February 18, 1998

The Clinton Crisis and the Press

What We Looked At

The study measured a snapshot of the news media culture in the first week of the story. From Wednesday January 21 through Saturday, January 24, we studied the nightly newscasts, prime time magazines and specials, and relevant segments of Larry King and Charlie Rose, Nightline, the morning news shows, the front page coverage of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times. Added to that universe, we studied the Sunday network talk programs and the Monday news magazines, Time and Newsweek.

Based on ratings, influence, and the degree to which their work found their way into other reports, these outlets represented a fair picture of how Americans learned about this story. Indeed, because we wanted to study those outlets that presumably were doing original reporting or interviewing, we deliberately did not include local television, the most popular news source, in the study.

In order to most thoroughly and accurately record press performance, the study did not just measure stories, since some contained more than one key point. It measured instead the key assertions inside stories. Thus in a piece stating that Monica Lewinsky alleged having sexual relations with the President and that Clinton denied the allegation, these two statements were measured separately.

The goal was to find out what the news media was actually providing audiences. How much of the coverage of this story was factual reporting-here is what happened? What was the level of sourcing for that reporting? How much was analytical-that is analysis attributed to some reporting or evidence in a way that the audience can evaluate how it was arrived at?

How much fell into a different category-one you might call punditry? We included here three categories of assertions. 1) Opinion, which is analysis not attributed to anything. 2) Speculation, which is opinion based on facts that do not yet exist. 3) Judgment-an unequivocal assertion that leaves no room for dissent-Clinton is liar, Clinton cannot survive.

When it comes to analysis or punditry, the study measured what journalists themselves asserted, not what their sources or TV interviewees had to say.