Accuracy in Media

By the time this airs, the Senate will have failed to convict Bill Clinton unless a bombshell causes at least 12 Democrats to break ranks. As we tape this, NBC is sitting on what might be that bombshell. It is a lengthy on-camera interview by Lisa Myers with Juanita Broaddrick. In the interview, Mrs. Broaddrick charges that she was raped by Bill Clinton 21 years ago when he was attorney general of Arkansas. Lisa Myers reported this on the NBC Nightly news last March.

She said then, (quote) “In court documents today, Paula Jones?s lawyers claim Clinton ?forcibly raped and sexually assaulted Broaddrick, then ?bribed and intimidated her? to remain silent. Sources say that Broaddrick… recently denied under oath that such an assault occurred. But Jones?s lawyers claim she had told their investigator she had suffered a ?horrible thing? at the hand of Clinton and did not want to relive it. NBC News has talked to four people from Arkansas who say Broaddrick told them of such an assault years ago.”

Broaddrick has since been deposed by Ken Starr. Her testimony before the Senate would have been a bombshell. That would not be likely to happen unless NBC aired their interview. NBC is sitting on it. Someone has a problem with Broaddrick?s credibility. The problem is she is too credible. NBC?s Washington bureau chief, Tim Russert, had another explanation. He said, “If we honestly had a buttoned-up bombshell, we would go with it in a flash.” The story would be aired, he said, when they had adequate corroboration.

Obviously, NBC had far less corroboration last March when they first aired the story. Russert told me that he still had three investigators in Arkansas working on it and that they had uncovered new material as late as the first week of February. But it was still being sat on. Russert insisted they were treating it just as they would any other story. But the fact is that they had raised the bar far higher than it was when they first reported the alleged rape. It reminds us of the problems Michael Isikoff had in trying to get The Washington Post to publish his Paula Jones story in 1994. He was told the story needed more work, but it was run two months later without any significant changes.

It appears that Russert?s superiors were calling the shots on the rape story, perhaps demanding proof beyond a reasonable doubt. These things happen in news organizations, and we have no way of knowing who is raising objections and why they are doing so. But we do know that the Broaddrick rape story had become very important because it might cause a dozen Democrats to vote to remove Bill Clinton from office.

As we tape, we believe Russert wants to air the story. We also believe that someone higher up called in a bomb squad to examine the bombshell very, very carefully. We don?t know if they delayed it until after the Senate voted, but we do know that NBC?s credibility will suffer if they did, causing more viewers to rely on the Internet and talk radio for news.

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