The Last Word

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All good feeding frenzies turn, sooner or later, on the feeders themselves. Last night, CNN staged a "national town hall" with a panel of journalism's top sharks. Unfortunately, little came out of the rambling, self-serving exercise. Dan Rather said that news today is driven by circulation, not standards, and correctly noted that if he had stayed behind in Cuba to cover the pope rather than jetting back to Washington, he would have had to seek asylum from the wrath of his employers. The best line of the night came from an amazingly calm Mike McCurry, on remote from the White House briefing room, who ascribed Air Force One's mud delay to a "conspiracy under the right wing." (Scooping Leno with the joke, it turned out). In the end, the point Jeff Greenfield failed to make, despite a poll showing that 72 percent think there's "too much" coverage of Sexgate was: We're only doing it for you, dear reader! If you didn't want this stuff, why would news magazines, web sites and broadcast news programs like those on CNN be having record-smashing weeks? (Answer: See Dan Rather, above.)

CNN sidebar: Larry King shocks Lewinsky lawyer Ginsburg by telling him that the New York Times plans to print something about Monica's answering machine and what the President purportedly said on it. Then, 15 minutes later, he recants, saying he had no idea what the Times was going to print. This, as Greenfield later pointed out in the town hall, was not a bug, but a feature: Broadcasters can correct their mistakes in real time...

Monica news of the night: Ted Koppel previewed a Washington Post story about a Dec. 28 Lewinsky night visit to Clinton -- just 11 days after she was subpoenaed by Paula Jones' lawyers. That, it turned out, was the Times' story today as well.

Last Laughs: Leno, on Hillary's accusations: "The biggest threat to Bill Clinton is not a right-wing conspiracy but a White House intern with lockjaw." Maher, on Monica's Watergate neighbor Bob Dole: "He's very relieved, because he's been telling Elizabeth for months 'I still keep hearing Clinton's voice at night.'"