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Monday, September 25, 2006
Wag the (Clinton-Bashing) Dog
Topic: NewsBusters

In a rather selective attack on President Clinton's statements during a "Fox News Sunday" interview with Chris Wallace, Noel Sheppard used a Sept. 25 NewsBusters post to narrowly focus on Clinton's claims that when Clinton launched an attack on Sudan in 1998 at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, "Clinton had performed these attacks to distract the American people from his extracurricular activities much as in the movie Wag the Dog." Sheppard was quick to do some quote-mining to dismiss the claim: "Were there high-ranking Republicans that piled on this assertion? Hardly."

Sheppard does not appear to have checked the archives of his employer. The Media Research Center, in fact, did pile on this assertion by criticizing media outlets who dismissed it.

In an Aug. 21, 1998, CyberAlert, Brent Baker noted that "every network did raise the "Wag the Dog" scenario" in their coverage of the Sudan bombing strike. But Baker seemed unhappy that "CBS questioned the lack of "bipartisan patriotism." When ABC's George Stephanopoulos said that "Yesterday White House advisers were saying that one of the reasons the President was wary of a giving a more fulsome, elaborate apology Monday night was because he was afraid of projecting weakness in the face of potential hot spots around the world and now we know why," Baker responded: "Who really believes that? Instead, Clinton’s now ridiculed."

A Sept. 7, 1998, MRC MediaWatch began "Three days after admitting a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton authorized cruise-missile attacks on suspected terrorist sites in Afghanistan and Sudan. Was this attack intended to divert attention from Monicagate?" The MRC seemed to concur: "If the timing had been a cynical damage control strategy, it surely worked in the short run: From Thursday to Sunday, the evening shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN carried 78 stories on the attack to just six Lewinsky pieces." The item also appeared to criticize those who tried to supported that theory:

Media and Republican figures initially questioned the attack’s timing, but the backlash came quickly. In Time’s daily Internet update, Frank Pellegrini reported: "Although Clinton-haters Newt Gingrich and Dan Burton have avowed their support of the strike, Republicans Arlen Specter and Dan Coats did not shy from the low road."

The item further attacked ABC's Ted Koppel for saying that it "is, in the final analysis, unthinkable" to "doubt [Clinton's] word on this occasion": "But Koppel did not find it "unthinkable" in 1991 to charge that the 1980 Reagan campaign delayed the release of American hostages in Iran. Nor was it "unthinkable" days before the 1992 election to wonder if the Bush administration secretly armed the Iraqis before the Gulf War."

In an Aug. 10, 1999, MagazineWatch item, Tim Graham beat up on a U.S. News & World Report writer who claimed that a "reporter who demanded to know if Defense Secretary William Cohen had seen the movie Wag the Dog" was a sign of "the reliable inanity of the Washington press corps."  Graham responded by suggesting that dismissing the "Wag the Dog" claim meant dismissing any questions about the Sudan strike: "Reporters who lapped up Peter Arnett’s tales of bombing Iraqi baby-milk factories found it somehow suddenly unpatriotic to follow up on this still largely unknown story."

Before Sheppard continues to push his claim that "Wag the Dog" speculation about Clinton was discouraged and shouted down by Republicans themselves, he might want to do a little more research.

Posted by Terry K. at 4:48 PM EDT

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