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Jewish World Review May 8, 2002 / 27 Iyar, 5762

Seth Gitell

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Consumer Reports

Hosting a TV show will keep Clinton off the streets | The question of media bias is again in the air, raised by the possibility that two of the leading political figures of the 1990s - President Bill Clinton and his former aide, George Stephanopoulos - may end up hosting their own TV talk shows. With the exception of Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, conservatives are mostly irate about both potential postings. It "really troubles me," said JWR's writer Lawrence Kudlow, quoted by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post. "It's not going to work because there's no balance."

Since both Clinton and Stephanopoulos are up for new jobs, I'll consider them separately. Clinton, it has now been confirmed, is in discussions with NBC for a new daytime television show. He wants $50 million a year for his trouble. Both admirers and detractors have voiced concern over the possibility that Bubba might end up on the small screen. It would tarnish the presidency, they say. These people are fuddy-duddies. Television represents the fusion of communication and entertainment, and, whatever you think of Clinton, he does both expertly. He's glib, emotive, randy, shallow, intelligent; in short, everything you want in a television host. Whether it's an Oprah-style audience-driven show or a highfalutin interview program in the Dick Cavett-Charlie Rose mold, Clinton's skills fit the bill. And if the former president uses his show to shed light on issues he cares about, that means he'll bring a modicum of substance to the masses. Even if he focuses on family woes, I'm confident that for the 55 minutes they're in his presence, his troubled guests will feel better.

Regarding Clinton's "reputation" or "legacy," a television show might be a step up for the former president. Hosting a show will keep him "off the street" - much like the many New Democratic after-school initiatives he proposed for teens. It should not be forgotten that one of Clinton's early role models was the roguish and sometimes charming James McDougal. Clinton looked up to what he believed was McDougal's skill at making money and his ability to "operate." Once, when I captured a glimpse of McDougal arriving at congressional Whitewater hearings with a buxom college student by his side, I thought, "There's Clinton's future." A job as a TV host might save Clinton from this fate.

As for Stephanopoulos, conservative fears about his new role as the host of ABC's This Week are overblown. Sure, Stephanopoulos is liberal. Most people in the press are. But he's also independent. That's why his relations with Clinton soured - or perhaps his critics forget that. Stephanopoulos is also one of the few political analysts around who uses his experience in politics to analyze the actions of public figures. When, for instance, he discusses the Middle East, he tries to explicate the domestic political pressures leaders influencing key figures such as Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon or Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu - something very few in the TV news business can do. Stephanopoulos is also a grind. Back when I lived in Washington, I liked to eat at an out-of-the way mom-and-pop Italian restaurant (owned by Pakistanis) that was decidedly unglamorous. You might catch a glimpse of some low-level functionary from a foreign embassy if you were lucky. One night, as I was polishing off my chicken marsala, I spotted Stephanopoulos dining alone, a stack of news articles and magazines in front of him. He was poring through every single one in preparation for one of his This Week appearances. Stephanopoulos will make a good host of This Week. To placate conservatives, ABC can always bring more right-leaning commentators into the panel of pundits at the end of the show.

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Seth Gitell