Can the Congress Investigate the Clinton Administration Fairly?
May 19, 1998
in this forum:
Has politics tainted the investigation process? Is this anything new? Is there any way to conduct an investigation in a truly non-partisan way? Could the investigation backfire on the republicans next election? With the Republicans having such a slim House majority, how can there be a house committee with a two-thirds Republican majority for the Speaker to move the immunity question to? Has there been a decline in the quality of reporting on political scandal? Timothy O'Hara of Hammonton, NJ asks: Has there been a decline in the quality of reporting on political scandal? The evident willingness of some reporters to accept at face value the obvious spin (especially from the White House) suggests that very few reporters have a basic understanding of what is being investigated. It seems particularly evident with respect to the role of a prosecutor and campaign finance issues. Do you agree? Why?
John Pitney, Associate Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College, responds:
If anything, reporters today are more aggressive and better- informed than they were during Watergate. The key to understanding the headlines lies less in the quality of the reporting than in the skill of White House spin. President Clinton is a much more convincing performer than President Nixon, who seemed to be lying even when he was telling the truth. And whereas Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler alienated reporters, Clinton aide Mike McCurry does a masterful job of cajoling and seducing them.
In his excellent new book "Spin Cycle," Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz explains the administration's elaborate media operation, replete with planted op-eds and well-timed leaks. Kurtz tells how Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis stationed himself just outside the Senate campaign- finance hearings: "The brazen presence of a White House spokesman at the hearings showed how far the spin game had evolved, how the administration was determined to persuade reporters that its interpretation was more important than the facts they had just heard."