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MediaWatch: July 1995

Vol. Nine No. 7

Changing Standards for Gramm

Pouncing on "Porn"

The Washington Post claimed it needed three months to research the accuracy of Paula Jones' charges of sexual harassment against Bill Clinton before it could run a story. But when The New Republic charged that Sen. Phil Gramm was a "porn broker," the Post jumped on the story on May 18. On June 6, the Post publicized a brand new article from the far-left magazine Mother Jones charging Gramm intervened to parole drug dealer William Doyle in 1979. Neither required months of fact-checking.

ABC also waited three months before airing a full report on the Paula Jones story. But on May 17, Peter Jennings jumped on the Gramm "porn" story, beginning the newscast: "Political and legal problems for three influential politicians in Washington....We begin in Washington tonight, where the personal and professional lives of three important politicians are making news. One is the presidential candidate Phil Gramm. There are questions about a film in which he invested." After stories on both Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's new independent counsel and Sen. Bob Packwood's sexual harassment troubles, Jim Wooten's story put The New Republic's "Porn Broker" headline on screen for a full 18 seconds.

Newsweek trashed Paula Jones, using terms like "Dogpatch Madonna," but ran a Gramm story headlined "Senatorial Skin Flicks" that dominated page 44. In a two-inch-high box at the bottom, Newsweek devoted three paragraphs to Ron Brown receiving $400,000 since taking office from an FDIC-cheating friend.

A number of media outlets described the unmade Gramm film as a "porn" project, including CNN, PBS, Newsweek, Reuters, Knight-Ridder, the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle, Boston Herald, Sacramento Bee, and the San Francisco Examiner.

But The New Republic's primary source, former Gramm brother-in-law George Caton, repudiated the magazine's spin in the May 19 Houston Chronicle: "Where this story has gone haywire is there was no pornography at all." Mark Lester, the director of the followup film project, an anti-Nixon spoof titled White House Madness, told CNN on May 17: "I have to laugh. There's no pornography at all in it...I never made a soft-core movie or a pornographic film."