Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Does Media Coverage of President Clinton Reveal a Liberal Bias?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Does Media Coverage of President Clinton Reveal a Liberal Bias?

Article excerpt

Yes: The Washington press corps has given Clinton the benefit of every doubt.

Early in 1992 the New Republic's Hendrik Hertzberg surveyed major reporters in New Hampshire and asked them which Democrat they would vote for: "The answer was always the same; and the answer was always Clinton. In this group, in my experience, such unanimity is unprecedented.... The real reason members of the press like Clinton is simple, and surprisingly uncynical: They think he would make a very good, perhaps a great, president." A recent Freedom Forum poll found 89 percent of Washington reporters and editors echoed that feeling by voting for Bill Clinton in November.

Did this preference for Clinton seep into media coverage? Reporters thought so. In a postcampaign survey of 250 reporters and media executives by the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press: "A substantial majority (55 percent) of the American journalists who followed the 1992 presidential campaign believe that George Bush's candidacy was damaged by the way the press covered him. Only 11 percent feel that Gov. Bill Clinton's campaign was harmed by the way the press covered his drive." Interestingly, that didn't mean reporters believed coverage was unfair. In fact, 80 percent graded election coverage as good or excellent in the survey. Damaging Bush and aiding Clinton weren't just politically satisfying, but journalistically virtuous.

How has liberal bias aided the rise of Clinton? Let us count the ways:

1. Gennifer and Charlette. The Gennifer Flowers story drew only 14 (dismissive) network stories on four networks in a six-day period, many of them listing the amount of money Flowers was making. Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings both apologized for even covering the story. The newsmagazine headlines included "Who Cares?" (Time), "We're Voting for President, Not Pope" (Newsweek) and "Money for Mischief" (U.S. News). And most of the national media never mentioned the name of Charlette Perry, a black state employee who was denied a promotion so Flowers could get a state job. That would have changed the story from simple adultery to abuse of the governor's office.

2. The Draft. The first 10 days of the Clinton draft story drew only 13 network stories, while Dan Quayle's 1988 draft story drew 51 -- 15 on the first night. When it was revealed in April 1992 that Clinton had lied every where he went on the campaign trail by claiming he never received a draft-induction notice, each network buried the story in a sentence previewing the next day's New York primary. When the Los Angeles Times found in September that Clinton's uncle, Raymond Clinton, had manipulated his draft status with the help of Arkansas politicians -- an echo of the false 1988 charges against Quayle -- the networks each did one story, except for NBC, which did nothing. Remarkably, Clinton told USA Today at the time: "Nobody's had a tougher press than I have. No candidate in history has."

3. Whitewater: Instead of launching new investigative reports on the heels of Jeff Gerth's March 8, 1992, New York Times scoop on Whitewater, the four networks broadcast only five full stories on the Clinton finances in March, and then dropped the story for the rest of 1992 and most of 1993. Would Clinton have survived if what now is known about the Whitewater scandal had come out in 1992?

4. The 1992 Conventions. When the Democrats convened in New York City, reporters saw an inspiring array of speeches that spelled out a new moderate vision for America, with none of the networks using the word "liberal" to describe Clinton, Al Gore or the Democratic platform. CNN's Candy Crowley declared, "Bill Clinton, of course, is a conservative Democrat, he is a moderate Democrat." But the media found that Republicans gathering in Houston suffered from right-wing extremist rhetoric sure to strike a chord of disgust in the average voter. CNN's Frank Sesno called convention speakers Pat Buchanan and William Bennett "very hard, far-right conservatives. …

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