Since the redacted Mueller report was released two weeks ago, TV journalists have been among the biggest advocates for impeaching President Trump. Yet curiously during the late 1990s, journalists were among the loudest voices against impeaching then-President Clinton.
Over the weekend immediately following the report’s release, CNN Newsroom host Fredricka Whitfield fretted that the Mueller investigation might all have been for naught if Democrats refused to move forward on impeachment. On April 20, she asked her panel: “If you don’t do it, then don’t you undermine all the resources put into putting the report together in the first place?”
Hardball host Chris Matthews on April 22 spent his opening monologue advocating that articles be filed immediately: “If they don’t impeach, Democrats will abdicate a clear constitutional chance to hold this President fully accountable.”
“Will he get away with it?” a perturbed-looking Don Lemon asked his audience on April 23. “The question is,” he continued, “will you let him get away with it?”
Yet media talking heads had the opposite reaction to impeachment when there was a Democrat in office. On December 9, 1998 – the night impeachment articles were first drafted by the House of Representatives – CNBC’s Geraldo Rivera imagined the Founding Fathers “must be turning in their graves, that a President of the United States is vulnerable to impeachment for this.”
Days later on the December 12 edition of The McLaughlin Group, Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift declared: “If the Republicans want to go ahead and do this, I think they disgrace themselves in a more profound way than President Clinton has, by abusing the machinery of impeachment.”
During CBS’s live coverage of the impeachment trial in January of 1999, anchor Dan Rather voiced the following criticism to former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), in the form of a barely-disguised question:
Is there or is there not some concern of the public, concern in some quarters — not all of them Democratic — that this is in fact a kind of effort at a quote, ‘coup’? That is, you have a twice-elected, popularly elected President of the United States, and so those that you mentioned in the Republican party — who dislike him and what he stands for — having been unable to beat him at the polls, have found another way to get him out of office?
In a way, the media’s behavior back then mirrors today’s coverage; they were activists then, and they’re activists now. The only difference is that during the 90s the President was a Democrat, and incidentally, the media were fiercely opposed to impeachment.