NBC's O'Donnell, Shuster falsely suggested Clinton's job approval ratings were low during Lewinsky scandal, impeachment

››› ››› JOE BROWN

While reporting on polling that places President Bush's approval ratings at an all-time low, NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell and MSNBC's David Shuster both falsely suggested that President Clinton's job approval ratings sank during the Monica Lewinsky controversy and his subsequent impeachment. In fact, Clinton's job approval ratings remained high throughout the period of the Lewinsky controversy and reached their highest level ever at the time of his impeachment by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

While reporting on polling that places President Bush's approval ratings at an all-time low for his presidency, NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell and MSNBC correspondent David Shuster both falsely suggested that President Clinton's job approval ratings sank during the Monica Lewinsky controversy and his subsequent impeachment. On the April 12 broadcast of NBC's Today, O'Donnell falsely claimed "President Clinton hit 41 percent [approval] around impeachment." Similarly, after characterizing Clinton as "a president who once argued it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" -- a reference to Clinton's semantic defense of himself during an August 17, 1998, deposition relating to the Lewinsky affair -- Shuster reported that "[t]he [Bush] administration's poll numbers are even lower than at the height of President Clinton's verbal gymnastics." In fact, as Media Matters for America previously noted, Clinton's job approval ratings remained high throughout the period of the Lewinsky controversy and reached their highest level ever at the time of his impeachment by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

As Media Matters noted, the January 6-7, 1998, Gallup poll, the last taken before the January 17, 1998, onset of the Lewinsky matter, showed 59 percent job approval for Clinton. From the time that the Lewinsky story broke through the Senate's February 1999 acquittal of Clinton on perjury and obstruction of justice charges, Clinton's Gallup job approval rating (subscription required) never dipped below 58 percent (a relative low he reached in a January 23-24, 1998, poll). Clinton's Gallup job approval ratings actually hit the high for his presidency during the Lewinsky matter, reaching 73 percent at the time of his December 19, 1998, impeachment by the House of Representatives (in a poll taken December 19-20, 1998) and reaching another relative peak of 70 percent in a February 9, 1999, poll, taken during Clinton's trial in the Senate.

Although several months after Clinton's acquittal, Clinton's Gallup job approval rating fell to 53 percent (May 23-24, 1999), he never dropped to "41 percent" -- as O'Donnell alleged -- in the Gallup poll, or any other major poll taken during or after the period of the Lewinsky scandal. The last time Clinton's job approval rating ever fell to 41 percent or below in the Gallup poll was December 28-30, 1994, when it was recorded at 40 percent.

In contrast to Clinton's high job approval ratings during the time of the Lewinsky scandal, the ABC News/Washington Post poll referenced by Shuster -- and likely referred to just prior to O'Donnell's report by Today co-host Matt Lauer, who described a "new poll" indicating that "Bush's approval ratings are still the lowest they've ever been" -- shows Bush's job approval rating at a new low of 38 percent. This reveals Shuster's assertion that "[t]he administration's poll numbers are even lower than at the height of president Clinton's verbal gymnastics" to be a profound understatement. Bush's job approval rating in the most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll (April 7-9) is 37 percent.

From the April 12 broadcast of NBC's Today:

LAUER: On "Close Up" this morning: President Bush's numbers game. Despite campaign-style speeches, a more open approach, taking questions from the public, and a high-level staff change, President Bush's approval ratings are still the lowest they've ever been -- that, according to a new poll.

[...]

O'DONNELL: Looking back, some second-term presidents have been able to rebound. President Reagan's approval fell to 34 percent with the arms-for-hostages scandal. President Clinton hit 41 percent around impeachment. But both bounced back up to the sixties as they left office.

From the April 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

SHUSTER: After succeeding a president who once argued it depends on what the definition of "is" is, President Bush now depends on what the definition of "classified" is. White House officials maintain that despite the president giving Vice President Cheney's chief of staff "Scooter" Libby the authority to leak intelligence about Iraq, this statement two months later was accurate.

BUSH [video clip]: I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it.

SHUSTER: White House officials emphasize the word "classified." They say that when President Bush gave the vice president and his chief of staff the green light to leak, and even though everybody else including the CIA director had been kept in the dark, the information was technically declassified.

[...]

SHUSTER: Overall, the president's job approval rating has fallen to 38 percent, his disapproval a whopping 60 percent. There was no poll released today about the vice president, but in first-pitch ceremonies at the Washington Nationals' home opener, the boos were much louder than the cheers. The strong feelings about Vice President Cheney and President Bush have prompted huge fears among congressional Republicans over the midterm elections. The administration's poll numbers are even lower than at the height of President Clinton's verbal gymnastics, a sign that the public sees the legalisms and parsing statements from the Bush White House as even worse.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC, NBC
Person
Kelly O'Donnell
Show/Publication
Hardball, Today Show
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, Polling
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