Clinton, Jackson issue denials, badly

December 23, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

This is what national affairs reporting has come to on TV news.

There's President Clinton on CNN one minute, his voice breaking, saying the allegations that he had sexual relations with several women other than his wife while governor of Arkansas are "outrageous."

One commercial for the Salad Shredder later, there's an emotional Michael Jackson on CNN, saying the allegations that he had sexual relations with a 13-year-old boy are "disgusting" and "totally false."

The president and the pop star -- broadcasting from Neverland East and Neverland West -- coming before us and declaring their innocence on the tube.

It's the newscast as TV soap opera.

If you think it's unfair to compare Clinton to someone like Jackson, I say save your false presidential piety for someone else. He who lives by the tube dies by the tube.

TV reduces everything it touches to show business and Nielsen ratings.

Clinton knew that when he put on the sunglasses, picked up his saxophone and headed off to Paramount Studios to win the White House by appearing on "Arsenio Hall."

So, let's judge the two by their TV performances yesterday. Clinton was awful in one way. Jackson was awful in another. There was too little Clinton and too much Jackson. Neither was in control of his TV image, and that could mean big trouble for them.

Clinton talked to radio reporters at a press conference. No cameras allowed.

As a result, what CNN's viewers saw was a still photograph of Clinton's face on one side of the screen and a silly drawing of a radio tower transmitting on the other side. Viewers heard Clinton's voice denying the charges.

The effect? Clinton came off as being afraid to face the cameras.

Jackson, on the other hand, paid for and controlled the satellite feed from his ranch in California.

Exactly at 3 p.m., CNN's Frank Cesno appeared to tell us that world news would be delayed so that they could bring us Michael Jackson. Think of that -- world news delayed for a satellite press release from a pop star.

Jackson told us how "terrible" the mass media are and detailed the "nightmare" of the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara police photographing his private parts.

He really lost it, though, when he waxed rhapsodic about his pure and altruistic enjoyment of "innocent" little children.

Maybe the best indication of how it all played on TV yesterday came from Jay Leno.

He opened the "Tonight Show" last night with the following analysis:

"Hey, did you guys see the Michael Jackson press conference today on TV? . . . He says he's innocent of all wrongdoing.

"Funny thing, later on in the day, President Clinton made the same speech, the exact same speech as Michael Jackson."

DO YOU BELIEVE HIM?

To vote on whether you believe Michael Jackson's televised claims of innocence in child molestation allegations, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; 836-5028 in Harford County; 848-0338 in Carroll County. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6191 after you hear the greeting.

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