Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why Would A Newspaper Sit on a Sex Scandal?

Professor Pitney's most recent post regarding The Drudge Report reminded me of an interesting line in the Graber reading for last class. As I was reading chapter four last Sunday evening, I was surprised to find that the very same Drudge Report was responsible for exposing that the once popular publication, Newsweek, was "sitting on a story about an alleged affair between 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton" (Graber, 89). Excuse my ignorance, but prior to reading this line, I had no idea that it was actually the actions of a blogger that alerted the majority of the news media to the now infamous Lewinsky-Clinton scandal.

Here is the initial post from The Drudge Report:
The DRUDGE REPORT has learned that reporter Michael Isikoff developed the story of his career, only to have it spiked by top NEWSWEEK suits hours before publication. A young woman, 23, sexually involved with the love of her life, the President of the United States, since she was a 21-year-old intern at the White House. She was a frequent visitor to a small study just off the Oval Office where she claims to have indulged the president's sexual preference. Reports of the relationship spread in White House quarters and she was moved to a job at the Pentagon, where she worked until last month. 

The young intern wrote long love letters to President Clinton, which she delivered through a delivery service. She was a frequent visitor at the White House after midnight, where she checked in the WAVE logs as visiting a secretary named Betty Curry, 57. 

The DRUDGE REPORT has learned that tapes of intimate phone conversations exist.

The relationship between the president and the young woman become strained when the president believed that the young woman was bragging about the affair to others.

NEWSWEEK and Isikoff were planning to name the woman. Word of the story's impeding release caused blind chaos in media circles; TIME magazine spent Saturday scrambling for its own version of the story, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned. The NEW YORK POST on Sunday was set to front the young intern's affair, but was forced to fall back on the dated ABC NEWS Kathleen Willey break.

The story was set to break just hours after President Clinton testified in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.

I was shocked to learn that this was how the world initially found out about one of the most famous scandals in American history, but even more perplexed by the fact that Newsweek would hesitate to publish this story. To me, its seems like the ultimate break. How many times does a reporter/editor/paper have the opportunity to be the first to break a sex scandal involving the sitting President of the United States of America and an intern almost half his age? Let alone one that allegedly occurred in the Oval Office of the White House? I mean this sounds like reporter's w#! dream. These types of stories just don't come around all that often. Hence, you would think that Newsweek would want to pounce on this opportunity as fast as they could, but they didn't. I had to find out why.

Apparently, Mark Whitaker of Newsweek, who was filling in as editor of the publication at the time, decided not to run the story, because he was afraid of what might happen to the paper's reputation if they were wrong. Although Whitaker admits that Mike Isikoff, the Newsweek reporter covering the story, "knew a lot about it, but he had never met Lewinsky herself. All of his sources were sort of around her. So we didn't know, you know, just how credible she was. And by the time, once when Starr [Ken Starr, the lead government investigator for Paula Jones case] had her, you know, basically under protective custody to sort of, you know, question her, [Newsweek] couldn't get to her" (Reliable Sources, CNN). 

Additionally, Whitaker had just recently become editor of Newsweek and was not aware that Isikoff had been working on this story for almost a year. In fact, he had only found out about the story two days before he had to make the decision of whether to run it or not. Eventually, Whitaker decided that the paper was "not on firm enough ground to report a story that wouldn't just be a story about Ken Starr, [but] that ultimately would be about accusing the president of having sex in the Oval Office with an intern, which was, if we had gotten that wrong could have been, you know, could have been a mortal blow to Newsweek's reputation" (Reliable Sources, CNN). Clearly, Whitaker's decision was not an easy one, but I still think I would have run it. There is too much of an upside not to have, but I am not a professional journalist, so what do I know.

What would you have done? Run it and risk ruining Newsweek's reputation or hold it and risk missing out on one of the biggest news stories of the past twenty-five years...

1 comment:

  1. I think you have to consider how reliable the six sources that they had were...obviously a tough call to make as you don't want to be the news outlet that falsely reported accusations about the President cheating on his wife with an intern. I can't think of a media blunder of that nature coming from a credible news media outlet in recent history.