Howard Kurtz, in his Thursday Washington Post story on Ted Koppel’s decision to join the Discovery Channel, revealed a tantalizing tidbit in his tenth paragraph about who first reached out to Tom Bettag, the Executive Producer of Nightline until Koppel’s departure from ABC in November: “The first contact came on Dec. 1, the week after Koppel's last Nightline broadcast, when Don Baer, a Discovery executive vice president who previously worked in the Clinton White House, e-mailed and then called Bettag.” (Bettag and several others from Koppel's ABC crew will follow Koppel to Discovery.)
Indeed, after nine years at U.S. News & World Report, where he rose to Assistant Managing Editor, in 1994 Baer jumped to the Clinton White House to become the chief speechwriter for President Clinton, and was later elevated to Communications Director for the Clinton White House. Baer reportedly so admired Bill Clinton that he effused about how Clinton was “the moral leader of the Universe.” (Details follow.)
When Baer joined CBS News in 1998 to provide analysis, a stint which ended within a year, the February 20, 1998 MRC CyberAlert provided a brief rundown of his career:
CBS News has brought aboard a Clinton insider. In the February 19 Washington Post John Carmody reported:
"Don Baer, who left the White House in August after 3½ years, most recently serving as Director of Communications, has signed on as a consultant for CBS News. He’ll give his perspective on several regular CBS News programs about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ activity in the administration as his old boss continues to fend off crises. But network sources say ‘he won’t be shilling.’"
Carmody noted Baer’s earlier career in journalism with U.S. News where he held the title of Assistant Managing Editor when he jumped to the White House. But Carmody missed another interesting resume item: As detailed in MediaWatch at the time, the April 9, 1994 National Journal divulged that when North Carolina Governor James Hunt, a Democrat, opposed Senator Jesse Helms in 1984, Baer, then a lawyer in New York City, "organized a $75,000 Manhattan fundraiser for Hunt." Three years later, he joined U.S. News.
So can Baer keep his personal feelings out of his journalism and just how much does he adore Bill Clinton? Check out this excerpt from a September 23, 1996 Weekly Standard profile by Christopher Caldwell:
"Clinton liked the articles Baer contributed to U.S. News during the 1992 campaign. While other journalists -- David Shribman of The Wall Street Journal, Joe Klein of New York, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times -- ignored the more sensational aspects of the campaign for enthusiastic grapplings with 'Clintonism,' Baer wrote with extreme empathy about Clinton's background.
"'I think it's a southern thing' says one of Baer's journalistic colleagues, who also knows Clinton. 'Being of the South and still being rooted there, yet being driven and ambitious enough to prove oneself in the larger world -- the two of them have a lot in common.' While Baer has always been a loyal Democrat, he's not necessarily a liberal. Like Clinton, he has an idiosyncratic, instinctive, generally progressive politics that winds up at beyond-left-and-rightism. This enthusiasm can appear like ideological non-commitment or caginess. One New Democrat who met Baer at a dinner last year described him as 'bland beyond description, a fount of cliches. 'Clinton was the moral leader of the Universe,' and all that.'"