Trained to rely on marketing advice and corporate formulas rather than their own news judgment, editors at the Gannett-owned Tennessean have a dilemma: How much coverage of Clinton’s scandal is enough?
Despite daily bombshells from the mother of all news stories, President ”Booba,“ as Monica calls him, is now more popular than ever, and opinion polls say the public doesn’t want to read any more about oral sex in the Oval Office.
So, late last Thursday, when The New York Times released its explosive story about Betty Currie, Clinton’s private secretary, Tennessean editors couldn’t decide what to do. They finally figured that readers weren’t interested in another front-page story about Clinton’s latest problem.
So the Times piece, the most sensational development since the discovery of Monica’s tapes, got trimmed from 40 inches to three and was buried on Page 10A as a bullet item under an unrelated headline.
For those who missed it, the Times disclosed that Currie, a highly respected and trusted White House employee, had contradicted Clinton’s description of his relationship with Lewinsky and had turned over to Starr’s office a dress and other gifts that the president had given the former White House intern. According to the Times, Currie’s testimony also suggests that Clinton encouraged her to lie to federal investigators.
Instead of Currie, Friday morning’s Tennessean featured a front-page, above-the-fold story about Tonya Harding’s apology to Nancy Kerrigan. The rest of the page was filled with stories about a movie, ticket scalping, and a nature center in Edwin Warner Park.
On the other hand, maybe The Tennessean’s editors aren’t the worst of the lot. The Nashville Banner didn’t play the story at all.
The White House scandal that editors at Slate magazine now call ”Flytrap“ has created its own glossary of words you can use in a family newspaper that really mean something else. Low-rung tabloids seem to enjoy reporting rumors about Clinton’s ”semen,“ which allegedly stained some piece of Lewinsky’s clothing. More high-brow publications call it ”fluid“ or ”dried DNA.“ Our favorite, though, is The Christian Science Monitor, which calls the white stuff ”presidential residue.“
TV producers take note: Washing and dry cleaning apparently don’t help. Once dried, the ”residue“ will not come out, according to a local consumer reporter who spoke, off the air, with apparent authority. Now there’s a good topic for sweeps month.
For the record
It’s all happened beforewell, sort of. Tennessean reporter Linda Quigley recently wrote about Peggy Eaton, an immature, overbearing flirt, who was ostracized by Washington society for her open adultery with one of President Andrew Jackson’s closest friends. The scandal preoccupied the White House for months and eventually led to a political crisis and a cabinet-level house cleaning.
However, Quigley managed to turn Eaton into some kind of antebellum feminist, quoting statements by a politically correct history professor who described Eaton as a ”woman who spoke her mind“ and who, like Hillary Clinton, ”dared to go beyond what society allows [women] to do.“
Peggy Eaton, voluptuous, well-rounded, dark-eyed, and ”trailing an odor of toilet water,“ as one contemporary wrote, does have a modern counterpart in Washington. But it’s not Hillary; it’s Monica.
Odds and ends
Corlis Berry, better known as the radio personality ”Road Kill,“ specializes in dumb, on-the-air stunts during Darrell Ankarlo’s morning show on WWTN-FM. But last Thursday, Road Kill went too far and managed to get himself arrested at the Nashville International Airport for riding the baggage carousel. Sitting inside an open suitcase, broadcasting as he rode, the stunt man was arrested the moment he disappeared under the plastic flaps and entered an off-limits area, according to airport spokeswoman Carole Willis.
”It’s cold and dark out here,“ Road Kill managed to say before the broadcast abruptly ended.
Berry, 24, has been charged with a misdemeanor for breaching airport security. According to Willis, Ankarlo apologized for the incident during the next day’s broadcast and admitted that asking Berry to ride the carousel ”was a stupid thing to do.“
* But it’s never an easy ride, apparently, at the Gallatin News-Examiner, the Gannett-owned paper that got sued last year after inadvertently printing an off-color story that associated a high school soccer player with donkey genitalia.
As a keen-eyed reader noticed, gremlins struck again recently. An everything-must-go ad for a Sumner County clothing store directed shoppers to ”Highway 31W, Shite House,“ Tenn. The paper’s advertising director said he didn’t know about the mistakeperhaps because the store, located in White House, is now out of business.
* Laurels to the Banner for hiring new business editor Ernie Beazley, formerly a Pittsburgh-based correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, and, long ago, a young reporter at The Tennessean. In between, Beazley worked at the now-defunct Knoxville Journal, where he wrote groundbreaking, investigative stories about TVA and the fall of the Butcher financial empire. Friends from East Tennessee describe him as a brilliant, hard-nosed reporter who’s difficult to edit or manage. Readers should enjoy him while he lasts.
* After months of declining invitations, Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland called radio host Teddy Bart last week and asked to be on the air to talk about the morning newspaper. Sutherland wants people to know that henot Gannettdecides what goes in his newspaper. Sutherland told Bart that he had only one condition: He would appear on Round Table if Bart assured him that the Scene’s media critic wouldn’t be there too.
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