(7 of 20)
Late at night, while most of Washington sleeps, two political strategists are jaw-boning on the phone. Polishing the next big speech, "war gaming" the next five clashes with their opponent, they argue in a kind of rapid-fire code, a political shorthand developed during a 17-year partnership. One of the two strategists happens to be the President of the U.S. The other, a banty, cocksure New Yorker named Dick Morris, is the most influential--and infamous--political consultant on the planet.
The White House is touchy about Morris because he is the master of triangulation who helped engineer the dramatic gallop to the political center that revived Clinton's presidency and because his lack of ideological conviction mirrors the same trait critics see in Clinton. Morris, 48, has a history of working for both Democrats and Republicans--a career strategy that has made him a traitor in the eyes of people in both parties. He could work simultaneously for Jesse Helms and Mother Teresa and see no inherent contradiction. (Helms, in fact, has been a Morris client; the Saint of Calcutta hasn't called him as yet.) What these critics overlook, says Henry Sheinkopf, a consultant who works with Morris on the Clinton media team, "is that Dick is a man of the sensible middle: a brilliant strategist, of course, but one driven by centrist ideas. He wants to draw politicians from the left and right into the mainstream. He does it by using his huge antennae to pick up the issues that are about to move the electorate."
Morris seldom speaks to reporters, but he gets into hot water all the time. He leaked White House polling data to Bob Dole's campaign last January in a botched attempt to lure Dole into making a budget deal. But despite such mischief making, Morris hasn't lost the President's ear. There are 20 good reasons for this--one for each point by which Clinton leads Dole in the polls.
OPRAH WINFREY Talk-Show Host
A couple of years ago, Oprah Winfrey took a look at the tawdry TV talk world that surrounded her and got disgusted. "There's no honor, no integrity in it," she said, as she set about putting her own show on a new path, ignoring sensationalism in favor of "positive" subject matter. Her No. 1 ratings took a dip, while the Ricki Lakes and Jerry Springers became, briefly, the rage. In the end, however, Winfrey proved once again to be a trendsetter. The sleazy talk phenomenon soon peaked: politicians complained, viewers grew bored, shows were canceled--and Winfrey, now in her 10th year on national TV, is still on top, drawing 9 million viewers a day.
Winfrey, 42, had a troubled childhood, but her genius was to realize that those troubles--and similar ones experienced by ordinary people all over America--could make for compelling television. Phil Donahue invented the participatory approach to TV talk, but Winfrey brought a woman-to-woman empathy and a flair for self-revelation that he couldn't match. Ted Koppel may have set the media's political agenda, but Winfrey had a direct pipeline to the nation's psyche. She helped bring such topics as child abuse, homosexuality and marital dysfunction out of the closet and into the public forum. Her legacy can be seen in everything from presidential candidates who discuss their marital problems on TV to the fad for crash diets. And when Winfrey did a show about mad-cow disease earlier this year, beef prices plummeted.