Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Article excerpt


Bill Clinton will soon slide down the memory hole of history: Did the media 'do their job' in covering his impeachment?

By contrast with the era of Fred Friendly and Edward R. Murrow, TV has increasingly, with few exceptions, abandoned long-range investigative reporting to the print press. One of those exceptions is Ted Koppel's "Nightline."

Koppel, for example, has gone inside maximum-security prisons, actually staying there for days, as well as reporting a series on women's prisons, and a searching multipart focus on juvenile justice, in and out of the courts.

But on the most important story affecting the U.S. Constitution since Watergate, Koppel -- like the rest of the media, including newspapers - - blew it. In his new book, "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public" (Knopf), excerpted in the October Brill's Content, Koppel discloses what he was writing in his journal during the impeachment of the president.

Jan. 6: "Members of the Establishment (the Senate, the chief justice, the White House, the media) are trundling along, with no option but to treat all of this as though it were really important, while the public at large couldn't be more apathetic."

Jan. 22: "Now the media have done their job, the public does know, and the news is being dismissed as essentially irrelevant."

But, as I pointed out in "How the press saved Clinton's presidency" (E&P, Nov. 27, 1999, p. 22), the public had only the dimmest notion of how the White House's orchestrated cover-up was skillfully deflecting attention from such precise presidential violations of the Constitution as obstruction of justice, including tampering with witnesses; serial perjury; and abuse of power.

Nor did the press, in any of its forms, reveal how the Republican leadership in the Senate -- alarmed by the president's continued popularity in the polls -- sabotaged the trial conducted by the Republican House of Representatives managers.

This information has now been vividly detailed in "Sellout" (Regnery) by David Schippers, appointed by Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, as the committee's chief investigative counsel during the impeachment process. The co-author is Alan P. Henry.

Schippers, a lifelong Democrat -- who led the U.S. Justice Department's Organized Crime and Racketeering Unit under Attorney General Robert Kennedy -- voted twice for Clinton. …

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