priorities: a stained dress trumps a trampled constitution

I linked to it in last night’s poorly-researched and much-criticized post, but I wanted to share a clip with you from this Media Matters piece comparing the coverage of Clinton’s blowjob to the coverage of Bush’s illegal wiretapping. It’s a long clip, but I think it’s worth reading:

News organizations devote little attention to NSA spying story

On January 22, the day after The Washington Post first broke the Lewinsky story, the paper ran the following stories:

1. “FBI Taped Aide’s Allegations; Seeking Cooperation, Bureau Confronted Ex-White House Intern,” a 2,663-word front-page article by Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt

2. “Clinton Scoop So Hot It Melted; Newsweek Editors Held Off On Scandal Story,” a 1,098-word Howard Kurtz article about reporting of the matter, on the front page of the Style section

3. “FBI Taped Aide’s Allegations; Clinton Denies Affair, Says He ‘Did Not Urge Anyone’ to Lie,” a 1,474-word front-page article by John Harris, with contributions by Terry Neal

4. “Clinton Tie to Va. Woman Led to Probe’s Latest Angle,” a 605-word article about Kathleen Willey by R.H. Melton

5. “Kindred Spirits’ Pentagon Bond; White House Exiles Shared Lively Chat, Confidences,” a 1,620-word front-page article by Dana Priest and Rene Sanchez with contributions by Ceci Connolly, Judith Havemann, Susan Glasser and David Segal

6. “Jordan: Power Broker And ‘FOB’ Without Peer; Lawyer Is Now Key Figure in Starr Probe,” a 782-word article by Thomas Edsall, with contributions by staff researcher Ben White

7. “THE POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS; President Imperiled as Never Before,” a 933-word article by Dan Balz, with contributions by Helen Dewar

8. “Affairs of State,” an 833-word column by Mary McGrory

9. “THE LEGAL IMPLICATIONS; Allegations Against Clinton Could Lead to Impeachment, Prosecution,” a 1,042-word article by Ruth Marcus

10. “The Allegations,” a 420-word editorial

11. “The Reliable Source,” a regular multipart feature of the Style section that dedicated 374 words to the Clinton investigation by Ann Gerhart and Annie Groer.

That’s a total of 11 articles, written by or using contributions from at least 20 reporters, and comprising 11,844 words dedicated to allegations that the president lied about a consensual relationship.
The New York Times gave the story similar treatment:

1. “THE PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE: THE WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE; In Interviews, President Denies Affair With Intern,” a 1,067-word article by James Bennet

2. “THE PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE: THE FRIENDS; Friendship of 2 Women Slowly Led to the Crisis,” a 1,881-word front-page article by Jill Abramson and Don Van Natta


4. “THE PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE; Independent Counsel Cites Deceit Pattern,” a 419-word article by Sephen Labaton

5. “THE PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE: THE CONFIDANT; In Fair Weather and Foul, a Friend to Clinton,” a 563-word article by Richard Berke

6. “THE PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE; Excerpts From Statements by White House and President on Accusations,” a 1,465-word article

7. “A Crisis From Petty Sources,” a 755-word editorial

8. “Essay; Presume Innocence,” a 692-word column by William Safire

That’s a total of eight articles, written by at least eight reporters, comprising 9,044 words.

Now, here’s what the Post did on December 17 — the day after the initial disclosure of the Bush administration’s use of the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct domestic surveillance that has been widely described as an illegal trampling of the Constitution:

1. “On Hill, Anger and Calls for Hearings Greet News of Stateside Surveillance,” a 1,372-word front-page article by Dan Eggen and Charles Lane, with contributions from Carol D. Leonnig, Barton Gellman, and R. Jeffrey Smith, and researcher Julie Tate

2. “Renewal of Patriot Act Is Blocked in Senate,” a 1,073-front-page article dealing tangentially with the NSA matter, by Charles Babington

3. “At the Times, a Scoop Deferred,” a 782-word article by Paul Farhi

That’s all. Three articles, eight reporters, 3,227 words — and that’s generously including the USA Patriot Act article in the tally.

And from the Times, which had broken the NSA story the day before:

1. “SENATORS THWART BUSH BID TO RENEW LAW ON TERRORISM,” a 1,875-word front-page article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Eric Lichtblau, with contributions from James Risen

2. “Behind Power, One Principle,” a 1,201-word front-page article by Scott Shane

That’s it for the Times: two articles, four reporters, 3,076 words.

All told, on January 22, 1998, the Times and the Post ran 19 articles (five on the front page) dealing with the Clinton investigation, totaling more than 20,000 words and reflecting the words of at least 28 reporters — plus the editorial boards of both newspapers.

In contrast, on December 17, the Times and the Post combined to run five articles about the NSA spying operation, involving 12 reporters and consisting of 6,303 words…

I don’t know that it’s a completely fair comparison, but, at least on the face of it, this appears to be absolutely indefensible… I would write and ask the WaPo’s Ombudsman what’s up, but I understand that her new policy is not to reply.

Just one last question – When did journalism in America officially die? What’s written on the chart? What was the exact moment when everyone around the table looked at one another over their surgical masks and someone said, “He’s not coming back, Hawkheye – let’s call this one”?… Was it the attention given to the documents in Fawn Hall’s panties? The OJ trial? The premier of the tabloid news program “A Current Affair”? I know that in this post-Fatty Arbuckle world if ours, sex and murder has always led the news cycle, but when was it that we made the decision to assign more resources to the coverage of runaway brides and second-rate blowjobs than to national security and the Bill of Rights?

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One Comment

  1. Theodore Glass
    Posted January 25, 2006 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    You can point your finger all you want, we all know that blogs drove that final nail into the coffin of journalism.

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