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Dick Morris manipulated sleazy side of press.

If we had any doubts about who's increasingly calling the shots for media sleaze, we got more evidence in recent days. Money-grubbing hands are at the helm, and the corporate bottom line is on top.

Surprised? We shouldn't be. We're slouching toward an ever-lower standard of paid news sourcing, with the supermarket tabs thumping the tubs, whether we like it or not. It's "monkey business" for a price.

(Part of the problem, of course, is us - the sleaze-hungry readers among us.)

Dick Morris, top campaign adviser to President Bill Clinton, beds down with a prostitute who then listens in on his White House calls and who then gets paid by the tabloids to kiss and tell.

Then Morris, the major media manipulator of the moment, comes out of seclusion to answer questions at a private breakfast.

Where? In the offices of The New Yorker magazine with - guess who - the magazine's advertisers!

That's odd. Until you read further that the magazine's editor, Tina Brown, is married to Harold Evans, head of Random House publishers, which had recently given Morris a $2.5 million contract to write a book.

And Random House and The New Yorker are jointly owned by Advance Publications. The breakfast was an advertising promotion for a coming New Yorker issue on politics.

What did Morris tell them? We're not really sure. Reporters were barred, except for a handful, mostly magazine staffers.

Morris did say in an impromptu sidewalk encounter with newsmen that "I think one has a duty to share one's experiences with the public."

But he wasn't talking about his experiences in bed, he meant his work as President Clinton's political bedfellow and campaign guru.

The Riverfont Times story recounting this event said magazine staffers had reported that Morris minimized his sexual affairs, saying "the American public no longer cares about such things," and "you journalists are the prudes in this country."

What a twist! Those sleazy, unethical, muckraking journalists the public is said to love to hate are actually prudes!

Which is worse - to be a prude, or a media specialist in bed with a magazine's advertisers, a book publisher and a prostitute all rolled into one?

Incidentally, The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik picked up on Morris's idea, writing in the magazine's next issue that "the people in the American media who make a fuss about scandals are a lot more puritanical than the ordinary people who vote for the politicians."

That's a switch. In my day, I've known a good many in-the-trenches reporters who would hoot at that!

Maybe they're not prudish enough, considering the lack of restraints we're seeing in the sensationalist tabs and elsewhere.

Eyebrow-raising headlines: "Breast Cancer Drug Study Needs Fewer Volunteers," (Post, Sept. 12).

Question: If they've got too many volunteers, why can't some of them "just say no" and go home? Answer: Happily, the news was that a cancer research study was going to test fewer people and therefore could be done quicker than expected.

Oh.

Another: "Damaged Gene At Fault in Cancer." (Post, Sept. 3).

Hooray! The missing link, right? No, the news was only that researchers had found more evidence that a damaged gene may be at fault in some skin cancers. The gene in question was damaged in 12 of 37 tumors studied, the Associated Press reported.

Many medicos fault the media for overstating or oversimplifying such research findings. Best for the media to hedge the bet.

Islands in a sea of type: It has long been a no-no for a big city newspaper to sell an advertiser a so-called island position. That's when the ad gets surrounded by news matter, not stacked up from the bottom of the page in the traditional way.

But in recent months you've seen several ads in island positions in the Post's financial pages. If you're hunting for a particular stock or mutual fund quotation, as I do daily, you've been jumping up and down to find your stock or fund listing.

The paper charges a higher ad rate for this, but such preferential positioning can only be distracting for the reader - an unnecessary annoyance.

It's not first-class journalism.

Debate about the debates: American traditions for politics, like journalism, evolve right before our bleary eyes, now more rapidly than ever. Change is the 1990s watchword. Accepted practices become so well-honed that we constantly get something new - and, we hope, better.

The 1992 conventions were so dull they became even duller this year despite - or because of - efforts to make them seem livelier. Media events staged merely for effect.

Presidential debates fall into that category, too. Plans for the debates have been hotly debated this year, just as if they were hugely significant in determining the next president.

It's my hunch that American voters have ceased to find them meaningful and have chosen a favorite candidate long before the debates begin, thanks to all the saturated media coverage.

Remember the 1992 debates? They were scripted events, With questions preplanned before the questions were posed, rather than free-for-alls on the issues.

Such political events give us only what the candidates want us to hear (Dick Morris can fill us in on that!), because getting elected - like Vince Lombardi's winning - is the only thing.

I say let's get rid of the debates as we know them. Let's have a candidates' donnybrook, where they ask one another the questions, letting us see some of their real expertise and personality.

"The Capital Gang" format could help us out here.

Oops! I gave you a wrong e-mail address in my previous column. If you have a complaint or question about the media, you can reach me through the St. Louis Journalism Review, 407 East Lockwood, Room 414, St. Louis 63119 (phone 968-5905).

E-mail me at ombuds@aol.com and I'll respond.

Larry Fiquette is the former Reader's Advocate for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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Title Annotation:political consultant
Author:Fiquette, Larry
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Date:Oct 1, 1996
Words:976
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