By Chris Bubeck and Daniel Valentine
On campuses across the country, the Monica Lewinsky affair is forcing college newspapers to grapple with coverage of what is alternately described as “the story of our lives” and “American journalism at its worst.”
At Lewinsky’s alma mater, the Pioneer Log reported disdainfully on the “media frenzy” at Lewis & Clark College after reports that the former White House intern may have had a sexual relationship with President Clinton.
It is a frenzy for which the editors of the weekly student newspaper have little enthusiasm.
“We don’t really appreciate that,” said Judy Zawatzky, the Pioneer Log’s commentary editor, of the media swarm that cornered students, tied up telephone lines and grilled faculty members.
The paper wrote briefly about Lewinsky’s time at the Portland, Ore., college and planned an editorial Friday about the incident and the media.
Across the country, meanwhile, editors at George Washington University’s student newspaper were eager to jump into the Lewinsky affair.
Like a number of college newspapers, the GW Hatchet was scrapping for its own piece of a national story. It touted an “exclusive interview” with an adjunct professor who knew both Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, the woman who reported the sex charges, from the time the three of them worked at the Pentagon.
And campus papers that could not find someone with links to the incident were publishing student and faculty reactions, sometimes reluctantly.
“We didn’t want to cover it at first,” said Steve Kiehl, campus editor for the Daily Northwestern at Northwestern University. “I didn’t feel we could contribute anything substantial.”
But the paper changed its stance Tuesday, printing a story about campus reactions to the allegations.
The editorial staff of the Columbia University Daily Spectator spent nearly two hours last Sunday morning deciding what stance to take, said Editor in Chief Eli Sanders. They finally decided to urge a responsible review of the issue that looks beyond the titillating allegations.
“Particularly because of the sensational and sensitive nature of this case, American citizens have a responsibility to examine the unfolding events critically, and to develop a well- informed opinion,” the editorial cautioned.
At Clinton’s alma mater, the Yale Herald took a decidedly stronger stand, calling Friday for the president’s impeachment as a result of the latest charges. Herald Executive Editor Sumit De said the weekly newspaper has not covered the breaking news, instead running “a bunch of editorials.”
The student paper at Wellesley College, which first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton attended, does not resume publication until next month.
At Stanford University, a campus editor said her paper will continue the hands-off policy it adopted toward first daughter Chelsea Clinton when she enrolled at the school last fall.
The Stanford Daily has run wire stories and published editorials about the incident, but Editor in Chief Carolyn Sleeth said, “We’re not covering the Chelsea angle.”
She said Chelsea’s case is not unique: Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s son, T.J., is on the newspaper’s staff. But Sleeth said she would no more involve Chelsea in the Lewinsky story than she would pull T.J. Babbitt into stories about his father.
But while the Stanford Daily keeps the Lewinsky story at arm’s length, other colleges are doing their best to bring it home. Many did so by tracking down current or former White House interns.
“There a lot of interns from D.C. schools,” said Steve Lott, managing editor for the American University Eagle. “We’re going to interview them to see if anybody met (Lewinsky) in the past.”
At the University of Georgia, reporters for the Red and Black found graduate student Alison Bracewell, a former White House intern who worked with Lewinsky in the fall of 1995.
While Bracewell told the paper that Lewinsky could have had access to the president because of her job, she said she and Lewinsky never discussed anything outside the office.
“We’ve just been trying to get a local angle,” said Ty Brown, associate news editor for the Red and Black.
For its angle, the GW Hatchet turned to William Blacklow, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
Blacklow said he spoke daily to Lewinsky at the Pentagon, where he was Tripp’s immediate supervisor. He told the Hatchet that the two were “like a big sister and little sister” and he thought their friendship was genuine.
“I read the paper and I begin to wonder whether I really know her [Lewinsky] at all,” Blacklow said in the interview.
Howard University’s Hilltop plans to profile Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan, a trustee of the university who has been accused of trying to get Lewinsky to lie about her relationship with the president.
“We haven’t covered it yet,” said Hilltop Editor in Chief Natalie Moore. “Doing something on Vernon Jordan is more interesting because he’s on the board of trustees, and as a student, I’d like to know more about him.”
Editorial reaction, meanwhile, ranged from defense of the president to disgust with the media.
At Lewis & Clark, students cheered a rally where organizers lectured the media “about getting their priorities straight,” the Pioneer Log reported Friday. It also said fed-up students had resorted to making up outlandish stories about Lewinsky or giving nonsensical answers to reporter.
But Josh Massey, a columnist for the Red and Black, wrote Tuesday that “Clinton’s latest scandal has all the earmarks of being the story of our lives.
“Over the last 20 years, the presidency has lost much of its luster, and a constant cloud of skepticism has hung over it. But nothing, up until now, has had a chance at breaking its back,” he wrote.
Some took jabs at the president as “the First Swinger” or dubbed the latest charges “Zippergate.”
“I think the most important question is this,” wrote a columnist for the Hatchet. “When the going gets tough, and the media starts to close in on President Clinton, who is going to drive the White Bronco down I-95 at 50 mph?”
Others saw no humor in the situation.
“It’s seeing American journalism at its worst,” said George Kennedy, managing editor at the Columbia Missourian, a local paper published by the University of Missouri journalism department. The Missourian has been covering the event through wire stories.
And while American University’s Eagle has not released a staff editorial, managing editor Lott has his own opinions.
“I think he’s in big trouble,” Lott said. “If there’s one small kernel of truth to these allegations, it’ll be a dark mark on his presidency.”
-30- URLS FOR STUDENT PAPERS: Columbia Daily Spectator http://www.columbia.edu/cu/spectator University of Georgia – Red & Black http://www.redandblack.com Lewis & Clark University Pioneer Log http://www.lclark.edu/~piolog University of Missouri – Digital Missourian http://digmo.org/ George Washington University – The Hatchet http://www.gwhatchet.com/ Northwestern University – Daily Northwestern http://www.dailynorthwestern.com Stanford University – The Stanford Daily http://daily.stanford.org Howard University – The Hilltop http://hilltop.howard.edu Yale University – The Yale Herald www.yale.edu/herald/