By: MARK FITZGERALD
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON left the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Aug. 29, expecting the predictable “bounce” in public opinion polls.
But what sort of press coverage can he expect in the nine weeks until the election ? and how fair has the coverage been in the four years since Clinton became the first Baby Boomer to serve as leader of the Free World?
That question was mulled over by a host of journalists and opinion makers at a Freedom Forum session held in Chicago the day before the Democratic convention kicked off.
Not surprisingly, the common answer among the journalists was that the press has been fair, especially given the treatment of Clinton’s immediate predecessor, George Bush, let alone the coverage afforded Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon.
Yet there is something about a presidential election year that inclines journalists more to breast-beating than chest-thumping, and these journalists were no exception.
Chicago Tribune president and publisher Jack Fuller, for instance, worried aloud about the news media’s habit of seeing public figures only as heroes or goats.
“When we pretend on day one that they are superhuman and then one day we realize they are all-too-human ? and punish them for that,” journalists do readers and viewers a disservice, Fuller said.
It’s not only politicians who get that kind of treatment, Fuller noted. Consider, he said, two Wall Street Journal accounts of the city of Chicago ? one from the time of fractious political fighting and the other a few days before the convention began. “We were ‘Beirut on the Lake’ according to one paper about five years ago, and now we’re an urban paradise,” he said.
John Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of the Tennessean in Nashville, said he thought the press was unfair in rushing to print the allegations of some Arkansas state troopers about Clinton’s alleged womanizing.
“Generally, I think the media have been fair to Bill Clinton, especially in the last two years,” added Seigenthaler, chairman of the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center in Nashville.
That was essentially the view of Dee Dee Myers, who was White House press secretary during Clinton’s turbulent first two years. Still, Myers said, one story continues to rankle her: The Haircut.
In May of 1993, while his plane idled on tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport, Clinton received a haircut from a barber to the stars named Cristophe. Much of the reporting alleged that the presidential haircut played havoc with air traffic, backing up and delaying planes.
“It never happened, and we could never get that genie back in the box,” said Myers. She noted that even after Newsday on Long Island, N.Y., published records showing there was no air traffic snarl, most big papers never corrected their stories.
Myers urged journalists to take a different view of fairness ? especially now that stories first printed in supermarket tabloids are quickly picked up by the mainstream press.
“Is the issue whether Bill Clinton is treated fairly vis-?-vis President Bush, or is it, Is this the way we want to cover our public officials? And I would say the American people overwhelmingly would say no,” she said.
Several people at the seminar ? including Myers ? professed to see a liberal bias in reporters. Only Myers, however, saw it as not a terribly bad thing.
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas suggested that closing newspapers and declining TV evening news ratings show people are picking up on that liberal bias ? and rejecting it.
Thomas was quickly seconded by Bruce Dumont, a journalist of no overt ideological bent who hosts the radio
?(Chicago Tribune president and publisher Jack Fuller worries about the news media’s habit of seeing public figures only as heroes or goats.) [Photo & Caption]
?(John Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of the Tennessean in Nashville, feels the press was unfair in rushing to print the allegations of some Arkansas state troopers about Bill Clinton’s alleged womanizing, but generally, he said, he believes the media has been fair to Clinton in the past two years.) [Photo & Caption]