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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 19, 1998; Page D1

Hard as it may be to fathom, the Monica Lewinsky story has faded a bit on the network news.

The stock market, the bloodshed in Kosovo, Hurricane Georges, Japan's economy, the Atlanta bombings, even the International Monetary Fund have eclipsed the White House sex scandal at the top of the Big Three evening newscasts. As the Lewinsky saga has moved from sexually charged revelations in a secret investigation to legislative wrangling over impeachment, the story, at least in television terms, seems less compelling.

Could the media's inexhaustible appetite for all things Monica be sated?

"I don't think it's a matter of people being sick of it," says Al Ortiz, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News." "After running with the story for so long, you do look for other things to lead with. . . . Instead of unfolding at breakneck speed," he says, the story "is now on a somewhat more predictable course that's not surprising us every day at every turn."

Says David Doss, executive producer of "NBC Nightly News": "We know what the key parts of the story are and now it is politics, largely. We try to avoid the 'process' of any story – the stuff that goes back and forth, back and forth."

While "Monica hit the radar" during a slow period, says Doss, now "Wall Street and the global economy are, if not collapsing, at least on a very turbulent ride. You had the hurricane wreaking havoc in the Southeast, and we did a lot with Kosovo and Saddam Hussein."

On the 18 weeknights since the fuss over President Clinton's videotaped testimony subsided, the Big Three networks have unanimously led with Lewinsky only twice, when the Judiciary Committee and then, the full House approved an impeachment inquiry. Of the 54 individual newscasts, nine put the scandal at the top.

One sign of the times: On the day the salacious Lewinsky-Linda Tripp tape transcripts were released, ABC, CBS and NBC led with Clinton's call for greater efforts to shore up the global economy.

Paul Friedman, executive producer of ABC's "World News Tonight," says the impeachment probe is simply "in a hiatus. There's no deliberate effort to say 'enough already.' If I believed what people said in polls, I'd have a totally different newscast."

No one suggests the story will remain on the back burner. The House impeachment hearings are certain to provide plenty of video highlights. But for now, at least, Lewinsky fever seems to have slightly cooled.

Drudge Match

"Were you in any way influenced by the writings of Karl Marx?"

That was the question put to White House aide Sidney Blumenthal in a deposition last month for his $30 million defamation suit against Internet gossip Matt Drudge. Blumenthal told Drudge's lawyer, Manny Klausner, that his college reading of Marx was "very enlightening" about a "penetrating" 19th-century figure. Blumenthal also said he did not believe the Warren Commission disclosed the real story of President Kennedy's assassination.

Beyond this sort of fencing, the newly available deposition shows the Drudge side arguing that he did nothing unusual last year by reporting rumors that Blumenthal once beat his wife (and then retracting the story). Klausner contended – and Blumenthal vehemently denied – that Blumenthal did the same thing when he was a Washington Post reporter in the late 1980s.

In a 1987 Post story following the womanizing charges that sunk Gary Hart's presidential campaign, Blumenthal cited "unsubstantiated rumors" of an affair by then-Vice President George Bush. But as Blumenthal noted, the issue was "surfaced intentionally" by George W. Bush, the vice president's son (and now Texas governor), when he publicly declared that "the answer to the Big A question is N-O."

In another 1987 piece, Blumenthal reported that conservative activist David Horowitz "left his wife and three children" after abandoning radicalism.

"Was that accurate?" Klausner asked.

"Apparently he has four children," Blumenthal said. He said the information came from his interview with Horowitz.

Blumenthal denied under oath that he had ever spoken to Geraldo Rivera. He said he was not the source of an inaccurate Rivera report challenging the military record of Rep. Paul McHale (D-Pa.), a Clinton critic.

In an odd twist, Blumenthal said he's had 30 to 50 conversations with David Brock, the conservative journalist who has apologized for his 1993 "Troopergate" article about Clinton. They've had dinner and visited each other's homes, Blumenthal said.

Brock, who once threw a party for Drudge, now says "that Drudge didn't practice according to regular standards of journalism, didn't check things" and that Brock "had a low opinion of his work," according to Blumenthal. On the other hand, Michael Kinsley, editor of Slate, told Blumenthal he liked Drudge and that the suit could eventually hurt Blumenthal and he should drop it.

Finally, the Drudge team wanted to know if Blumenthal was responsible for its boy being bumped from a choice TV appearance.

"Do you know what led to the withdrawal of the invitation to Mr. Drudge to appear on the Larry King show?"

"No," Blumenthal said.

Gender Agenda

Some prominent female newspaper editors have launched a major lobbying effort. Their goal: Persuade the American Society of Newspaper Editors to include women in its annual survey on newsroom diversity.

"It's kind of a no-brainer," said Sharon Rosenhause, managing editor of the San Francisco Examiner. "It's one more way to judge how we're doing."

The society's survey has been influential in spotlighting the industry's progress – or lack thereof – in hiring and promoting minorities. But while nearly half of newsroom staffers are women, many feel they have hit an invisible glass ceiling. The society's diversity subcommittee has approved the initiative, but the group has resisted past appeals for fear that it would deflect attention from the need to hire more blacks and Hispanics.

"Nobody who voted for this wants to see those efforts diluted," said Narda Zacchino, associate editor of the Los Angeles Times. "But there's a feeling that minority women are suffering more as a class."


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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