D.C. Scandal's UCLA Connection p.12

By: Allan Wolper MARIE BLANCHARD, A reporter for the UCLA student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, stared at Dennis Lytton, a stocky man in a suit who was seated across from her, and waited to hear the story of her young journalism life.
"I asked him if I could record our conversation, and he agreed," the 22-year-old senior recalled of the interview in his student studio apartment. "I wanted to make sure that I got everything he said just the way he said it."
One hour later, Blanchard's notebook and tape recorder were filled with anecodotes about the sexual relationship former White House intern Monica Lewinsky said she had with President Clinton.
Lytton, 24, was an intern last summer at the Pentagon and said he listened as Lewinsky talked during during two weeks of lunch and dinner dates. Lewinsky also was working at the Pentagon.
"Dennis said Monica told him she and President Clinton were f?-buddies, that she earned her presidential kneepads," Blanchard recalled. "After that he didn't want to know any more."
"He came forward because he wanted to have his story down completely straight. The talks for immunity for Monica were close and he was scared the special prosecutor would ask him to corroborate something that didn't happen.
"He gave the story to the Bruin because he felt we would be more understanding with student sources than the regular press. He said he
wouldn't talk to the press after he spoke to us."
Blanchard worried Lytton's story would turn out to be a hoax even as she and the paper's staff painstakingly checked out his background.
"Dennis said Monica used to brag about how well she knew the president and that she always went back to the president even after she was transferred to the Pentagon," Blanchard said. "I really worried about that quote."
Blanchard relaxed after the New York Times followed the Feb. 2 front-page Bruin article with a report that Lewinsky had made 37 separate visits to the White House.
"I felt a lot more comfortable after the Times story came out," Blanchard said. "It gave us more credibility."
To convince reporters they had done their homework, the Daily Bruin's Web site included a letter verifying Lytton's Pentagon summer job and an Optima Card credit report of his Washington, D.C., activities.
"We gave it to AP the night before we ran it but they waited 12 hours before they put it on the wire," Blanchard said. "They wanted to check out as much as they could. We are a student newspaper."
Still, the media went wild after the Associated Press put it's journalistic stamp on
Lytton's account.
The New York Daily News published a cryptic, Page 3 headline ? "Monica told of Prez affair: Pal" ? that was typical of the kind of sensational national play the story received.
AP said Clinton and Lewinsky had engaged in sex, but Reuters went a lot further, noting that Lytton described them as "f?-buddies."
Lytton kept his no-press pledge, telling reporters who called him that the Bruin story was accurate and that he couldn't comment on it. He kept his telephone number listed, but recorded a message he hoped would keep the media from houndimg him:
"We are not in to take your call right now. If you are trying to reach Dennis Lytton and are a member of the media or law enforcement, please redial 3l0-277-8438. Otherwise please leave a message after the tone." The number belongs to Jeffrey Brodey, a Beverly Hills attorney who is representing Lytton pro bono.
Lytton ended his media blackout to speak to an E&P reporter and explain why he avoided the mainstream media.
"The mandate of the Bruin is different," said the 24-year-old senior in a telephone interview from his apartment. "They're nonprofit. I felt that my quotes wouldn't be twisted. From what everyone told me, the normal media would have taken my quotes out of context. That kind of thing.
"The Geraldo Rivera show called and offered me money. But I didn't come forward to profit from this. I wanted to be treated with respect. The media ought to treat people the way they want to be treated.
"I knew the Daily Bruin would treat me that way," he continued. "They didn't seem interested in salacious sound bites. And they treated me fairly."
But when Lytton first telephoned the Bruin newsroom at 9 p.m., Jan. 29, the paper was less than eager to rush his story into print.
"It was kind of a fluke that he came to us," said Edina Lekovic, the Daily Bruin editor in chief. "He told us about Monica, we took his name down and said we'd call him back."
After Blanchard interviewed Lytton by telephone and in person at his studio apartment, the paper's staff spent the next 48 hours checking out as much of his story as they could.
"We kept asking who is this guy?" Lekovic said. "Is this something we want to run? He's talking an alleged relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky, only he isn't using the word alleged.
"We had to make sure he was for real. So we brought our adviser, Frances Fernandes, one of the adult journalists we have here, into the office and she spent a good hour interrogating him."
Fernandes, a former reporter for the Orange County Register, became the paper's adviser in 1988. She was getting ready to return to commercial journalism, as an editor with the Press Enterprise, when the story broke.
"We were harsh with him," Fernandes said of questions that she and freelance journalist Michael Szymanski asked Lytton. "We didn't want to be made fools of. We asked why he had dated her in the first place. He was clearly uncomfortable."
Lekovic said the students were frustrated by an inability to confirm Lytton's dating relationship with Lewinsky.
"We had no way to prove the two of them were together," Lekovic said. "You really can't prove that any two people ever dated."
Lytton said he met Lewinsky at July 10 at a Pentagon press conference. Other questions: What was discussed? Did they have sex? What was her apartment like? What restaurants did they eat at?
Lytton said he spent one night at Lewinsky's Watergate apartment, but their necking did not become intimate.
Then Bruin staffers explained what was likely to happen after the story was published.
"We told him his name would be everywhere," Fernandes said. "We told him it would not be pleasant. We told him he wouldn't be able to hide."
Eventually, Fernandes became a confidante.
"She told me how to avoid the media. She helped me get an attorney," Lytton said. "I'd never have gotten through it if it weren't for her.
"The media were pretty bad for a day and half, but it has calmed down a bit now. I didn't get any obscene telephone calls or any threats."
Ironically, it was Blanchard rather than Lytton who has suffered through a form of telephone hell. "Someone posted my telephone number," Blanchard said. "The guy said I worked in porno movies and that I was into group sex. People have been calling me two, three, four and five in the morning."
Blanchard has removed her telephone number from the UCLA student listing. She only talks to reporters if Fernandes speaks to them first, and wonders why the public picks on reporters who write controversial stories.
"Some acquaintances said the Bruin was undemocratic for publishing the story," she said. "And other people said they were disgusted with us for running it. Everyone is blaming us. Why attack the reporters?"
Blanchard was so upset by public reaction to the media that she thought briefly of switching careers, according to Fernandes.
"I told her she shouldn't leave the field to the assholes, and then if she does, we will have asshole journalism."
Blanchard has gotten over her depression and is once again scouring the countryside for a job. "Maybe someone will see the story and it will help," she laughed.
Lekovic, the editor in chief, had refused to run any Clinton-Lewinsky stories before Lytton brought his story to the paper.
"I was tired of the sex scandals," said the 20-year-old senior. "But in the end the story really wasn't about the scandal itself. It was about this guy who could have been any one of us who had a few dates with someone he met at a party. And his life was turned upside down about it."
Hannah Miller, a 21-year-old news editor, said the Lytton scoop has not created the kind of reader response one would expect.
"We didn't get any letters to the editor," Miller said. "The only call I got was from someone who said he was Howard Stern. Now I'm trying to find out if I was on the radio."
?("Everyone is blaming us. Why attack the reporters?"
? Marie Blanchard, Daily Bruin reporter, who considered quitting journalism in the furor after her interview with former Monica Lewinsky pal) [Caption]
?(Wolper, a Rutgers University journalism professor at the Newark, N.J., campus, focuses his reporting on the campus press.) [Caption]
? (E&P Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com)
? (Editor & Publisher: February 14, 1998)


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Scroll the Latest Job Opportunities From The Media Job Board