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HOWARD ROSENBERG / TELEVISION

Glass-House Gang's Rocks Off Target

June 02, 1997|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Thank you for coming.

I have called this press conference to announce my position on Susan Molinari, the Republican congresswoman from New York who is leaving office Aug. 1 to join the "liberal media." As you've heard, Molinari has been hired by CBS to anchor "CBS News Saturday Morning," coming Sept. 13 as an extension of the network's regular weekday morning program.

After a brief opening statement, I will take your questions.

Molinari is a four-term congresswoman whose husband is GOP Rep. Bill Paxon of New York. Her family has dominated Republican politics on Staten Island for years, and her father, Guy Molinari, a former GOP congressman, is now that borough's president.

Her career shift has badly shaken those deeply concerned about the purity of journalism. Can she be at once a die-hard Republican and an objective journalist? Will her new TV prominence give her an unfair advantage should she later decide to run again for office, something she has not ruled out?

As someone who is also concerned, I hope that Molinari, in her new job as a CBS News journalist, will be able to remain separate from the political process. As separate, for example, as ABC's Barbara Walters was last January when she was the guest of Sen. John Warner, the Virginia Republican, at President Clinton's inaugural.

You might recall that Warner was chairman of the inaugural committee, and that Walters--a superstar of ABC News--traveled to the White House with him in his limo and later sat in the VIP area of the podium a few feet from Clinton and Vice President Al Gore as they were given their oaths of office. And you might remember, also, that she later acted as unofficial greeter at the traditional post-inaugural luncheon, and kissed Gore before being seated at the head table beside House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the wives of the president and vice president.

Let's hope that Molinari can maintain as much separation of press and state.

Dan Rather: Is that sarcasm?

Yes, Dan, it is. I just don't understand all the hand-wringing in some quarters about Molinari becoming a news anchor.

Barbara Walters: Aren't you worried that Molinari's hiring blurs the line between politics and media?

What line? I mean, puleeeeze! Were you worried about blurred lines when you cozied up to all those government VIPs on inauguration day, in another example of celebrity news media moving in the same circles as newsmakers? It's a little late to be fretting about blurred lines when the lines in many cases are no longer visible.

Larry King: Are you referring to me here? I hope not, because, as I've said many times, I'm not a journalist.

No argument. But you wear the journalist's mantle when you interview newsmaker guests on your CNN talk show. And yes, Larry, you are one of those I'm referring to when it comes to cozying up. Surely you recall the PBS documentary featuring satellite footage of you, during a commercial break on your show in 1992, pitching yourself to your guest, Gore, as moderator for a candidate's forum during that year's presidential campaign?

King: Oh, that.

Can anyone trust you when you're trying to make private deals with the person you're interviewing?

Al Hunt: What a load!

I don't believe that was a question, Al, but I'll respond anyway. I'm not aware of anyone accusing you of crossing the line at your long-time employer, the Wall Street Journal. But look at that loopy panel show you host, "The Capital Gang," where you and your fellow celebrity journalists maintain a chummy first-name intimacy on the air with your congressional guests. It symbolizes media bedding down with politicians, with the shared interest of putting on a good show.

Hunt: We're just trying to make our guests comfortable.

Are you a journalist or a maitre d'?

Katie Couric: You're avoiding the central issue of Susan Molinari. How can someone who gave the keynote address at the Republican National Convention ever conduct a tough interview with Gingrich?

Well, if she can't, she'll be in sync with most other TV news interviewers, you being one of the few exceptions, Katie. How could she be more inept than the majority of your colleagues?

Tom Brokaw: But aren't you concerned that making Molinari a news anchor--she has no experience as a journalist--puts too much emphasis in TV news on the personality?

I take it you mean the kind of personality worship that's existed throughout TV news for about three decades. The kind that's reflected in the reported $7 million-a-year standing offer you have at CNN, whose present No. 1 anchor, Bernard Shaw, is said to earn much, much less. Your face and persona are what attracted CNN, Tom, not your reputation as a journalist.

Bernard Shaw: Amen!

Was that a question, Bernie?

Shaw: No, just clearing my throat.

Peter Jennings: What's to stop Susan Molinari from exploiting her increased celebrity as a CBS anchor to resume politics and run for office?

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