Sunday, February 20, 2005

"Tabloid Rings Up Another Hot Scoop"

Howard Kurtz, on the Dick Morris toe sucking affair, 8/30/1996.

The timing was devastating: the day of President Clinton's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention.

The delivery route was familiar: from the Star supermarket tabloid to the front page of Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, the same scandalous path that launched the Gennifer Flowers saga into the mainstream media 4 1/2 years ago.

Yesterday's bombshell about presidential adviser Dick Morris's alleged relationship with a $ 200-an-hour prostitute, who dished her dirt in graphic detail to the Star, did more than force the resignation of Clinton's longtime political guru. It exploded into the headlines, leading the news last night on CBS, NBC and ABC just as the president was about to bask in the televised limelight of accepting his party's renomination.

The Star, whose "White House Call Girl Scandal" edition officially hits the streets Monday, would not disclose how much it paid the prostitute, Sherry Rowlands, for the story, but Star reporter Richard Gooding told ABC's "Nightline" last night it was less than $ 50,000.

Dick Belsky, the Star's news editor, said yesterday: "We ran the story the minute we had it. The timing is purely coincidental." He said the tabloid gave an advance copy to the New York Post, where he and several other top executives once worked, because it was certain to leak out as copies of the Star were mailed out this week.


In early 1992, the Star paid Flowers a reported $ 100,000 for her allegations about a 12-year affair with then-candidate Clinton, who denied any romantic relationship with the former Arkansas state employee. Flowers released selective excerpts of what she said were taped phone conservations with Clinton.

The Morris article appears more amply documented. And the story went beyond sex, with Rowlands alleging that Morris let her eavesdrop on phone calls with Clinton, told her administration secrets and showed her drafts of convention speeches by Vice President Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The story's author, Gooding, was once a metro editor at the New York Post who later held the same post at the New York Daily News.

Missing, of course, is the handwringing about private lives, concern about whether "tabloids are going too far," etc... despite the fact that someone cavorting with a hooker has a somewhat understandable naive expectation of privacy, while someone soliciting for johns on the internet, complete with pictures, doesn't...

...let me just add that at the time this was considered to be a completely acceptable and normal story. Read the treatment it got at the Newshour, and further Howie coverage here. Reporters were camped outside the Morris house.

It wasn't until Hyde/Livingston that the press suddenly got squeamish about this stuff. Odd, that.

And, of course, the Gannon story isn't really a "sex scandal," but amazing how things have changed nonetheless.

...and, consider how Time covered it:
The right brain spins the story this way: it is poetic justice. A highly paid political prostitute, Dick Morris, comes to grief in the arms of an expensive hooker in Washington--a perfect moral fit. The case almost accidentally opens a door upon a disturbing side of American politics--not Dick Morris' character (who cares?) so much as the larger drama of American political manipulation in 1996, and a general atmosphere of sleaze that even the canned floral scents of " family values" cannot perfume. The left brain responds with counterspin: both personal charity and political experience argue for rolling...