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Time Pulls Clinton 'Scoop'

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 15, 1998; Page B03

It materialized in mid-afternoon as a "TIME Exclusive": An Internet report that "President Clinton has requested air time from the major TV networks to broadcast an address at 9 p.m. EDT on Monday -- just hours after the end of his grand jury interview."

A story of huge proportions. But a story that was wrong. An hour later, the Time scoop vanished from cyberspace as quickly as it had appeared.

"We made a mistake," said Jef McAllister, Time's deputy Washington bureau chief. "We acted as soon as we realized we made a mistake, and we are sorry."

Other news organizations are reporting that Clinton is considering a televised address on the Monica Lewinsky matter, and he may yet decide to take to the airwaves. But spokesmen for ABC, CBS and NBC said yesterday that, contrary to the Time story, they have received no request for air time. "There's absolutely no truth to it," said ABC's Eileen Murphy.

The retracted report even included the delicious detail that the White House had "made a courtesy call to Donald Trump, promoter of Miss Teen USA, to ask the Donald if the contest can wait until the president is finished." A CBS spokeswoman said neither the network nor the pageant had gotten such a request from the White House.

Asked how Time.com could post such a potentially explosive story without having it nailed down, McAllister, who was quoted in the piece on Clinton's legal strategy, declined to discuss the details. He said he did not want to "defend what we thought we had. . . . We shouldn't have put it up there."

The story appeared shortly after presidential press secretary Mike McCurry told reporters that if Clinton has anything to say after his grand jury testimony Monday, "we'll let you know after he's done."

"That happens to be true," McCurry said last night. "The president has told me that. David Kendall has told me that. Mickey Kantor has told me that. Chuck Ruff has told me that," referring to the attorneys advising Clinton on the Lewinsky matter.

Deluged by media calls, McCurry said: "I've been dealing with this thing all afternoon long. It is the insanity we're in the middle of."

Michael Duffy, Time's Washington bureau chief, said the magazine tried to shut things down by calling CNN to say the story was false and trying to reach the White House as well. Contacted in New York, James Kelly, Time's deputy managing editor, said of the report: "Amazing. That's news to me." The piece was written by Chris Taylor, a reporter for Time's online division.

Earlier, White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said he has "seen too many examples of this happening, especially in a hyperventilating atmosphere like this. The tantalizing appeal of the Internet is supplanting normal news judgment."

Kennedy called the Trump angle "hilarious."

In the early weeks of the Lewinsky story, both the Dallas Morning News and Wall Street Journal posted controversial stories on their Web sites that they retracted soon afterward. The blunders prompted considerable talk about the danger of 24-hour deadlines, and the Lewinsky saga led to no further cyberspace retractions -- until now.

Asked how Time could avoid such problems in the future, McAllister said succinctly, "We'll just do it carefully."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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