March 27, 1998

The Clinton Crisis and the Press

What We Looked At

What We Looked At

For this second part, the study measured a snapshot of media in the first week of March, (six weeks later than its initial snapshot). On March 5 and 6, it looked at the three commercial broadcast nightly newscasts, CNN's The World Tonight, prime time magazines, any relevant segments of Charlie Rose, Nightline, the morning news shows, the front section coverage of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Washington Post and the Washington Times. Included also were the following Monday's Time and Newsweek. The study this time also added the News Hour with Jim Lehrer and the coverage of the Associated Press on March 5, 6 and January 23.

Based on ratings, influence and the degree to which their work found their way into other reports, the goal was to represent a fair picture of how Americans learned about the story.

For the tabloids, the study looked at the edition or broadcast on March 5 and 6 or the corresponding weekly edition of the supermarket Star, National Enquirer, New York Post, Geraldo and Inside Edition. As a basis of comparison, we also looked at the tabloid universe for the week of January 23.

In order to more thoroughly and accurately record press performance, the study did not just measure stories, since most 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 that allegation, these two statements were measured separately.

The goal of this second snapshot was to answer three questions: How specifically was the press characterizing anonymous sourcing? Had the coverage changed from the first week of the story over the next few weeks? At a time when people talk about "tabloidization" of the news media, how different was the tabloid press on these questions?

In writing this report, we have excluded one category of news outlets, the Sunday talk shows, that were part of the original January sample so that March and January comparisons can be made. The Sunday talk shows were not monitored in the March sample. As a result, there are some cases where numbers for January vary slightly from those cited in the earlier report.

The study was designed by the Committee of Concerned Journalists and executed by Lee Ann Brady of Princeton Survey Research Associates.

(We have excluded one program from the comparison here, because the level of punditry by journalists on the show was so extreme that it skewed the numbers of the entire study. To make the comparisons meaningful, we have set it aside as a special case. On the days studied in March, 69% of what appeared on Larry King Live was punditry, amounting to two thirds of all the punditry encountered in the study.)

Anonymous Sources

There were other shifts in coverage, some of which may reflect the Clinton deposition.

The use of anonymous sources at least during the moment of the leaked deposition had dropped, from 24% to 12%. More specifically, the reliance on a single anonymous source declined from 9% of all reportage in the first week to 4% in the three days studied in March.

Not surprisingly, the reliance on other media jumped from 14% to 33%, clearly because people were citing the Washington Post.