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Jewish World Review Dec. 16, 1999 /7 Teves, 5760

Evan Gahr

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Yellow journalism for the Pink Lady? -- THE VAST RIGHT-WING conspiracy strikes again?

As Hillary Rodham Clinton's prospective U.S. Senate campaign faltered late last month, her media acolytes offered a ready explanation. Was it her disastrous Israel trip? FALN flip flop?

Nope, bad press.

The "conservative" New York Post, if you believe the hype, snookered the rest of the New York media into giving Hillary a bum rap.

Late last month, left-wing stalwarts such as New York magazine columnist Michael Tomasky and Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter complained that the New York Post had blown her Israel trip out of proportion. Hey, all she did was indulge a little blood libel.

At a West Bank ceremony, the normally outspoken Mrs. Clinton metamorphosed into a deaf mute as Mrs. Yasser Arafat accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian women and children.

But Alter explained that the First Lady took "the only sensible course"--check with Washington's diplomats before responding. But might she have expressed some displeasure without consulting Washington? Did Mrs. Clinton have to kiss Mrs. Arafat on both cheeks?

Meanwhile, Alter is blowing kisses to Mrs. Clinton.

He writes that the Post turns Hillary's every "miscue into a disaster." Along the same lines, New York Times reporter Felicity Barringer wrote December 7 that the Post has been "quick to point out actions and statements that seem to reflect badly on Mrs. Clinton." What's wrong with that? Should the paper sweep them under the rug? Or gloss over them? Isn't that the job of flacks, not reporters?

Now, personal responsibility hasn't quite been a hallmark of the Clinton administration. But the reality is that Hillary--not anyone else--turned what should have been a routine campaign trip (albeit financed by taxpayers) into a disaster. Her silence in the face of the blood libel infuriated Israelis all across the spectrum. Then she added insult to injury by issuing a statement urging BOTH sides to avoid inflammatory rhetoric. And even offered some "Clintonesque" explanations for her silence: She supposedly couldn't follow the translation of Suha Arafat's remarks, etc.

Many in the media glossed over her mistakes--a Boston Globe headline declared, "In Mideast, Mrs. Clinton Shies from Controversy"--but the Post did not.

Moreover, Hillary took her most severe beating from opinion columnists, not news reporters. The Post ran its "Shame on Hillary" headline under a November 12 Steve Dunleavy column about the Arafat meeting. Andrea Peyser followed with a similar broadside, declaring the campaign is "all but over except for the whining."

Just the brass knuckles treatment a candidate can expect? Nope, according to her media defenders, all this was a concerted effort by the "conservative" New York Post to derail the Clinton candidacy.

In a front page story, the New York Observer told how "Murdoch's New York Post Gleefully Roasts Hillary." Greg Sargent and Josh Benson said the skewering of Hillary Clinton followed in the Post's "long history under [Rupert Murdoch] of overtly attempting to get favorite sons and daughters elected. The Post's pounding of Mayor David Dinkins in the early 1990s was summed up in a single memorable headline: 'Dave: Do something.' The headline referred to the mayor's perceived inaction in the face of a spiraling crime rate, but it seemed to capture the image of a befuddled politician unable to cope with a collapsing city."

Actually, Murdoch did not own the Post when the paper urged Dave to "do something." (Peter Kalikow did.) Moreover, there was a rather simple reason--apart from the Post--why Dinkins had an image "as a befuddled politician unable to cope with a collapsing city." He was. Under Dinkins, a simple city stroll could easily turn into an elaborate game of hide-and-go-seek with muggers, squeegee men, and homeless people.

As for Hillary, the real bias here is on the part of journalists who for months and even years swooned over Mrs. Clinton--particularly her "vast intelligence." Coverage of Mrs. Clinton's ruminations about a senate run earli er this year befitted a coronation.

CBS News anchorman Dan Rather gushed that "once a political lightning rod, today she is political lightning." His colleague Bob Schieffer told how he had "dreamed Mrs. Clinton already won the New York senate race.

Time essayist Lance Morrow saw a "Celtic mist forming around Hillary, as a new archetype somewhere between Eleanor and Evita."

This is nothing new, of course. During the 1992 campaign, Time columnist Margaret Carlson gushed that Hillary Clinton is a "remarkable woman. There is no doubt that she is her husband's professional and intellectual equal."

Oh, is she?

Now, it turns out the Empress has fewer clothes. That would be quite apparent even if the Post were not available to offer a spirited dissent from the generally liberal New York media.

And if Hillary, who now trails Rudy Giuliani in the polls, can't take the heat, she would do well to stay home and bake cookies.

JWR contributor Evan Gahr is a former New York Post press critic. This piece is adapted from one that appeared on The American Enterprise Online. Send your comments by clicking here.


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©1999, Evan Gahr