NEW YORK (AP) — Forced to choose between sin and salvation, TV’s top anchormen abandoned their on-the-spot coverage of the pope’s visit to Cuba and returned to the United States to cover the White House sex scandal.
NBC’s Tom Brokaw, ABC’s Peter Jennings and CBS’s Dan Rather all anchored several reports Thursday on allegations that President Clinton had sex with a young White House intern.
The coverage reduced Yasser Arafat, Theodore Kaczynski and Pope John Paul II to mere bit players on the TV news.
“Everybody just left,” said Lissette Fernandez, an editor with Spanish-language CBS Telenoticias, who noted the Habana Libre hotel that had been packed with journalists for the pope’s visit did not seem as busy.
“There’s no question that (Clinton) has blown that off the domination of the front pages,” said Frank Sesno, CNN Washington bureau chief.
With the anchormen back home, NBC, ABC and CBS, as well as cable news networks, broke into programming for a series of events related to the scandal Thursday — Clinton’s comments at a photo opportunity, Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s statement, White House spokesman Mike McCurry’s daily briefing and Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan’s statement.
News executives said they were trying to balance going after the story aggressively with a need to keep it in perspective. ABC News President David Westin insisted on calling the story a “crisis” instead of a “scandal” to show it’s more important than just a story about sex.
“This is a big enough story that it doesn’t need hyping, it doesn’t need overtelling,” Westin said.