On TV, Big Difference Between Kerry Rumors and McCain Rumors

February 26th, 2008 6:49 AM

Earlier, I noted how the New York Times barely touched on adultery rumors about John Kerry four years ago, and how the morning shows lurched into McCain-in-crisis mode at the first shaky Times "romantic relationship" story on Vicki Iseman. The same pattern followed on network TV coverage of the Kerry rumor. It barely surfaced, and never for more than a sentence or two. All three networks heavily suggested to viewers it was bunk, not a crisis. This shows either (a) the trust of the networks in the New York Times or (b) the lust of the networks for Republican dirt or (c) both. Here's how a quick check of the Nexis data-retrieval system looked.

ABC. Peter Jennings was first in raising it and dismissing it on the February 13, 2004 World News Tonight. "Just one other note about Senator Kerry, several times today, including on a national radio program, the Senator was asked whether rumors about him and a young woman had any substance. The Senator denied it categorically. There is nothing, he said, to report."

Could Jennings have been vaguer? No real detail on the rumor, or the radio program?

ABC also dismissed it once in the morning on February 17, as Robin Roberts briefly noted on Good Morning America: "A woman, the woman at the center of rumors linking her to presidential hopeful John Kerry is denying the two had an affair. Alexandra Polier broke her silence days after the allegation surfaced on the Internet. She issued a statement saying, 'I have never had a relationship with Senator Kerry, and the rumors in the press are completely false.' Polier also said she's never even interned or worked for Kerry."

CBS. Early Show co-host Rene Syler quickly dismissed it on the morning of February 17, 2004: "Well, an unsubstantiated rumor dogging the Kerry campaign can now be put to rest. Twenty-seven-year-old Alexandra Polier was alleged by some in the tabloid press to have been romantically involved with Kerry. Polier released a statement Monday denying that allegation. In a written statement, Polier says the rumors are, quote, 'completely false.' Kerry had strongly denied the story last week."

NBC. Tom Brokaw offered a few works on the February 16, 2004 Nightly News: "And a political footnote tonight. For the past couple of days, there's a rumor that Senator Kerry had been involved with a young woman who left the country for Africa. He denied it, and today so did the young woman, who is in Nairobi visiting the family of her fiance. She told the Associated Press the rumors are completely false."

By the way, when the Charlie Rose show on PBS discussed the Times story last Thursday night, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff said everyone was trying to work the McCain rumor, but didn't have the goods, and neither did the Times story:

They didn`t prove it. And, you know, as I said before, the higher the bar -- and the bar is pretty high when you suggest a personal impropriety like that, and that`s why it is so important to get people on the record if you`re going to do that. And I think that this story and the rumors about this story, the fact that the Times was working on it was known by a lot of reporters in Washington, including myself. A number of people, including myself, had made some effort to figure out if there was some reality there for no other reason if there`s a bombshell story about to break, you want to know what it is, and if possible get it first, if there`s reality there. But, nobody was able to substantiate the key aspects of it to a level that anybody felt comfortable with, although we knew at Newsweek much of what was in the story, I don`t think we ever had a serious discussion about actually publishing it because we didn`t feel that that would be responsible journalism.