Tripping Tripp; Starr's Rush to Judgment; Media Self-Flagellation
1)ABC cast doubt on
Tripp's story and says a Democratic activist's complaints illustrated
the White House point about Starr; NBC wondered if Starr "made a rush
Gumbel gloated over questions about Lewinsky's credibility while
presenting her as either part of or a victim of the "vast right-wing
3) The January
30 MRC fax report: CNN and PBS self-flagellation about over coverage, but
nothing reflecting conservative concerns.
Letterman's Top Ten "Signs You're in Love with the President."
Friday night ABC and NBC marveled over Clinton's high approval ratings
as both networks highlighted how one subpoenaed witness disparaged Ken
Starr. ABC raised questions about the accuracy of Linda Tripp's claim to
have heard Lewinsky talking with Clinton on the phone while CBS relayed
Tripp's recollections without the disdain applied by ABC. Only NBC
acknowledged GOP criticism of Clinton, running clips from Senators Lott
Here are highlights from the Friday,
January 30 evening shows:
-- Peter Jennings opened ABC's
World News Tonight:
"Good evening. Here's the situation.
Hardly a week after this presidential crisis began the President is under
investigation because he may have lied about a sexual relationship and
told someone else to lie and tonight he has the highest job approval
rating since he was first elected. Some week. Only a few days ago the
entire presidential retinue was in shock about these allegations which the
President doesn't want to explain. Tonight the Clinton team is on the
offense against the independent counsel."
Jackie Judd started her reported by noting
how Congressman John Conyers is demanding an investigation of Starr for
misconduct, but the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Henry Hyde,
quashed the idea. Judd then made Conyers' case:
"Starr did seem to play into the White
House strategy today. He was blasted by a press secretary for the
administration's drug czar. An angry Bob Weiner said all he had done was
make calls from his home to local Democrats about whether Linda Tripp's
taping of Monica Lewinsky's calls was illegal. Weiner said soon after he
was subpoenaed by Starr to testify before the grand jury."
Weiner: "I think this is an incredible
overreach by the prosecutor to have subpoenaed us. It is big brother at it
worst, it really scares you."
Harassing Tripp over taping calls would
have been like demanding the police arrest Woodward and Bernstein for
theft of services for standing in a parking garage space they did not pay
for when they talked to "Deep Throat."
Judd continued: "As for Linda Tripp
her credibility was challenged today too. In her first public statement
Tripp claimed that she was present when Lewinsky received a late night
phone call from the President. But in an interview with Barbara Walters
for tonight's 20/20, Lewinsky's attorney says that is not true."
After a clip of attorney William Ginsburg,
Judd showed former Deputy Chief-of-Staff Evelyn Lieberman denying Clinton
did anything wrong and noted that Starr came up empty in his search for
forensic evidence since the dresses had been dry cleaned. Concluded Judd:
"Tonight there are indications that
while Starr is still confident about his investigation, he may need to
engage in some kind of public relations damage control to counter the
White House strategy."
ABC moved on to Iraq, but later featured
"A Closer Look" on the use of unnamed sources.
-- The CBS Evening News uniquely
reported a White House win in Judge Susan Weber Wright's ruling that
Secret Service officers would not have to testify in the Jones case.
CBS led with a story from Scott Pelley
which began with Tripp's charge that she heard Lewinsky argue on the
phone with Clinton and that Lewinsky had saved answering machine tapes.
After noting that Evelyn Lieberman says she moved Lewinsky to the Pentagon
because she hung around the West Wing too frequently and wore short
skirts, Pelley elaborated on Tripp's statement:
"Also today Linda Tripp, the friend
who recorded Lewinsky's allegations, offered new details in a written
statement. Tripp's statement says Lewinsky described 'every detail of
the relationship during hundreds of hours of conversations.' Tripp also
says she heard several tapes of Mr. Clinton's voice. CBS News has
learned that Tripp claims Lewinsky saved answering machine tapes with the
President's voice and played them for her at her Pentagon office. Tripp
also says she witnessed several 'volatile and contentious' phone calls
between Mr. Clinton and Lewinsky. A source tells CBS News that Tripp says
in one argument Lewinsky complains that Mr. Clinton's friends have not
come through with a job offer for her."
Rather noted the Conyers call for an
investigation of Starr and then Bob Schieffer reviewed Clinton's
standing on Capitol Hill. Later in the show Steve Kroft came on to promote
a 60 Minutes piece that will run Sunday which will include both his 1992
interview with the Clintons about Flowers as well as portions not aired.
-- NBC Nightly News opened with
this tease from Tom Brokaw which featured the complaining witness:
"In Washington, the pendulum swings
the other way. Confidence in the President now at an all-time high. The
question: Did prosecutor Kenneth Starr make a rush to judgment?"
Bob Weiner: "It is big brother at its
worst, it really scares you."
David Bloom began the first story of the
"The criminal investigation of the
President is proceeding tonight at a breakneck pace. Tonight prosecutors
wrapped up a fourth straight day of grand jury testimony, but today at the
White House there's also a sense that a week that began so poorly is
ending on a positive note. For President Clinton tonight, promise and
peril. Today he basked in the applause of the nation's mayors, managed
again to keep at arms length from questions he refuses to face..."
He went on to report on Evelyn Lieberman,
relay Tripp's claims about overhearing phone calls, cite Weiner's
attack on Starr and run Trent Lott's criticism of Clinton.
Later, the In Depth segment returned to the
scandal. Claire Shipman looked at how things have changed in ten days with
Clinton's job approval now at all time high thanks to the State of the
Union, Hillary's strong defense and a weaker than expected case from
Starr. But, she emphasized, he's not off the hook. Clinton, she
reported, will have to explain his relationship with Lewinsky and more
witnesses are possible. Also, there is still the Jones trial. She aired a
clip of Senator Ashcroft calling Clinton a "disgrace," before
ending by noting how Clinton and Chelsea were off the Camp David for the
Brokaw then ran down the legal situation
with Jack Ford who explained that the immunity deal was not closed because
Lewinsky won't back an obstruction of justice
Another week, another opportunity for Bryant Gumbel to suck up to the
Clintons. MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski alerted me to these comments
from the January 28 Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel on CBS.
Reviewing the day's news, Gumbel charged:
"...Despite the weather, the clouds
hovering over the President seemed to dissipate today. Perhaps over the
past two days, binging on scandal has taken a toll on the public's
appetite. What 24 hours earlier peaked the nation's curiosity today felt
uncomfortable and inappropriate...Yet less than an hour before the
President addressed the nation, new players in this melodrama emerged.
They dented Monica Lewinsky's credibility."
Terry Giles, Andy Bleiler's attorney:
"She made the comment to Kathy not once but on numerous occasions
before going to Washington, 'I'm going to the White House to get my
presidential knee pads.'"
Gumbel: "The claims not only
transformed the story, they further tarnished the image of media folks,
reducing some to little more than procurers of sensation. The sordid state
of affairs was all painfully evident when a frightened Betty Currie, the
President's personal secretary, had to make her way through a gauntlet
of hungry reporters. She seemed just the latest morsel in a feeding frenzy
that still has no end in sight...."
Interviewing, or should we more properly
say giving a platform to, James Carville, Gumbel raised Hillary
Clinton's claim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy." To Gumbel
there are only two possibilities: either Monica Lewinsky is part of the
conspiracy, or she's a victim of it:
"Where does Lewinsky fit into this
conspiracy theory? Is she victimizing the President or is she too a
On the up side: No more Public Eye with
Bryant Gumbel for about a month. The Olympics will bump him for two weeks
and with CBS not wanting his low ratings to drag them down in the February
sweeps, his show will not air this upcoming week. But I heard a rumor that
CBS might use him during Olympic coverage. Maybe he can stick
The January 30 MRC Media Reality Check fax report put together by Tim
Graham. With Meet the Press promos for Sunday's show touting an
examination of how the media have overplayed the story, this report is
particularly timely. It looks at two sessions of media self-flagellation:
the two-hour January 28 CNN special and a long PBS NewsHour segment on
January 29. Neither included any voices scolding the media for dropping
the ball in 1992 and 1994 by dismissing Flowers and disparaging Jones, or
considered the view that while they may be overdoing the current scandal
because it features sex, they've underplayed many more important scandal
developments, from fundraising to the health care task force lies to
indicted cabinet officers.
For more on how the media failed the public
by avoiding Clinton's sexual escapades, see the January 29 fax report
titled "Media Should Say Whoops Over Whoopee: After Years of
Insisting Sex-Related Abuses of Power
Weren't Relevant, Media
Refuted by Monicagate." For the
archive of MRC fax reports, go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/reality/faxrep.html
For more on what financial, policy and
political scandals the networks skipped, see my Investor's Business
Daily op-ed piece "Now They Decide to Cover a Scandal," viewable
from the MRC home page, or go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/news/ibd0126.html
where MRC Web manager Joe Alfonsi has posted it.
Now, here's Friday's MRC fax report:
Feeding Frenzy" Followed by
"Rush to Judgment" Breast-Beating Without Conservative
Tonight's Top Story: We Stink
One signal of Bill Clinton's New
Hampshire turnaround in 1992 came with self-critical media reports
insisting "the people" didn't care about scandals the media
were reluctant to cover. On February 14, 1992, ABC World News Tonight
reporter Chris Bury mourned: "In the campaign's final crunch,
questions of Clinton's character, his personal life, and the draft are
pursued daily, almost always by the press. And that is the trouble for
Clinton: the press hounds him about character; voters seem more worried
about other things." At that point, ABC's evening newscast had
aired four stories in ten days about Clinton's draft evasions.
ABC was the first off the self-critical
mark by Day Three of Monicagate, as Peter Jennings anchored three
segments on over coverage: "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 media..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 flagellation frenzy continued this
week. On Wednesday, CNN aired a special Investigating the President:
Media Madness? Jeff Greenfield began: "More than 200 years after
the Founding Fathers risked their lives to found a nation built on the
idea of freedom, after crafting the Bill of Rights, whose very first
guarantee is the right of a free press to inform and educate the people,
millions of those people are asking the press one question fraught with
significance: What the hell are you people doing trying to find out what
kind of sex the President of the United States might or might not be
CNN's panel of experts included Dan
Rather, CNN's Greta Van Susteren, Time's Walter Isaacson,
Newsweek's Ann McDaniel, James Warren of the Chicago Tribune, David
Broder of The Washington Post, White House press aide Mike McCurry,
comedian Bill Maher, professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Cynthia Tucker of
the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and in a feint toward balance, a
dramatically outnumbered Tucker Carlson of The Weekly Standard, who was
never asked about liberal bias. Taped Bruce Morton segments were heavily
salted with liberal experts like Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post and
Jamieson. The show took one phone call and spoke to three students, all
of whom complained of low standards on Monicagate or media mistreatment
On PBS, most of last night's NewsHour
with Jim Lehrer was devoted to the "rush to judgment." Anchor
Elizabeth Farnsworth began a focus-group interview: "Have the media
gone overboard or have they done a fairly good job?" Most agreed it
was overdone. Then anchor Phil Ponce talked to a narrow panel of media
insiders: Newsweek's Richard Smith, CNN's Frank Sesno, former CBS
newsman Marvin Kalb, and the ubiquitous Jamieson. All agreed with Kalb
that "This is a very sorry chapter in American journalism."
None of these shows wondered: (1)Have the
media undercovered Clinton scandals for six years? (2) Do
self-flagellating media seminars just serve to bury the idea of a
liberal bias and help Clinton turn his political fortunes around without
answering any questions? (3) If the President is lying, then won't the
festival of hand-wringing look like a rush to judgment?
Here's the highlight box with a nice
contrast Tim noticed:
The only view the media find acceptable:
"There is something about this story,
this presidency, that has led the media to almost obliterate the standards
of decency that were built up for so many years." -- Howard Kurtz on
CNN's special Media Madness?
The view that's getting spiked:
"The American media have been enjoying
a six-year crawl to judgment...the current 'feeding frenzy' is no more
than a first, belated step toward an all-you-can-eat salad bar that has
been blinking invitingly at them for half a decade." -- Mark Steyn, Wall
From the January 30 Late Show with David Letterman, the Top Ten
"Signs You're in Love with the President." Copyright 1998 by
Worldwide Pants, Inc.
10) Just to be like him, you balloon up 300
9) You're perfectly content to be
mistress number 143
8) On your White House application, you
list your goal as "doin' it"
7) You boycott a Hallmark store for not
having a "sorry you may be impeached" section
6) Your Website:
5) You've memorized the words to every
one of his denials
4) Your last major crush: Nixon
3) You've taped every one of his
appearances on Hee Haw
2) The enthusiastic way you say,
"Welcome to Hooters, Mr. President"
1) You find him guilty of being adorable
This e-mail is a bit long, but there's so
much stuff out there to track and analyze. I put this out on Saturday
since with Monicagate/Tailgate/Sexgate/Fellategate developments every day
material becomes old quickly. Tomorrow or Monday I'll send my
Investor's Business Daily piece so we'll then be caught up with the
backlog of material, at least until more bias breaks out. -- Brent Baker
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