Clinton And JFK — Media Myth, R.I.P.
Five years ago, everywhere you
turned, journalists were comparing Bill Clinton to John
Kennedy. In the summer of 1992 — when the Democratic
National Convention showcased footage of a teenage Bill
shaking hands with President Kennedy — many news outlets
proclaimed that manifest destiny was in the political air.
The media hype escalated as soon as Clinton won the
presidency a few months later. Newsweek was euphoric about
"a film clip that made its way into a widely seen
campaign ad: a beaming, 16-year-old Bill Clinton on a
sun-drenched White House lawn, shaking the hand of his and
his generation’s idol, John F. Kennedy." With Clinton’s
victory, Newsweek declared, "the footage rises from mere
advertising to the realm of prophetic history. For it
documents JFK reaching across the years to a boy he did not
know — and to whom the torch of leadership now passes in an
emphatic statement of America’s desire for change."
Camelot II became a media obsession. "Now the torch is
being passed to the generation that was touched and inspired
by Kennedy," Time magazine reported in mid-November
1992. "Indeed, the most memorable moment in the
convention video about the man from Hope was the scene of the
eager student being inspired by Kennedy’s anointing
It’s a sad commentary that so many journalists mouthed such
bunkum with straight faces — and that Americans didn’t
quickly laugh this grandiloquence out of the court of public
Clinton and his top aides kept
encouraging the JFK comparisons. And a lot of the press
seemed happy to oblige. When the former Arkansas governor
took his first extended holiday since moving into the White
House, he went to the stretch of New England coastline made
famous by John Kennedy. The vacation at Martha’s Vineyard
included several hours on a much- publicized luncheon cruise
with a yacht-load of Kennedys.
The New York Times coverage was typical on Aug. 25, 1993:
"Thirty years ago, Bill Clinton the boy stood staring at
John F. Kennedy, his hero, in the White House Rose Garden.
Today, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and other members of the
family welcomed Bill Clinton the president to the seas off
the Massachusetts coast that his murdered predecessor loved
But analogies between Clinton and Kennedy faded from news
media during the mid-1990s. President Clinton did not live up
to the courageous JFK image. Ironically, neither did John
Kennedy. The real President Clinton bears quite a resemblance
to the real President Kennedy — beholden to economic elites,
unwilling to cross big business or challenge the Pentagon.
After eight years in the White House, President Dwight
Eisenhower delivered his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961.
The ex-general warned of "an immense military
establishment and a large arms industry." He added that
"we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted
influence, whether sought or unsought, by the
Like his hero JFK, Clinton shrugged off such concerns –
preferring to remain firmly in the pocket of the military-
industrial complex. In that regard, as in many others,
Clinton’s presidency has been no profile in courage.
These days, few journalists are comparing Bill Clinton to
John Kennedy. That particular canard has worn out its
welcome. But in medialand, the focus remains on personal
styles and inside-the-Beltway maneuvers. Newer glib notions
replace the cliches that have gone out of fashion. Of course,
everyone knows that politicians try to feed contrived images
to the media. But many journalists act as though it’s their
job to swallow the hype — and prompt the public to do the
Americans have long been skeptical — even scathing — about
elected officials in Washington. "Fleas can be taught
nearly anything that a congressman can," Mark Twain
commented. In 1897, he wrote: "It could probably be
shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native
American criminal class except Congress."
But rather than just condemning politicians as a group — or
praising one of them as the bearer of a heroic torch — we
would do much better to scrutinize exactly whose interests
they are serving. That way, we’ll be far less likely to fall
for the next media myths.
If Today’s Media Covered Past Eras
Have you ever wondered how
today’s news media would have covered historic events of
earlier eras? If current types of journalism were in place
generations ago, the coverage might have gone something like
"CBS Evening News," Spring 1913.
DAN RATHER: "Tensions are high in the nation’s capital
tonight, hours after a militant march down Pennsylvania
Avenue by suffragettes. Police say 3,000 ladies were there.
Protest leaders claim twice that number. For some
perspective, we turn now to CBS news analyst Laura
LAURA INGRAHAM: "Dan, anyone watching the march had to
be concerned about the polarization of America. Gender
conflict is on the rise. What’s next? Refusal to wear
corsets? Brassiere burning? Female lawyers? The latest
fashion statements are coming from feminists with an
anti-male agenda. It’s as though men can’t do anything
RATHER: "But what about the idea that women should have
the right to vote, just like men?"
INGRAHAM: "Sounds like some kind of envy to me, Dan.
Those of us who are secure in our womanhood don’t make these
demands. We may not like the results of the male electorate,
but it’s the height of elitist arrogance to assume that other
voters could do any better."
ABC’s "This Week," March 1933.
SAM DONALDSON: "A new president — in a wheelchair no
less – – entering the White House after a landslide. How’s
this going to play out? Cokie?"
COKIE ROBERTS: "Sam, it’s important that our new
president avoid doing anything rash. Let’s remember, he
wisely campaigned on a moderate platform. Now, as usual, some
Democrats want to push him to the left. It would be political
GEORGE WILL: "The leveling impulse has always been a
hazard to democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out a
century ago. He warned that Americans were overly enamored
with equality, which can only lead to the tyranny of the mob.
Right now, I fear for this republic."
DONALDSON: "George, surely you’re not saying Franklin
Roosevelt is dangerous. I mean –"
WILL: "Time will tell. There’s talk of a federal social-
security program. And unemployment insurance. The kind of
welfare-state mentality that undermines family values and
frays the moral fabric of the free-enterprise system."
ROBERTS: "But I’m convinced cooler heads will prevail.
That’s the word on Capitol Hill."
Headlines, July 1946.
PEOPLE MAGAZINE: "Bob Oppenheimer, the Sexy Brain Behind
the Bomb Tests"
WALL STREET JOURNAL: "Bikini A-Bomb Blasts Encourage
USA TODAY: "We’re Happy About Atomic Weapons!"
ABC’s "20/20," September 1957.
HUGH DOWNS: "It’s not so easy being a governor these
days. Is it, Barbara?"
BARBARA WALTERS: "Certainly not if your name is Orval
Faubus. I visited him yesterday at the governor’s mansion in
Little Rock. He was kind and charming. But his life has been
quite stressful with all the well-publicized controversy
about integration at Central High School. Next: a look inside
the private life of the governor of Arkansas, a gentle man in
a difficult time."
"The McLaughlin Group," April 1963.
FRED BARNES: "This kind of lawlessness can’t be
tolerated. It’s outrageous."
MORTON KONDRACKE: "A big publicity stunt, that’s what
we’re seeing. Some of my gullible colleagues in the press
corps are falling for this smear campaign against the city of
Birmingham, the state of Alabama and the United States of
America. These demonstrations give comfort to our country’s
PATRICK BUCHANAN: "The protesters say they want `civil
rights.’ What a laugh. They want special rights. If the media
would ignore these troublemakers, we’d have some racial
tranquility in America. The police measures have been
JACK GERMOND: "Gosh, I can’t agree with that. Maybe the
fire hoses are necessary. But using attack dogs on those
young demonstrators seems too extreme."
JOHN McLAUGHLIN: "Jack, is that the bleating sound of a
KONDRACKE: "Ha ha."
BARNES: "Ha ha."
How Bush Got A Golden Parachute From Moon
When George Bush jumped out of an airplane last spring, his
sky-diving feat was big news. But this country’s media
outlets have failed to inform the public about far more
important activities by the former president.
Last November, four months before his leap with a parachute,
Bush traveled to South America — where he provided a major
boost for the launch of a newspaper that belongs to the Rev.
Sun Myung Moon.
Since leaving the White House, Bush has been quite helpful to
Moon. However, the news media have lacked curiosity about
Bush’s ties to the shadowy power-broker who heads the
Unification Church. Moon’s global empire combines cult-like
authority over "Moonies" with extensive media
"President Bush has no relationship with Rev. Moon or
the Unification Church," Bush spokesman Jim McGrath
assured me in a recent interview. But the facts tell a very
On Nov. 23, 1996, Bush walked to the podium at the Sheraton
Hotel in Buenos Aires and delivered a speech to 900 guests
invited by Moon to celebrate the opening of his regional
daily paper, Tiempos del Mundo. As Moon beamed a few feet
away, Bush lauded his host.
"I want to salute Rev. Moon, who is the founder of The
Washington Times and also of Tiempos del Mundo," Bush
said. He praised the Washington newspaper for fostering
"sanity" — and added that Moon’s new paper in
Argentina "is going to do the same thing."
The 15-year-old Washington Times doesn’t rank among the top
100 U.S. dailies in terms of circulation. Yet, financed by
the Unification Church’s deep pockets, it wields enormous
influence in the nation’s capital. Elevating innuendo into
"news," the paper excels at smearing liberals and
During the last couple of years, Bush has spoken at high-
profile Moon events on three continents. He went to Asia in
September 1995, giving several speeches for a group led by
Moon’s wife, Hak Ja Han Moon. In Tokyo, Bush addressed a
gathering of 50,000 Moon followers. Ten months later, in
Washington, Bush spoke at a Moon-sponsored conference.
Instead of growing, press attention to the Bush-Moon links
has gone from scant to almost non-existent. Bush’s role in
Buenos Aires last fall barely got reported in the United
But this month, former Newsweek correspondent Robert Parry
will shine some light with an extensive report, "The
Dark Side of Rev. Moon." It’s about to appear in I.F.
Magazine, a new periodical named in memory of the late
journalists I.F. Stone and George Seldes (the editor of the
muckraking newsletter In Fact).
A few samples of Parry’s findings:
Prior to the premiere of Tiempos del Mundo, much of the Latin
American press was hostile to the newspaper project. But
Bush’s ringing endorsement allayed some concerns about Moon’s
ownership. In the words of a Unification Church bulletin,
"Mr. Bush’s presence as keynote speaker gave the event
Although Bush won’t disclose how much money he has received
from Moon-affiliated organizations, Parry reports that
"estimates of Bush’s fee for the Buenos Aires
appearances alone ran between $100,000 and $500,000. Sources
close to the Unification Church have put the total Bush-Moon
package in the millions." According to one source,
Bush’s net could be as high as $10 million.
Bush’s lucrative courtship of Moon may help the ex- president
to lay groundwork for his son George W. Bush, the current
governor of Texas, who is expected to run for the next
Republican presidential nomination.
"A silent testimony to Moon’s clout," Parry writes,
"is the fact that his vast spending of billions of
dollars in secretive Asian money to influence U.S. politics
— spanning nearly a quarter-century — has gone virtually
unmentioned amid the current controversy over Asian donations
to U.S. politicians."
What Moon seeks to accomplish with his riches is chilling to
consider. As Frederick Clarkson’s book "Eternal
Hostility" explains, Unification Church operatives
"have been close to neo- fascist movements all over the
Here in the United States, it remains to be seen whether the
national media will finally focus on the Rev. Sun Myung Moon
and his tacit alliance with George Bush.
(If you’d like to read Robert Parry’s full report on the
subject, you can subscribe to I.F. Magazine by calling
1-800-738- 1812 or visiting the web site at
An important question about American journalism hovers in the
air: Who’s afraid of the Rev. Moon?