republican thing, this business of some people feeling threatened by smart, assertive, professional women... Women who speak their minds in public are still swimming upstream in this country."

STROBE'S SCAM. Time Editor-at-Large Strobe Talbott has made no secret of his affection for old Oxford classmate Bill Clinton. But he must not have wanted to go all the way to putting his money where his mouth is. The August Washingtonian reports that Talbott's two sons, Devin, 15, and Adrian, 11, have each contributed $250 to the Clinton campaign, using what Talbott called "discretionary money."