Cover Story

Situational coverage

Issue: "Lieberman vs. Gore," Aug. 19, 2000

In July, George W. Bush selected Dick Cheney as his running mate, and reporters soon began echoing the Democratic rapid-response memos. Journalists used extremist terms to describe Mr. Cheney, labeling him "hard right," "far right," and "very, very conservative." In August, Al Gore selected Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, and reporters focused first not on Mr. Lieberman's voting record, but on how he could "inoculate" Mr. Gore on ethical issues, since he was the first Democrat to publicly criticize President Clinton's conduct in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

On CBS, John Roberts touted Mr. Lieberman's greatest asset: "He is an absolute representative of moral rectitude, and particularly around the impeachment issue." On NBC, David Bloom asked Tim Russert: "Obviously in some sense this inoculates Vice President Gore from charges in the Bush campaign that he's merely a Clinton clone." Mr. Russert agreed: "Absolutely. And that's part of the reason it was done, with all respect to the senator."

This is an odd spin, considering that the media savaged everyone else who criticized Mr. Clinton's behavior in the Lewinsky scandal, from the House impeachment managers to Kenneth Starr to Linda Tripp. Actually, the network coverage of Mr. Lieberman's speech against Mr. Clinton was very poor the night of his remarks: ABC aired a story, but CBS and NBC aired 20 seconds or less. CBS wouldn't even air a few seconds of video, quoting only five words from his remarks. While ABC and NBC featured morning news reports the next day, CBS only briefly mentioned the senator's stand, apparently at that time considering Mr. Lieberman's "moral rectitude" unimportant. To downplay Mr. Lieberman's speech two years ago when it could have hurt the Democratic cause, and then play it up in 2000, when it may help the Democratic cause, makes the networks look partisan.

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