Clinton split may be just another media bust-up

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The Independent Online
WHO SAID it was all over? President Bill Clinton may have survived his impeachment ordeal, and Monica Lewinsky may have left for England - if only temporarily - but wait: Hillary Clinton has decided enough is enough with all this infidelity and is ready to leave the President ... perhaps.

For a brief moment yesterday it seemed as if the big puzzle of the First Couple's marriage had been resolved. One tabloid newspaper, one television cable channel and one well-known Internet sleuth were all reporting it: the First Lady had finally read the riot act to her husband. She could not stand being with him.

The details were compelling. Remember how last week the Clintons returned from a skiing weekend in Utah a day early? That was because of a huge row that ended with Mrs Clinton storming out of their vacation accommodation demanding that her staff pack her bags for the return journey to Washington.

And remember the excuse given for her deciding not to accompany her husband on his trip this week to Central America - the back strain that was exacerbated by skiing? Baloney. The truth now: Hillary Clinton had at last done what most wives would have done aeons ago: she had blown her stack.

"CHILLARY", exclaimed the front page of yesterday's New York Post newspaper. The bust-up, it informed readers, was precipitated by the post-Monica claims from Juanita Broaddrick. An Arkansas businesswoman, she says she was raped 21 years ago in Arkansas by the then attorney-general Bill Clinton.

The Post offered this irresistible quote, direct from the First Lady herself: "I don't want to be in the same room with him, let alone the same bed." It then attributed the quote to a "TV news report". Nobody yesterday could sensibly judge the veracity of the story. The White House rubbished it, but possibly it is true.

However, there were reasons why no other news organisation touched it, including the sourcing of the information. There was not any. The television news report said that those seemingly explosive words from the lips of Mrs Clinton had in fact been relayed by others - "sources close" to her.

The television station in question, meanwhile, turned out to be Fox News Channel, the fledgling all-news-all-of-the-time endeavour launched by Rupert Murdoch, who happens to own the New York Post. The Internet sleuth is Matt Drudge, who also offers a version of the story on his now infamous web page. And where does Mr Drudge appear regularly as a commentator? The Fox News Channel.

Behind this story is a furious battle between the three 24-hour news channels, Fox, MSNBC - owned by NBC Microsoft - and CNN. All have seen their ratings nosedive since the end of Monicagate and the impeachment trial. Fox, however, is seen by some as best placed to regain its footing and for one reason - political attitude. It is unabashedly conservative and anti-Clinton.

Just this week, Fox unveiled a $4m (pounds 2.5m) promotion campaign for its news channel. On Monday, meanwhile, it received heartening news. For the first time, it had overtaken MSNBC in the daily viewership figures. If Fox sees the chance to slip past its rival in the battle for households, what better story than this to give it a turbo-boost?

And who, after all, will be able to prove them wrong? "Hillary and Bill Deeply in Love Again". Now that would be a story.

Deborah Orr,

Review, page 5