Media Feeding Frenzies: Press Behavior during Two Clinton Scandals

By Maurer, Paul J. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Media Feeding Frenzies: Press Behavior during Two Clinton Scandals


Maurer, Paul J., Presidential Studies Quarterly


We have witnessed in recent years numerous political scandals at the highest level of American government. Given the power of media, press behavior during these scandals is an increasingly relevant topic for examination. Most recently, President Bill Clinton is facing charges of scandal in relation to former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. How the press covers political scandal warrants careful research. This article examines how the press covered two scandals of the Clinton presidency.

Specifically, this article describes and tests the conclusions of Larry Sabato, who in his book, Feeding Frenzy, suggests that journalists of all varieties begin to act like sharks when they "smell the blood" of a political scandal.(1) This article describes Sabato's concept and examines the Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones cases against Sabato's explanation of frenzy. The Gary Hart/Donna Rice frenzy offers an occasional point of comparison in light of the research Sabato has already done.

In gathering data to describe and analyze the Flowers and Jones frenzies, only articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post were examined.(2) These newspapers were chosen because they set the standard for the news media in terms of what is suitable to report.(3) Therefore, any reference to "number of articles" refers to articles that mention at least twice the names of Donna Rice, Gennifer Flowers, or Paula Jones.

Sabato's Description of Feeding Frenzies

Sabato offers multiple components in understanding feeding frenzies:

Watergate's watermark on the media. Sabato points to the Watergate scandal as the watershed event in creating the phenomenon of feeding frenzies. Prior to Watergate, the press lived in complicity with politicians regarding their personal lives or character. The press never mentioned Franklin D. Roosevelt's relationship with Lucy Mercer, and only 2 of 35,000 photos of Roosevelt show him in a wheelchair. The press knew of John F. Kennedy's liaisons and of Lyndon B. Johnson's hard drinking, but these were considered taboo to report. Watergate shifted the orientation of reporting from description to prescription.(4) A new breed of journalist emerged who was highly investigative, idealistic, and mistrustful of authority. Hollywood helped create this new vision of journalism with the glamorous portrayals of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men.

Competitive pressures. The increase of news outlets and the advent of new technologies such as minicams, faxes, and all-news channels have helped create a highly intense press environment. Sabato states that "as coverage expands, quality declines."(5) The increase of intensity has taken place while journalism's ultimate imperatives have remained the same. First, do not get beaten to a story by another media outlet. Second, if we do not break this story, then someone else will.(6) The media outlets exist to make money and must turn a profit. They also know that sex sells. These factors have created "lowest common denominator journalism,"(7) which leads other outlets to cover a story once it has been broken.

Pack journalism. Sabato identifies a herd mentality resulting from competitive pressures. Groupthink becomes the norm, and it is unusual for a news outlet to act independently once a major story has broken. Even the heavyweights fall in line quickly.(8)

The character issue takes hold. The character component is the nerve center of Sabato's work. It represents the point at which reporters struggle with the question of whether or not to report on the private life of a politician. The press continually asks, "Is private character relevant to public office performance?" Sabato believes the question has been answered affirmatively but finds the answer disturbing, saying, "Perhaps most troubling is the nearly universally accepted belief that private conduct is the road map to public action. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Media Feeding Frenzies: Press Behavior during Two Clinton Scandals
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.