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Media Should Say Whoops Over Whoopee

After Years Of Insisting Sex-Related Abuses of Power Weren't Relevant, Media Refuted by Monicagate

Reporters claimed in 1992 that the important point of the Gennifer Flowers story wasn't whether Clinton had sex with Flowers, but whether he told the truth about it. But they didn't really mean it. In a remarkable March 1992 revelation in The New Republic, Hendrik Hertzberg polled "several dozen political journalists of my acquaintance" who unanimously told him they'd vote for Clinton if they were a New Hampshire voter. He added: "None at all is due to belief in Clinton's denials in the Flowers business, because no one believes these denials."

When the Flowers story broke in January 1992, the networks aired only 14 evening news reports in six days, and then stopped. Only CBS aired the suddenly relevant Flowers tapes, in which Clinton told Flowers to lie about their relationship and about the state job he awarded her. Other abuses were dismissed:

Charlette Perry. No one in the major media [except briefly, USA Today and Newsday] told the story of Charlette Perry, the black state employee who was denied a promotion to the job Flowers was awarded. A grievance panel found Perry was unfairly denied promotion, but was overruled by a Clinton appointee. After the 1992 election, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter claimed: "I think there should have been more scrutiny of that. I actually, at one point in Newsweek suggested that more people look into it." But the words "Charlette Perry" have never appeared in the magazine.

Troopergate. In December of 1993, The American Spectator broke the story of another abuse of power that sprung from Clinton's sexual recklessness: State troopers told of being used to secure sexual conquests. The networks aired only 22 stories in 12 days, even though network reporters like NBC's Jim Miklaszewski and ABC's Jim Wooten later admitted they believed the troopers. But the media still told the public not to care about sex-related abuses of power. National Public Radio reporter Nina Totenberg claimed: "When the American people hired Bill Clinton for this job, they knew he was no saint. He virtually told them he was a sinner." Newsweek's Joe Klein told readers: "I suspect that as long as the peccadilloes remain within reason, the American people will have great tolerance for a President who has not only seen the sunshine of Oxford, but also the dusky Dunkin' Donuts of the soul."

Paula Jones. When Paula Jones charged Clinton with sexual harassment in February 1994, ABC filed a 16-second brief. The rest of the media waited three months, until Jones filed suit, and the networks then did just 21 stories in that month. On CNBC's Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw defended the blackout: "It didn't seem to most people, entirely relevant to what was going on at the time. These are the kind of charges raised about the President before. They had been played out in the Gennifer Flowers episode." ABC Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson fussed at Sam Donaldson: "Why does anyone care about what this woman has to say?"

What an embarrassing historical ring these quotes carry today, now that the Jones suit has taught us how sexual recklessness can lead to abuses of power. - Tim Graham