- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2001

President Clinton's press secretary Joe Lockhart had one of the worst jobs in Washington, if not in the civilized world — and the Internet has made the job much worse.
That's the message of "The Press Secretary," a PBS documentary airing Monday night. It covers three days of White House life in September 2000 and was embargoed until after Mr. Clinton left office.
The show looks at the new media age through the eyes of Mr. Lockhart, a former TV news producer who took on the job just after the start of impeachment proceedings.
His goal in allowing access to the documentary filmmakers, as stated by narrator Will Lyman, was "to show how the frenetic pace of today's 24-hour news business, accelerated by the Internet, threatens journalism and the government alike."
As the narrator notes, only 50 Web sites existed in 1993 when President Clinton took office; when he left in 2000, there were 25 million sites.
Mr. Lockhart tells TV viewers that "journalists have yet to master the new technology. It's really distorted the whole process."
Almost immediately, the documentary shows an example of what Mr. Lockhart considers distortion: a news conference in which the press secretary is asked about a Matt Drudge allegation about Hillary Clinton's campaign contributors staying overnight in the White House and at Camp David.
"It's truly a sorry day when you all come in here and ask me questions based on a rumormonger's Web site," he complains.
Despite Mr. Lockhart's admonishment not to pay attention to "that gentleman's" Web reports, the reporters press on.
"Sometimes he's right," a reporter reminds Mr. Lockhart.
The narration is sympathetic: "Lockhart snaps whenever the technological tail wags the dog," Mr. Lyman says.
From the present perspective, Mr. Lockhart's admonishment of the reporters looks like a means of distraction rather than a heroic stand. It appears that his control over the news was threatened by Mr. Drudge's reporting, not truth itself.
But these points are not brought up in "The Press Secretary."
Moreover, Mr. Lockhart's actual answer to the reporters is partially obscured by the narrator talking at the same time, so this clip raises more questions than it answers. The documentary should have let viewers see the entire exchange.
The press secretary shows some candor in his comments, such as his description of a hasty briefing session with Mr. Clinton.
"The trick in some of these sessions is to get him to vent his anger at me and not in front of the cameras. There's a little baiting that goes on. I will ask a question with an edge that even a reporter, I don't think, will ask," Mr. Lockhart says.
"The Press Secretary" — made by writer-producer-director Theodore Bogosian ("Running Mate") with Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson as executive producers (their ventures have included NBC's defunct "Homicide: Life on the Street") — is successful in providing a look at the work of Mr. Lockhart and his staff. Since the program concentrates on the press secretary, it provides few insights into the media relations of Mr. Clinton himself. Even so, it will be must viewing for heavy C-SPAN viewers.
However, the documentary fails to make its case for Mr. Lockhart's thesis about the dangers of the 24-hour media cycle.
Although the get-it-first mentality does often send out incorrect information, the Internet's wide variety of sites provides a necessary check on government officials such as Mr. Lockhart.

WHAT: "The Press Secretary"
WHEN: Monday at 10 p.m. WMPT (Channel 22); 11 p.m. WETA (Channel 26)MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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