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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Sunday, January 25, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 11)

Nixon Link; Too Much Coverage; Deposition Wouldn't Hurt?

1) CBS tied New York book agent Lucianne Goldberg to Nixon's "dirty tricks," but the network ignored her work for Kennedy and a prominent media outlet.

2) ABC painted Starr as a "Republican prosecutor;" Peter Jennings worried about "too much" coverage; and another piece looked at how "many voters are questioning just how big this story really is," saying "the media have already taken it way too far."

3) Just a week ago, hours after Clinton's deposition, Al Hunt denounced "right-wing activists" who think "this sleaze issue will be the magic wand for them. It hasn't worked before and it's not going to work now."

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Friday night CBS fired the first network shot at Lucianne Goldberg, issuing the kind of character attack a liberal would label as "McCarthyistic" if done by a conservative about a liberal. The January 23 CBS Evening News included a piece by Wyatt Andrews on the relationship between Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky. Noting that both were exiled to the Pentagon for upsetting people at the White House, Andrews claimed "sources" told him Lewinsky acted "starry-eyed, like a groupie."

Andrews moved to the woman who taped her calls with Lewinsky, but instead of portraying her as a hero with the courage to battle corrupt officials, he painted her as just another political hack with an anti-Clinton agenda. And then he got to Goldberg:

"Linda Tripp, meanwhile, was becoming aggressively anti-Clinton, testifying about Whitewater and alleging an affair between the President and this woman, Katherine Willey. When the subpoena came for Tripp to be a witness in the Paula Jones case, sources say she was pumped and excited to be back in action. And there's more. Tripp has given two of the Lewinsky tapes to Lucianne Goldberg, a conservative book agent also known for performing dirty tricks during the Nixon White House. It was late last summer when Tripp, concerned about her credibility, betrayed her friend Lewinsky and began taping Lewinsky's stories about Mr. Clinton. That's how mentor and protege, two woman gossiping about the powerful, came to shape the presidency."

A nice touch, tainting Goldberg's by dismissing her as a corrupt Nixon hack. A front page profile in the January 24 Washington Post offered a more complete resume, one that suggests she just as accurately could have been "known for performing dirty tricks for the Kennedy White House." Reporters David Streitfeld and Howard Kurtz explained:

"This is not the first time Goldberg has been involved in presidential politics. She worked for Lyndon Johnson during the 1960 presidential campaign. 'When you're tall, thin, blond and have big boobs, you can have any job you want,' she told People magazine in 1992. She later worked for President Kennedy's speech-writing staff." Streitfeld and Kurtz also noted another aspect of Goldberg's past, a journalistic one as she "worked at the Washington Post as a copy aide in the mid-1950s."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)ABC's World News Tonight on Friday picked up on a question asked by CBS on Thursday night about Kenneth Starr's jurisdiction, emphasizing his partisan Republican credentials. And just three days into the scandal ABC was worried that by overplaying it media coverage had unfairly hurt Clinton.

Following two soundbites critical of Starr's performance, reporter Tim O'Brien elaborated:

"Some say it was unfair from the start to have Starr, a life-long Republican, to be the Independent Counsel. Ronald Reagan appointed him a federal appeals court judge, President Bush made him solicitor general, his administration's top courtroom advocate. Still, supporters say it would be unreasonable to name a new Independent Counsel every time a new allegation of wrongdoing arises."

After a comment from former Justice official Theodore Olson, O'Brien continued:

"If people don't understand how the Whitewater investigation in Little Rock has stretched to sex and perjury scandal in Washington, Starr himself has done little to help."

O'Brien then showed a clip of his sidewalk exchange with Starr, an incident cited in the January 23 CyberAlert.

O'Brien, behind Starr: "How's this Whitewater?"

Starr asserted: "I can't comment on the specifics with respect to a specific jurisdictional ground."

O'Brien picked up with his report: "In one sense he doesn't have to comment. The Attorney General and a special three judge federal court that oversee the investigation have signed off on Starr's looking into this new chapter on Whitewater. But appearances still count and at least to some there is the appearance of a partisan showdown between a Republican prosecutor and a Democratic President with the careers of both men riding on the outcome."

Next, Peter Jennings turned to ABC legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, asking about the appropriateness of Starr, before his appointment, considering a legal brief on behalf of Jones. Toobin saw no legal problem, raising the question of why ABC even highlighted the issue.

Moving along, Jennings worried if he media had been too tough on Clinton: "We know from just answering the phone around here that the amount of attention we are giving this story is, at the very least, debatable. We in the news, as you can see [video of TV broadcasts], are devoting major time and resources to these events, but have we been carried away, are we doing too much and are we not being fair?" The subsequent piece focused on analysis from the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz.

But whether the media have gone too far or not, the public, ABC set out to demonstrate, don't care all that much about what Clinton allegedly did. From a stock show in Denver, reporter Tom Foreman began his story by showcasing one citizen who supports Clinton and one opposed to him. Foreman claimed:

"But as news of this scandal has spread, many voters are questioning just how big this story really is. In Chicago some are saying the media have already taken it way too far."

After a soundbite of a woman, Foreman continued:

"In Sacramento some point out almost nothing has been proven."

Foreman ran clips of a man and a woman decrying media focus on the scandal, before running a talking head defending media coverage. Concluded Foreman: "However, it seems clear that this story is a still much bigger crisis in Washington and media circles than it is out here. Then again, the story has just begun. Tom Foreman, ABC News, Denver."

Anchor Peter Jennings turned to Tom Rosensteil of the Pew Research Center to assess coverage. Rosensteil complained about speculation and worried that rumors have "gotten ahead" of facts.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)Don't worry, the Paula Jones case will not really hurt Clinton. So two members of the Washington press corps assured viewers just days ago.

-- MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this promise from Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet. Just two days before Clinton deposition, on CNBC's Equal Time, she insisted:

"He has had so many bad days and then the President bounces back. He's at sixty-something percent in approval ratings. And unless there's some bombshell that leaks out of this thing, it won't. You know and I don't see how this is going to have any bigger effect on the bigger picture here....It's a bad day. And no President has had to sit for a sworn deposition like this before but, you know, look at what this guy has weathered so far."


-- Hours after Clinton left Bob Bennett's office, The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt disparaged conservatives for thinking the sleaze issue will amount to anything. MRC news analyst Eric Darbe reminded me of these less than authoritative comments made by Hunt on the January 17 edition of CNN's Capital Gang:

"I don't think it portends much for Bill Clinton. I sort of disagree with Kate [O'Beirne] on that. You know, I think they're -- instead of battling Clinton on the substantive issues, there are some right-wing activists who keep thinking this sleaze issue will be the magic wand for them. It hasn't worked before and it's not going to work now. And the reason that the American people don't much believe Paula Jones and don't much like Paula Jones. She has become, I think, a pitiful pawn of some right-wing activists..."

Don't take any stock tips from Hunt.  -- Brent Baker

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