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If the Truth Worked, We'd Have Tried It

Networks Fail to Pounce on Spokesman's Suggestion that President Has No Innocent Explanation

White House spokesman Mike McCurry made a candid admission in yesterday's Chicago Tribune. There's the first, most embarrassing half (see box), which suggests Clinton has no innocent explanation of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky; and the second half, which two of the Big Three networks aired without the first half, as quoted below. The Tribune reported McCurry urged Clinton to ignore the Big Three networks at his most recent press conference, but the soft treatment last night suggested no hard feelings:

ABC's World News Tonight allocated 46 seconds to Monica matters. Peter Jennings noted that the grand jury probing "the alleged Lewinsky affair" heard from retired Secret Service agent Lewis Fox, but he didn't talk to the press. Jennings continued: "At the White House today there were interesting comments from the President's spokesman Mike McCurry. He told the Chicago Tribune this is 'going to end up being a very complicated story, as most human relationships are. And I don't think it's going to be entirely easy to explain maybe.' He was asked about that at the White House briefing today." ABC showed McCurry saying "I've put myself in my own dog house for having answered a question I shouldn't have answered."

Clinton's speech and the UN Secretary General's trip to Baghdad consumed over half of the CBS Evening News. Dan Rather also told viewers about McCurry and Fox in a 40-second brief: "While President Clinton concentrated on explaining his Iraq policy today, his official spokesman, Mike McCurry, gave a newspaper interview about the alleged Clinton-Monica Lewinsky connection. McCurry told the Chicago Tribune, quote 'I think it's going to end up being a very complicated story, as most human relationships are. And I don't think it's going to be entirely easy to explain maybe,' unquote. McCurry now says he wishes he hadn't said that. A new indication today of just how complicated all this is."

NBC Nightly News skipped Fox, and McCurry's candid concession, but Tom Brokaw took 11 seconds to report Clinton's lawyers asked for dismissal of the Paula Jones suit and 12 seconds to explain White House aide Steve Goodin's appearance before the grand jury.

CNN's The World Today carried a story by John King that did air both halves of the McCurry quote, adding McCurry is "still insisting he knows nothing about the President's relationship with Monica Lewinsky."

This isn't the first time the networks have gone easy on a McCurry gaffe:

October 26, 1995: McCurry said Republicans would like to see Medicare "just die and go away," and added "that's probably what they'd like to see happen to seniors, too, if you think about it." Although Newt Gingrich demanded McCurry be fired, only CBS and CNN covered the gaffe the day it happened. ABC mentioned it later on Good Morning America and in a question on Nightline. NBC ignored it altogether.

January 22, 1997: Associated Press reported that McCurry admitted an error in suggesting Clinton aide Bruce Lindsey had "no discussion and no knowledge of" Webster Hubbell's mysterious $10,000 payment from the Lippo Group. Network coverage? Nothing, except a Tim Russert Meet the Press mention a week later.

February 12, 1997: Contradicting Clinton's claims that White House coffees weren't fundraisers, McCurry said "I think the President would have wondered why he was doing all those coffees if he hadn't had some followup." Only CNN's Wolf Blitzer reported the contradiction. - Brent Baker and Tim Graham