Fox Exposes the Clintons in the Scandalous Series
The excellent 7-part Fox News documentary series Scandalous, covering the scandals of the Clintons through the 42nd president’s impeachment trial in 1999, continues tonight with the premiere of part 2, “A Woman Called Paula.” The hour-long program airs at 8 P.M. E.T./P.T. At 7 P.M., part 1, “Up Crooked Creek” about the Whitewater scandal, which originally aired last Sunday, will be reprised.
Fox hopes that Scandalous will be an ongoing series devoted to various political scandals in American history. The first 7 parts, devoted to the Clintons, total 280 minutes of content and go a long way towards helping to correct the largely sanitized and whitewashed record of Bill Clinton’s scandal-ridden career and presidency. Since he left office on January 20, 2001, the mainstream media, to my knowledge, has never attempted any serious appraisals of the underside of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s eight years in the White House and their earlier careers in Arkansas. The only exception was the PBS American Experience 2-part, 4-hour presidents’ series episode about Clinton which aired most recently in 2012. It covered Bill and Hillary’s entire career with only a minor focus on the scandals. Like most MSM appraisals of the Clintons, it reinforced the gauzy, airbrushed history of the 1990s, which witnessed the pumped up Internet dot com surge that helped to propel the temporary economic boomlet before the bubble started to burst in 2000, Bill Clinton’s last full year in office.
The universally positive mainstream media appraisals of Bill Clinton’s tenure as president -- his 1999 impeachment trial notwithstanding -- helped him to achieve a 66% approval rating when he left office in 2001 and strong approval ratings in subsequent years (until recently) as an ex-president.
Scandalous is off to a good start. Part 1 aired twice last Sunday and earned very strong ratings, with the show beating its competition on CNN and MSNBC in the Nielsen ratings by a wide margin in both total viewers (40+% more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined in the 8 P.M. hour) and the age 25-54 demographic. CNN has also had good ratings luck with its documentaries in recent years, including multi-part series devoted to the decades of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. In my opinion, Fox News’ efforts with Scandalous represent a more serious and balanced appraisal of its subject than CNN’s hagiographic and one-sided take on recent decades, especially their excesses. (In reviewing CNN’s "The Nineties," Salon -- usually a friend of CNN -- opined that the series was “empty nostalgia for a decade we should let die.”)
Part 2 of Scandalous, “A Woman Called Paula,” focuses on the Paula Jones affair, which was investigated by the Special Prosecutor appointed to look into the Clintons’ involvement in the corrupt Whitewater, Arkansas land deal while Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas. According to an article about the episode at Fox News’ Web site, “A Woman Called Paula”
follows Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against former President Bill Clinton and the high-stakes political drama that ensued.
Jones alleged that then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton propositioned her and exposed himself at a conference in Little Rock in 1991. He denied the allegation.
“She was a woman that really just wanted to have her good name cleared. All she wanted was an apology,” said Joseph Cammarata, who represented Jones.
When that didn't happen, they filed a lawsuit, eventually reaching a $850,000 settlement with Clinton in 1999.
Although its critics on the left insist that Fox News, which they often refer to as “Faux News,” is anything but “fair and balanced” (its original motto), recent studies have concluded that its news coverage is in fact the most objective of the mainstream cable/satellite and broadcast media. Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, for example, in its analysis of media reporting on President Trump’s first 100 days, found that the broadcast networks and cable television news channels’ coverage of Trump was 90+% negative. The sole exception was Fox News, whose reporting on President Trump was slightly more negative than positive (52 to 48%) and was therefore the closest of all media studied to being balanced.
Part 1 of Scandalous represented a serious effort to reconstruct past events, using archival video clips interspersed with new interviews with many of the principals in the story, some of them speaking on camera and on the record for the first time. Hopefully, the strong ratings so far for the series, like CNN’s success with its multi-part documentaries, will breathe new life into television documentaries which in the past were a mainstay of the broadcast networks but have all but disappeared in recent years, except for PBS.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture. In addition to his writing, Peter has appeared as a guest commentator on NBC; PBS; the CBC; and, on January 4, 2018, the BBC. For announcements and links to a wide selection of Peter's published work, follow him on Twitter at @pchowka.