College Newspapers Grapple With Coverage of Lewinsky Affair
By Chris Bubeck and Daniel Valentine
On campuses across the country, Monica Lewinsky's allegations are forcing college newspapers to grapple with coverage of what they are alternately describing as "the story of our lives" and "American journalism at its worst."
At Lewinsky's alma mater, Lewis and Clark College, the Pioneer Log reported last week the campus was deluged with media inquiries shortly after reports that the former White House intern may have had a sexual relationship with President Clinton, and then been advised to lie about it. At least 100 reporters called the campus and dozens more visited it, cornering students, tying up telephone lines and grilling faculty members, the school newspaper reported.
"We don't really appreciate that," said Judy Zawatzky, the Pioneer Log's commentary editor. The paper published a story last week about the attention the campus was getting and about Lewinsky's time at the Portland, Ore., college.
At Clinton's alma mater, the weekly Yale Herald was planning two editorials and a column, all critical of Clinton, said Executive Editor Sumit De. The column calls for Clinton's impeachment, because of alleged lies about his relationship with Lewinsky, De said. Clinton has said he did not have a sexual relationship with her.
And at Stanford University, a campus editor said the paper will continue the hands-off policy it adopted toward Chelsea Clinton when she enrolled at the school last fall. The Stanford Daily has run wire stories about allegations surrounding Clinton and Lewinsky and published editorials. But, said Editor in Chief Carolyn Sleeth, "We're not covering the Chelsea angle."
Sleeth said the consideration given to Chelsea is not unique. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's son, T.J., is on the newspaper's staff. But Sleeth said she would no more involve Chelsea in the Lewinsky story than she would pull T.J. Babbitt into stories about his father.
But while the Stanford Daily keeps the Lewinsky story at arm's length, other colleges are doing their best to bring it home. Many did so by tracking down current or former White House interns affiliated with their colleges.
At the University of Georgia, reporters for the Red and Black found graduate student Alison Bracewell, a former White House intern who worked with Lewinsky in the fall of 1995. While Bracewell told the paper that Lewinsky could have had access to the president because of her job, she said she and Lewinsky never discussed anything outside the office.
"We've just been trying to get a local angle," said Ty Brown, associate news editor for the Red and Black.
For its angle, George Washington University's Hatchet turned to William Blacklow, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
Blacklow said he spoke daily to Lewinsky when she worked at the Pentagon, after her White House internship. He also was the immediate supervisor to Linda Tripp, who reportedly befriended Lewinsky and secretly taped Lewinsky discussing her relationship with Clinton.
Blacklow told the Hatchet the two were "like a big sister and little sister," and he thought their friendship was genuine.
"I read the paper and I began to wonder whether I really know her [Lewinsky] at all," Blacklow said in the interview.
Howard University's Hilltop plans to profile Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan, a university trustee who reportedly tried to get Lewinsky to lie about her relationship with the president. Jordan has denied urging her to lie.
"We haven't covered it yet," said Hilltop Editor in Chief Natalie Moore. "Doing something on Vernon Jordan is more interesting because he's on the board of trustees, and as a student, I'd like to know more about him."
Opinions expressed in columns and editorials included those defending the president and those describing disgust with the media.
Josh Massey, a columnist for the Red and Black, wrote Tuesday that "Clinton's latest scandal has all the earmarks of being the story of our lives.
"Over the last 20 years, the presidency has lost much of its luster, and a constant cloud of skepticism has hung over it. But nothing, up until now, has had a chance at breaking its back," he wrote.
Some took jabs at the president as "the First Swinger" or dubbed the latest charges "Zippergate."
"I think the most important question is this," wrote a columnist for the Hatchet. "When the going gets tough, and the media starts [sic] to close in on President Clinton, who is going to drive the White Bronco down I-95 at 50 mph?"
Others saw no humor in the situation.
"It's seeing American journalism at its worst," said George Kennedy, managing editor at the Columbia Missourian, a paper published by the University of Missouri journalism department. It has been covering the event through wire stories.
And while American University's Eagle has not released a staff editorial, managing editor Steve Lott has his own opinions.
"I think he's in big trouble," Lott said of the president. "If there's one small kernel of truth to these allegations, it'll be a dark mark on his presidency."
© Copyright 1998 Capital News Service