|IN OTHER NEWS...|
December 30, 1998
Media correspondent Terence Smith talks with newspaper editorial writers and columnists about some major stories that may have been pushed aside by the media's coverage of the Lewinsky matter.
JIM LEHRER: Media correspondent Terence Smith has the neglected news story.
TERENCE SMITH: Since January 21st, one story above all has mesmerized the American media in 1998.
TOM BROKAW, NBC News: Monica Lewinsky scandal.
DAN RATHER, CBS News: Monica Lewinsky.
PETER JENNINGS, ABC News: Monica Lewinsky.
SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS: Monica Lewinsky.
TERENCE SMITH: The public, according to opinion polls, is sick of the Lewinsky saga, but the national press -- especially the television networks and their cable counterparts -- has devoted hour upon hour and headline upon headline to the story. ABC's Ted Koppel made an observation on January 22nd that could have served as the media motto for the year:
TED KOPPEL, ABC's Nightline: Crisis in the White House: the story that pushes all the others aside.
TERENCE SMITH: But what were some of the stories that were pushed aside? Would they and should they have received greater attention if not for Monica Lewinsky?
In the United States, the crime rate dropped for the sixth year running. Murder rates in New York City now approximate those of the early 1960's. Campaign finance legislation died an unheralded death in the senate after barely making it through the house. Welfare reform entered its second year with a majority of the states meeting the law's requirements. And a sweeping 206 billion dollar agreement was reached between state attorneys general and the tobacco companies.
Overseas, the Russian economic situation became even more dire. One third of the Russian population now earns less than $30 per month. Asia was wracked with economic troubles and political turmoil. Hong Kong and Japan descended into recession. Indonesia's president was forced from office, and North Korea resumed work on its nuclear weapons facilities. The fragile cease fire in Kosovo began to fall apart, and Kosovo represents only one of 25 regional conflicts currently festering in 40 countries. The nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan produced a new round of atomic tests. In the aftermath, both countries pledged to sign the nuclear test ban treaty.
The weather phenomenon El Nino received substantial coverage, as did the hurricane season, but the flooding in Mexico -- the worst in a century -- got short shrift -- so did the devastation in China, where the Yangtze River repeatedly overflowed its banks, leaving millions homeless. Bangladesh was another disaster area. At one point earlier this year, 70 percent of the country was under water.
According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, as of December 15th, the three broadcast networks had presented one thousand, five hundred and two stories on the Lewinsky saga. That totals almost 43 hours of air time. The runner up? The inspection standoff with Iraq, with one thousand fewer stories. In all, only one story attracted anything close to the attention given the tale of the president and the intern.
|The stories missed.|
TERENCE SMITH: Now, how our regional commentators view the other news stories of this Lewinsky-saturated year. We're joined by Patrick McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman; Lee Cullum of the Dallas Morning News; Bob Kittle of the San Diego Union Tribune; Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution; and joining them tonight is Susan Albright of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Welcome to you all.
Bob Kittle, let me begin with you. From your perspective in San Diego, what were some of the overlooked and under-covered stories this year?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, Terry, one of the stories that I think should have gotten a lot more attention because of its significance is the fact that in 1998 we have taken a giant leap into the uncharted frontier of cloning. It's only a matter of time now and probably a very short period of time before human cloning becomes a reality. And, in fact, just earlier this month a group of scientists in South Korea reported that they had actually created a human embryo through cloning but stopped short of implanting it implanting it in a woman's uterus, where it would conceivably have developed into a fetus and become a human being.
So, you know, I think the genie's out of the bottle on human cloning, but I don't think the world has quite grasped the significance of that yet. It really raises very profound moral and ethical questions about what it's like to create a human being out of you know an exact replica of someone else. It's a totally different story, of course, than in vitro fertilization and other reproductive methods. And we need to be discussing this issue. We need to understand it. For the most part, there's general agreement that there should be a moratorium on human cloning, at least a long-term moratorium. But I think the reality is that while it may not occur in the United States, it's likely to occur within the very near future. Somewhere in the world a human being will birth will be given to a human being who has been created from human cloning.
TERENCE SMITH: Arguably a more important longer-term story than the Lewinsky affair, but was it the Lewinsky affair that kept that off page one or denied it the kind of coverage you wanted to see, or is it because it's a more difficult, complex story to get hold of?
ROBERT KITTLE: I think it's a more difficult story to understand, Terry. The Monica Lewinsky story got a great deal of attention but it deserved a great deal of attention. I mean, let's face it. The President of the United States has been impeached over this story. There was no more significant story in 1998 than the Monica Lewinsky story. And Mark McGwire I think he certainly got the attention he deserved as well. But you know that doesn't mean we can't cover a lot of stories at the same time. I don't fault the news media on the cloning story. I just think that this is the kind of issue that the world, in general, has not paid enough attention to.
TERENCE SMITH: Lee Cullum, from your perspective in Dallas, what was the neglected news?
LEE CULLUM: Terry, I think that economic news was neglected to a serious extent. The failure of the House of Representatives to give us fast-track authority, or to give the president fast-track authority, so he can negotiate new trade agreements that would then have to be voted up or down by Congress without debilitating amendments that could rip apart a fragile negotiation should have been covered. There was an op/ed piece in the Dallas Morning News yesterday about it by the consul general of Canada, but it didn't get the coverage it should have gotten. I think that the need or the possibility of the need to control the flow of capital to short-term capital to developing nations needs to be explored. Paul Krugman has talked about the idea. The World Bank included in a recent report -- Lee Kwan Hu, the senior minister of Singapore, says it's going to be necessary. But it's not being covered. What perhaps is needed is some sort of tax on investors who pull their money out in less than a year. And this might prevent investors from flooding a developing country with money, then leaving that country high and dry six months later when they read something in the Wall Street Journal they don't like. Now, your program covered this; Alan Greenspan opposes capital controls; but I didn't see it covered anyplace else.
TERENCE SMITH: Pat McGuigan, the view from Oklahoma, what were the stories that you think should have been covered more than they were, perhaps because of the Lewinsky affair?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: Well, I think it probably should be called the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, but be that as it may, I believe what Bob and Lee have offered are both worthy nominees, if you will, in this category of neglected news. My own choice is a domestic policy issue of fundamental importance, and that's what I see as an emerging consensus, although I don't know if "consensus" is the right word, but emerging agreement that broad changes systemic changes are needed for the long range health of the Social Security system. This has gotten quite a bit of attention but probably not adequate attention on the nation's editorial pages. But not so much in the hard news. I went and did some reading after this was the idea that I suggested when I was first contacted about this, and I went and did some reading and found that Brookings Institution, the New Democrat Magazine, both which could be regarded as moderate to left of center perhaps, along with the Heritage Foundation, and Modern Maturity Magazine, publication of the AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, all have done major analyses on this issue just within the last few weeks. And the interesting thing about even the AARP publication was that out of five policy wonks, if you will, that they discussed the issue with, four out of five agreed with the need for rather dramatic changes in order to have long-term fiscal health for Social Security. And with the process that's begun in recent weeks I think there's a chance a chance that we'll be able to come to the kinds of changes not just tinkering with tax rates or with benefits or with retirement age, but with broader changes that privatize or shift towards markets' aspects of Social Security so that we can have this thing still be a program that assists our retired people 75 years from now.
TERENCE SMITH: In fact, Pat, there was a vivid example. The day that the White House Conference on Social Security was being held was also the day that the impeachment issue was before the House Judiciary Committee -- we both know -- which got the major attention. Cynthia Tucker, let me ask you, from Atlanta, what are the stories that you would rather have seen some of than the Lewinsky affair?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, Terry, two of the stories that I believe were neglected by most news media in 1998 were mentioned in the setup piece, one in the category of good news, one in the category of not so good news. In the not-so-good-news I think that economic and political chaos in Russia is a very, very big story, that most of Americans still don't fully understand. I don't think that most Americans understand that Russia remains very, very important, very important to the stability of Europe. While its military may be in decay, it still has nuclear weapons. It can still threaten not only Europe but the United States as well. And, quite frankly, I worry less about all out war but more about the fact or possible the sale of some of those nuclear weapons. I think that many Russian soldiers and scientists are desperate for foreign currency, especially American dollars, and that if they could get their hands on a few nukes and sell them, they certainly would do so.
|Are Washington journalists to blame?|
TERENCE SMITH: How directly do you relate what you see as the under-coverage of those stories to the perhaps over-coverage of the Lewinsky affair?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, it's pretty clear to me, although I would certainly agree with what Bob said earlier the Lewinsky story or the Clinton/Lewinsky story has been very important. But I don't think it needed the saturation coverage it got, and I think it's pretty clear that most of the Washington journalists were dedicated to covering that story day in and day out, so if so much of their attention was devoted to that, very little else could be covered, plus there's only so much newsprint every day and only so many minutes for every news broadcast. So if you fill up a lot of the space with news about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, you crowd out other very important issues.
TERENCE SMITH: Susan Albright, do you accept that thesis, that some very important issues were crowded out?
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: I do, but I don't think it's just the media that is the cause of it. I think just rememberClinton was talking about this all the time; Congress was talking about this all the time not just the press. And so I see this whole country as at least the political class as being caught up in something that really say a wealthy family that had a great chance with making a difference in the community squandering it by squabbling and having self-righteous fights among themselves. And I think that's what Congress has done. So I see all kinds of things on the national and international scale. We had the expansion of NATO, which barely was discussed all sorts of economic interlocking and in this country we have labor shortages. We have a whole series of things wrapped around demographic changes, such as Social Security but also long-range health care, labor shortages, expertise shortages, immigrants, all kinds of issues that didn't get much attention, either by the press or by Congress.
|Looking towards 1999.|
TERENCE SMITH: All sorts of stories. Bob Kittle, when you look ahead to 1999, just around the corner, what's the prospect, more of the same, or has perhaps some sense of proportion come into this?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, I'm afraid, Terry, we are still in for more of the same in terms of the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton story. The debate, of course, now is over how much and how lengthy of a trial the Senate is going to hold. So I think this is going to occupy our time for a few more months. That doesn't mean that we won't turn our attention later in the year to other things, such as Social Security and the economy and the other issues that have been mentioned here, but, you know, when the president is on trial in the Senate, it cannot help but squeeze out the rest of the news; it's what everyone else is talking about, and so a lot of this is being reported the other stories are certainly being reported by our newspapers in particular because they have more room to report than a broadcast program does, but the people just for the most part are so absorbed with this big story of a president who conceivably could be removed from office, that they're not paying a lot of attention to other very vital and in many ways more important stories.
TERENCE SMITH: Lee Cullum, briefly, if you can, the notion that important economic news was not covered might change that, and if the economic situation changed.
LEE CULLUM: Oh, yes, that's absolutely true. I do think there's been a great sense of well-being in this country and perhaps a refusal to recognize what the storms that blew across East Asia and into Russia and threatened Latin America could eventually mean for us, but you know, Terry, defense is a big issue that we're not discussing beyond Iraq either. The Department of Defense is now trying to develop a strategy that will last until the first quarter of the 21st century. We need to talk about that. I mean, should we continue to insist on being prepared to fight in two regions of the world at once? Should we switch our attention to terrorism and ethnic conflict within states and do more peacekeeping? Should we put more money into innovation? These are questions that are being debated by the Department of Defense but not by the public, who's going to have to pay the bill and also bear the security risk implicit in some of these plans that eventually will be adopted.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. More stories than we can do as well this evening. Thank you all.
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