Accuracy in Media

On the September 6th edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, host Tim Russert interviewed Senator Joseph Lieberman, who earlier that week had called Clinton’s conduct immoral. Russert said that five women had come forward to accuse the president of sexually improper behavior and he asked Lieberman if he thought Clinton had a “problem.” During another segment of the show, Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard said in response to a question that conservatives felt vindicated by the recent revelations.

Conservatives feel vindicated because they were warning about Clinton’s behavior before he was elected in the first place. Lieberman didn’t take those concerns seriously. The conservatives were the ones who were drawing attention to Clinton’s sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers before the 1992 election. In that case, when Clinton was governor of Arkansas, Flowers got an Arkansas state government job that should have gone to a black secretary named Charlette Perry. It was designed to keep her quiet about her relationship with Clinton. In the same way, it is now apparent that Clinton and his friends sought a job for Monica Lewinsky to keep her quiet about their relationship.

The question for Senator Lieberman should not be whether Clinton has a problem; the question is why Lieberman supported Clinton in the first place. He says he first met Clinton 28 years ago. Now he gets loads of media attention for recognizing Clinton’s immoral behavior. But Clinton’s reputation as a womanizer dates at least to his Oxford student days. In a column distributed in August, 1992 – three months before the election – I asked, “Will our media let Clinton keep these ‘smoking sheets’ hidden in the closet, as they did for Jack Kennedy in 1960?”

The answer was yes, and America has paid the price. Recently, former president George Bush said, “Back in the campaign of 1992, we talked about ‘character matters’ and values, and people said, ‘Oh, they’re using cliches and they’re being hypocritical…’ The press was pretty hard to convince that those things were important.”

Senator Lieberman deserves some blame for that. He supported Clinton despite those concerns. On Meet the Press, Lieberman claimed to have been offended by the Monica Lewinsky affair because he and Clinton had worked together in the past and that both of them had emphasized the need for personal responsibility. “I’ve known Bill Clinton for a long time,” Lieberman noted. Indeed, that’s true. So why didn’t Lieberman see the warning signs about Clinton’s behavior when questions were raised about his conduct before he was elected president? Still to this day, on Meet the Press, Lieberman calls these other reports “rumors,” adding, “I don’t believe rumors.”

Lieberman deserves credit for sounding off about Bill Clinton, but let’s not get carried away. Sure, he’s been a spokesman on some moral issues. He has even joined with Bill Bennett to complain about sex and violence in the media. But he’s also one of several politicians who regularly appears on the raunchy Imus in the Morning radio show. And he still clings to the belief that all the other women are just “rumors.” Wake up Senator.

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