National media figures receive Neuharth Award Boccardi by David Lias What institution will be more damaged when the dust clears on the Clinton/Lewinsky saga — the press or the presidency?
That was the first question posed to Tim Russert, moderator of the NBC News interview program Meet the Press, during his visit to Vermillion last week to accept the Allen H. Neuharth Award.
He stepped up to the podium at a press conference held last Thursday afternoon and answered the question as honestly as he could.
"I don't know," Russert said. "I want to see what happens, and that is largely going to be up to the American people. The interesting thing about the press role in all of this is that when the story began in January, there was a lot of criticism of the press. As I look back on the past eight months, many of the things that the press was accused of getting wrong, they were exactly right."
Russert has reported on a variety of government-related issues during his 14-year tenure with NBC News.
He told the press conference, held on The University of South Dakota campus last week, that the Congress and the media may have to deal with one of the most somber issues they have ever faced in the history of the nation as the House Judiciary Committee soon begins its hearings on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.
Russert, who has served as moderator of Meet the Press since 1991, and Louis D. Boccardi, president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press, were in Vermillion Sept. 24 to receive the Allen H. Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism.
The annual awards were presented that evening in Theatre I of the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts on the university campus. Boccardi and Russert each received a unique sculpture and $10,000 honorarium.
"We can't cover this story from here on out from the perspective that we're going to prove that it is the presidency that he (Clinton) has damaged, and we're going to take care of the institution of the press," Boccardi said. "There's a big, important, potentially historic, maybe already historic moment passing here, and I think we have to do the fairest, most accurate job that we can, and I would submit that those adjectives apply in large measure to what's gone on since January."
Russert noted that earlier that day, Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House of Representatives would be voting on impeachment hearings before Oct. 9.
"That's a foregone conclusion. There will be impeachment hearings," Russert said. "As much as we hear that the public is not interested in the story, I must tell you that in terms of a program like Meet the Press, the number of people watching as opposed to a year ago is about 50 percent higher.
"There's a very deep interest amongst people in the future of this president and the future of this democracy," he added.
"You need to pay attention to news, and it needs to be read and watched intelligently," Boccardi said as he discussed the latest happenings on Capitol Hill. "You need to see it today in the context of what happened yesterday. As this story unfolds, you are going to have to watch the stitching from event to event, and press conference to press conference, and one of the things that's a bit frustrating to some of us is that not everyone is ready to do that."
Russert said he believes impeachment hearings will be held by the House of Representatives right after the November elections, and will go through November and December.
"Whether the House will formally vote on articles of impeachment is still an open question," Russert said. "If in fact articles of impeachment are approved by the House Judiciary Committee, then they will go to the House floor, then they will go to the Senate for a trial."
"You must read, you must read critically, you must learn to analyze how the writer did it," Boccardi said to the journalism students attending the press conference. "You must view television news with the same motive in mind, and finally, use your college years to learn as much as you can about just about anything."
He told the students that as young reporters or television news producers "you are going to be plopped on the street to cover just about anything. So read, look at news in all of its forms and do it critically."
Boccardi described the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal as "a drama being played out," and declined to predict the outcome of that drama. "I don't know how you could predict how it is going to come out."