In a much anticipated role reversal, Kenneth Starr found himself in the hot seat before the US House Judiciary Committee, but was able to remain cool. By the next morning, newspapers around the country were assessing his performance, declaring that the Independent Counsel had presented himself as a polished professional, but probably did not succeed at changing the minds of most Americans.
According to media reports, the American public appeared to be less than overwhelmed by the daylong testimony. A primary focus of the headlines was the lack of interest among the public. For example, The Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier declared 'Starr's testimony yields yawns, droopy eyelids.' Other papers noted that many, if not most citizens were more interested in watching their daily soap operas or Jerry Springer than the hearing.
But whether or not the public was interested in the hearing, they were confronted with headline coverage of the event in the days immediately following. These headlines provided for many Americans their first impression of the hearing.
The media primarily portrayed the hearing as a partisan battle between the Democrats and the Independent Counsel. The Democrats were portrayed as 'attacking' and 'firing away' at Starr. This was often presented as the goal of the minority party. The New York Post expressed this sentiment in offering its view of the hearing: 'Dems set out to tarnish Starr: Prober hangs tough in face of attacks.'
Many headlines noted Starr was calm and cool in the face of the Democratic assault. Nearly one-quarter of the headlines analyzed stated that Starr gave a steady, solid performance. A number of headlines also stated or implied that this strong performance had done much to improve Starr's personal image with the public.
Despite the fact that the Independent Counsel's performance was generally received favorably, a significant number of articles announced that Starr's appearance before the committee was not likely to increase the chances of impeachment. New York Newsday claimed, 'Falling Starr: It was the Independent Prosecutor's big moment, and he failed to strengthen his case.'
Others considered the testimony downright boring. An opinion piece in the Columbus, Ohio Dispatch on November 22 by Sandy Grady ran under the headline: 'Ken Starr's main event was a colossal snoozer.'
While Starr probably had a mixed reaction to the initial coverage, he could not have been pleased with subsequent newspaper headlines trumpeting the resignation of Sam Dash, the Independent Counsel's ethics adviser.
The resignation, the media explained, was triggered by the testimony given at the hearing, making an already controversial situation worse.
If the headlines following his testimony are any indication, Starr did not scale any new heights. While he did not alienate anyone, he didn't dazzle them either.
This and his adviser's resignation a few days later may play a large role in the impeachment hearings during the next few weeks.
- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www. carma.com.