Flashback: Dan Rather Dismissed Clinton Rape Charge as Old News

The media's growing ardor (a la Matthew Dowd) that masses of female accusers must be believed in a Republican sex-assault controversy never translated for Bill Clinton. From Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones forward, Clinton was always presumed to be a lovable rascal, a political "bad boy" with awesome campaign skills. He could "feel your pain," and no one wanted to derail him. 

Take, for example, our report in 1999 that not-yet-disgraced CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather provided the Exact Opposite of the Matt Dowd philosophy. It was the Don Imus radio show -- then simulcast on MSNBC -- on February 23, 1999. When women cry rape, it doesn't matter whether it's true. It's too dated for the truth to matter, and besides, we think the American people are tired of all these accusations: 

DON IMUS: Even this Juanita Broaddrick thing that, this interview that the people over there at NBC News have been sittin' on for some reason, who knows but -- 

DAN RATHER: Well, I think the reason is pretty obvious that they're, they don't call me and tell me why they run or don't run these things, but I think it's pretty obvious. They are nervous about, number one, whether this information is accurate, whether it's really true or not. And then number two, even if it does it turns out to be true, it happened a long time ago and number three, they've gotta be figuring maybe, just maybe the American public has heard all they want to hear about this and are saying you know, "Next. Let's move on to the next thing."

IMUS: I was reading in either Time or Newsweek that even the woman herself, Juanita Broaddrick said that she hopes that this thing went away this week and even she was sick about hearing about it and it's her story."

RATHER: Well, let's hope she gets her way with that.

Since Imus mentioned the "news" magazines, let's recall how they handled this rape charge. After Broaddrick told her story on Dateline NBC, Time magazine ran a one-page story saying the story began with the "vociferously conservative" Wall Street Journal editoral page and it "seems unlikely to have much traction."

Newsweek had no story, just a brief mention up front in their "Conventional Wisdom Watch" box. It didn't even mention Broaddrick's name, just "Jane Doe #5," which was how she was referred to documents of House investigators. Newsweek quipped: "Should have leveled (unproven) assault charge in '78 or '92. But sounds like our guy."

In that same week's editions Time and Newsweek both published gushy nine-page cover stories on guess what? Hillary Clinton and her campaign for the Senate. Or as Newsweek put it, Hillary was "the hottest commodity in American public life." 

Rich Noyes reported today that the Moore allegations have drawn almost 80 minutes of coverage on the Big Three networks over the last four days. When then-President Bill Clinton was accused of rape, those same newscasts aired just four stories mentioning those charges during a 12-month period from March 1998 through March 1999. 

The four: On March 28, 1998, NBC Nightly News ran a full story on how Clinton, then the Attorney General of Arkansas, allegedly raped Juanita Broaddrick in a hotel room in 1978. Nightly News provided no further coverage; when NBC’s Lisa Myers taped an exclusive on-camera interview with Broaddrick for Dateline, anchor Tom Brokaw would only mention it in a brief promo at the end of his February 24, 1999 newscast.

CBS Evening News ran a single report on Broaddrick’s charges during their Saturday, February 20, 1999 newscast. ABC mentioned the case in passing during a March 7, 1999 World News Sunday report about an interview given by whistleblower Linda Tripp; twelve days later, World News Tonight viewers saw a brief clip of then-White House correspondent Sam Donaldson questioning Clinton about the case at a March 19, 1999 news conference: “Can you tell us what your relationship with Ms. Broaddrick was?”


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