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MAKE THE POLLS STOP INSTEAD OF THE PROBE

If the media coverage of the aftermath of Clinton's counterfeit confession were a TV commercial, it would sound like this: "Ken Starr, you've just presented the evidence to force the President of the United States to admit he's lied to the country for seven months. Won't you now please leave for Disney World?"

Minutes before the speech, CNN's Jeff Greenfield predicted Clinton's address would cause a surge in his polling numbers since all presidential addresses trigger that reaction, rendering the poll meaningless.

Too bad no one at the networks was listening. Within minutes, Dan Rather was reading the result of the latest CBS poll: 18 percent thought the President should resign, 12 percent thought he should be impeached, and 63 percent thought Ken Starr should end his investigation now. First, reflect on the utter extremes being offered: should Clinton resign, or should Starr quit? Where was the line for "wait for Starr to complete his investigation and report to Congress"?

The next morning, the poll plugging continued. CBS "This Morning" ran its CBS/New York Times poll results every half hour, showing 58 percent were "satisfied" that Clinton had said enough (but, in a surprising burst of pollster balance, 66 percent wished he would have admitted the affair in January). Then we were told 62 percent believe Starr's Lewinsky investigation should be dropped now that Clinton had testified. ABC's "Good Morning America" reported the ABC poll found 59 percent agreed he'd said enough, 60 percent opposed resignation (an 11 percent increase in one day, they noted), and a whopping 69 percent said the Starr probe should end now.
NBC's "Today" declared the NBC poll didn't ask if Starr's investigation should end, but whether impeachment proceedings should begin, to which 66 percent said "No."

Obviously, these polls reflect to some degree the diet of Clinton-excusing, Starr-bashing drivel the networks have doled out for seven months. The pro-Clinton spin didn't end with Clinton's drive-by 250-second address, either. For example, NBC viewers were treated to Tom Brokaw asking the Christian Coalition's Randy Tate: "But once the President does make the kind of critical lapse in judgement, the wrong mistake, as he described it tonight, once he says he regrets that, is that not also a lesson for the nation's children?"

With human nature being what it is, the public also couches its answers on what they believe to be the pollster's idea of acceptable discourse. Almost nobody can be imagined telling a network pollster: "I want to hear about this story until the last intern quits!" On CBS, Bob Schieffer said a White House aide told him Clinton gave away no details because "if the President had gone into detail, the American people would have gone South." But if they really wanted this story to end, why do the networks keep finding audiences glued to the latest update? It seems the President isn't the only American lying about this scandal.

The public's been led to believe this is a trivial pursuit. While Reagan's approval ratings dropped dramatically for sending arms to Iran, Clinton's numbers rallied for ending up in the arms of an intern. It didn't have what Newsweek called "constitutional gravitas." Somehow, a public that only gets scandal coverage on TV packaged simply as "sex" thinks of Clinton as if he's just another flawed but harmless TV celebrity figurehead walking the dog, instead of a man who's pledged to uphold the Constitution as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.

None of the networks tackled the legal logic of their instant polling. Clearly, a majority should demand an end to the Lewinsky inquiry if the allegations were proven false. But the opposite happened - Starr secured Lewinsky's testimony and forced the President to admit he lied to everyone, which could be a felony - and the media mob is still trying to give Starr the hook. Is it normal criminal procedure to fold an investigation after the principal target crumbles in the face of the evidence? Does that make any sense?

Well, yes, if your objective is getting the Starr juggernaut called off before more damaging truth comes out. Remember, CBS started pressuring Starr to quit in March. On March 2, Dan Rather announced their biased poll with a biased delivery: "New indications in a CBS News poll out tonight of how the public perceives Republican special prosecutor Ken Starr's investigation. Our poll suggests only 27 percent believe Starr is conducting an impartial probe. And 55 percent think it's time for Starr to drop his investigation."

We're in a very strange era when the media encourage less truth to be disclosed to the public. The pile-up of network polls calling for Starr's retirement represents nothing but the media's own favorite way of jury tampering, a little journalistic obstruction of justice. Thank God Ken Starr isn't paying attention.