Albion Monitor /News

The tumult over the conduct and credibility of President Bill Clinton, which has swept aside all other news in the United States, probably is best summed up by his former senior adviser David Gergen.

"This is either the greatest act of of self-destruction by any president in the 20th century, or it is the greatest smear of any President in the modern era," he declared.

Since the scandal over Clinton broke Jan 21, Americans -- and the world -- have been treated to non-stop revelations, allegations and speculations on the president. Everything else concerned with administrations workings, have been pushed to the sidelines.

For example, White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry begain his daily briefing Jan. 23 with a long report of Clinton's cabinet meeting that day and details of a proposal for more pension benefits for U.S. citizens.

Barely one reporter moved his pen, and there were no questions on national or international affairs before the questions began about what the president was going to do about the furor over his conduct.

To the foreign observer, all this may seem inconsequential compared to more pressing international affairs involving the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat came and went from Washington little noticed -- despite Clinton's best efforts to push them back on track in carrying out the Middle East peace accords.

-- Michael Keats (IPS)

U.S. Media Picks Sex and Lies Over Pope and Cuba

by Jim Lobe

Official reaction to the papal visit has been virtually non-existent
WASHINGTON -- Expectations that Pope John Paul II's trip to Cuba would revive debate on U.S. policy towards Havana were dashed by the latest White House sex scandal, which erupted January 21, even before the pontiff disembarked from his airplane.

Within 24 hours, the "anchors" of the big three television networks, who had travelled to Havana to personally cover the pope and Cuban President Fidel Castro, returned to their desks in Washington to report the blow-by-blow on the most dramatic crisis that has beset President Bill Clinton since he took office five years ago.

As a consequence, domestic U.S. debate over Cuba policy has been muted and official reaction to the papal visit has been virtually non-existent as government officials have been besieged by questions of a far different nature.

Background features on life in Cuba today, which advocates hoped would offer U.S. media consumers a new image of the island and its people, were not aired
In the most extensive remarks to date, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright praised the pope's message of religious freedom and suggested that the test will come after the pontiff leaves.

"I think the question now is whether this kind of ability for people to gather in order to worship or have the ability to talk about their religion is something that will be sustained after the pope leaves," she said. "I think that if it is, that's a big step forward."

But those encouraging words were lost in the media stampede to scandal.

"From the sublime to the ridiculous," declared one wag who noted that, after hyping the pope's trip as one of the most important events of the 1990s, TV news had found itself back in the gutter, obsessed with allegations that Clinton had an affair with a 21-year-old White House intern and then asked her to lie about it under oath.

Most U.S. TV networks had sent reporters and producers to Cuba several weeks before the pope's visit to prepare background pieces which they expected to run during news programs and late-night specials all week, according to Andrew Tyndall, who has monitored network news broadcasts for more than a decade.

Most of the U.S. public relies on these broadcasts for its international news, according to surveys going back to the 1970s. When TV news anchors travel abroad, they take most of the newscast with them. Recent examples of this include coverage of the funerals of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa.

Out of about 20 minutes of news which the networks broadcast every night, Tyndall had expected up to 15 minutes to be dedicated to the papal visit and related stories. According to his latest tabulations, however, the networks are devoting only about three minutes a night to the trip.

"There's been the news of what the Pope did and a little feature here and there. That's all," said Tyndall, who publishes a widely followed newsletter, "The Tyndall Reports."

Background features on life in Cuba today are not being aired, according to Tyndall. That is precisely the kind of coverage which advocates of easing the 34-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba had hoped would offer U.S. media consumers a new image of the island and its people.

"This was a great opportunity to see Cuba through new eyes," said Geoffrey Thale, a Cuba specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The progressive policy group had helped to organize a full-page advertisement newspaper signed by the leaders of 150 religious and humanitarian organizations, urging Washington to re-evaluate its policies towards Havana. The ads ran Jan. 21 in The New York Times and Washington Post.

Signatories, who included the heads of major Catholic, Protestant and Jewish institutions, said John Paul II's visit offered an opportunity to consider easing the U.S. embargo an permitting direct sales of food and medicine to Cuba, as proposed by bipartisan legislation currently pending in Congress.

Efforts to modify the embargo will continue, Thale stressed, but the shift of media attention from the pope in Havana to scandal in Washington will reduce pressure on the U.S. administration to make some kind of conciliatory gesture, such as permitting direct shipments of gift parcels. "It's disappointing that that's a lot less likely to happen," he said.

The pope's appeal for Washington to lift the embargo was an important message for U.S. public opinion to hear, Thale added.

Hard-line anti-Castro elements delighted by news blackout
Andres Hernandez of the Cuban Committee for Democracy (CCD), a Cuban-American group which supports easing the embargo, also expressed disappointment. "This could be a major opportunity lost," he said, adding, "I'm still hopeful better coverage will be given, and not everything will be lost."

While supporters of detente with Cuba have been disappointed, hard-line anti-Castro elements have been elated. "I'm quite sure Fidel Castro is not very happy about this," said Jose Cardenas, Washington representative of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which opposes any relaxation in the embargo.

"I pity the poor guy who had to tell him that Dan Rather took the first flight out," said Cardenas.

"Frankly, we were by and large relieved to see the departures of the U.S. anchors and a portion of the media presence on the island," he went on. "We didn't believe that an adequate exploration as to the rationale and purposes of U.S. policy was being provided by the networks. That was getting completely lost."

Cardenas especially deplored a one-hour special report by CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Jan. 22 which depicted the plight of poor Cubans. He called it "really, really dishonest in the fact that they put before the American people images of sick children and babies and basically said the U.S. is responsible."

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Albion Monitor February 2, 1998 (

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