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The Bill Clinton Scandal: Spin City

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You have all the ingredients,” says Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent, Brit Hume. “The independent counsel, allegations of criminal conduct by the President, sex… the only thing that could make this story bigger is if [Bill Clinton] carried on with Diana.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Hume is talking about the media’s insatiable appetite for the White House sex scandal (a.k.a. Tailgate, a.k.a. Fornigate, a.k.a. Clinterngate, etc.). In fact, journalists can barely contain their glee. In the White House pressroom, says ABC’s Sam Donaldson, “people make jokes. Someone raises their right hand and says, ‘I, Albert Gore Jr., do solemnly swear…’ and everyone goes ‘Hee, hee.”‘

Not everyone’s laughing. For every Jim Lehrer (of PBS’ NewsHour) or Matt Lauer (of NBC’s Today), who scored huge coups with the first post-scandal interviews of Bill and Hillary Clinton, respectively, there’s a John Norris, the MTV newsman whose scoop was an exclusive with MTV’s interns! Here’s a rundown of the other winners and losers:

WINNER: Sam Donaldson. Some viewed his recent reassignment to the White House beat as a demotion — until the hottest scandal since Watergate landed in his lap. “I’m lucky as heck to be back here,” marvels Donaldson. He admits the titillation factor is high. “If we were pursuing a story in which the President told someone to lie about whether Medicare Part B was going to be 32 cents more or 34 cents more, who would care?” But he contends, “I can be turned on as a reporter by stories that have nothing to do with sex.”

LOSER: Bryant Gumbel. On the night the Monica Lewinsky story broke, the CBS anchor buried it at the end of his live newsmag, Public Eye, leading instead with a report pegged to the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. “We didn’t want to overhype the story before there was time to check the facts,” explains CBS News exec VP Jonathan Klein. But CBS News president Andrew Heyward acknowledges, “It would have been appropriate to lead with it. But the main thing was to do the story, and they did.”

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