Jack Ryan watched his young career as a Senate candidate go up in smoke because the Chicago Tribune sued to bust the seal on his divorce papers from his wife, "Star Trek" actress Jeri Lynn Ryan. In the papers, Mrs. Ryan asserted that her husband pressured her to have sex with him in public in swinging sex clubs. Republicans wanted him gone. He had lied to conservative journalists and GOP supporters alike when he said there were no potential skeletons in his closet. Republicans wouldn't stand for that.
Bill Clinton now claims a "badge of honor" because independent counsel Kenneth Starr made an impeachment referral to the House of Representatives alleging he had lied under oath and obstructed justice. President Clinton had not only denied having sexual relations with intern Monica Lewinsky. Skeptical lawyers even pressed him further to define these relations as touching her erogenous zones with an intent to arouse or gratify. He denied all that. Democrats not only stood for these ridiculous perjuries. They cheered him as his job approval ratings soared.
If that wasn't bad enough, before the Senate's impeachment trial was completed, Juanita Broaddrick came forward to journalists to charge, after years of denials, that President Clinton had raped her. NBC sat on their Lisa Myers story until the Senate pulled the plug on its trial. Two weeks later, the coast was clear, and the show hit the airwaves. While journalists quickly jumped on Ryan recently to bring him down for charges of unpleasant propositioning of his own wife, back then they sat around pulling their chins on the rape charge. Who was wimpier than ... the Chicago Tribune, the litigating swashbucklers -- dare I say it, the Kenneth Starr equivalents -- of the Ryan case?
Clinton responded to Sam Donaldson's Broaddrick question by referring Sam to his lawyers -- not an outraged, I'll-bust-your-nose denial, but a very fishy-sounding referral to lawyers. On CNN, James Warren, the Tribune's Washington bureau chief, stammered that no one had wanted to follow up Sam's question because, well, that might have looked like political activism: "One of the things this White House has done politically is try to make the press an issue as much as the Republicans an issue, saying that we're trying to divert people away from the business that matters. We're part of the political calculation and the political strategy of this White House. Certainly, it's fair to say someone might have asked again, but it's also very clear the president was not going to answer." So give up. You don't want to look like a Republican.
The national press also showed a remarkable double standard on the Ryan story and betrayed their political activism. NBC's Tom Brokaw would not allow any story on Clinton rape allegations to soil his newscast, and he wouldn't even say the name "Juanita Broaddrick" on his show. But Brokaw was perfectly happy to introduce the Jack Ryan story on June 23, with reporter Kevin Tibbles leaning heavily on the juiciest allegations (he wanted to take the wife to "a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling") and calls for Ryan to quit from Republicans and newspapers alike.
The double standards really sting when elections are on the line. In October 1992, when Illinois Senate candidate Carol Moseley Braun was closing in on her victory, NBC reporters sat on her potentially damaging scandal, as the New Republic reported in 1993. Reporter Paul Hogan of NBC-owned Chicago station WMAQ obtained a letter from Moseley Braun to her mother suggesting she was trying to defraud Illinois Medicaid authorities. Since the candidate knew Hogan was on to something, she would not answer his questions, so NBC reporter Bob Kur asked, and she did not deny writing the letter.
The New Republic reported that her campaign manager, Gerald Austin, talked Hogan out of reporting the story, pleading he would destroy the woman, and more importantly, the liberal cause: "If you go with the story, she loses, and you're responsible for denying the first African-American woman the chance to go to the U.S. Senate." Austin feared she'd be indicted, not elected. Hogan spiked it, and so did Kur and NBC. Anyone who watched NBC's enthusiasm to air the Jack Ryan story to push Ryan out of the race and clear the way for another black Democratic Senator, candidate Barack Obama, can see the liberal activism surging into the headlines again.
In the end, no Republican wanted to have a Jack Ryan to defend. No one wanted to sound like Clintonistas excusing reckless libidos. But the Ryan case showed once again that our largest media outlets don't believe in balance or fairness. They don't believe in getting to the bottom of each and every sexual allegation, even rape charges. They believe in winning.