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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday, February 2, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 18)

Newt's as Immoral as Bill; Liberal Bias is "Absurd;" Real Scandals Skipped

1) Al Hunt asserted that Newt Gingrich has "been accused of some of the same sort of moral turpitude" as Clinton.

2) ABC discovered Clinton's sex habits give "high school students a new appreciation for their President." At CPAC, NBC saw "T-shirts calling for the President's impeachment even though no wrongdoing has been proven."

3) Steve Roberts declared that scandal focus proves "absurd" the idea that "the liberal media elite is coddling Bill Clinton."

4) "Now They Decide To Cover a Scandal," the MRC's op-ed piece on how the networks have skipped many scandals not involving sex. 

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)The New York Post is running a daily series of columns, titled "Clinton Suck-Up Hall of Shame," on the page before the editorial page. Last week they did Margaret Carlson and Eleanor Clift. I understand that Al Hunt will appear today or tomorrow. On Sunday, he issued a defense of Clinton that would definitely qualify. On CNN's special 2-3pm ET Capital Gang on Sunday, February 1, the Wall Street Journal's former Washington bureau chief declared:

"Bill Bennett, Mr. Virtues, has said basically that Clinton is morally unfit to hold office. I'm sure Bill believes that, but this is the same Bill Bennett who has a close friend and goes on trips with Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House who's been accused of some of the same sort of moral turpitude that the President's been accused of."

At this point, panelist Kate O'Beirne objected, prompting Hunt to insist: "Well he has been. Kate, you talk about character. Newt Gingrich gave his wife her walking papers a day out of cancer surgery. Now that's character and as long as we play political games, and we view character in a ideological sense, I don't think the American public is going to be anything but cynical."

cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Though stories recapping Monica Lewinsky attorney William Ginsburg's rounds of all five morning talk shows led both the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News on Sunday night (the Pro Bowl bumped ABC's World News Tonight), the story is losing steam. For the first time since the sex scandal burst onto network news back on January 21, on Saturday night it did not lead all three broadcast network evening shows.

On Saturday, January 31 Iraq topped both ABC's World News Tonight and CBS Evening News while NBC still led with Monicagate. Both shows also looked at the scandal's impact on teenagers, with ABC finding teens who said it gave them "a new appreciation for their President," while CBS found it has not disillusioned teens.

And ABC and NBC took a peek at what CPAC speakers had to say.

Some highlights from the January 31 shows:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Following two pieces on Iraq, ABC went to Michel McQueen who noted that Clinton had gone to Camp David for the weekend while "a remarkable 45 percent of the public agreed that there is a conspiracy of right-wing conservatives trying to make he President look bad." After reporting that Lewinsky will soon return to Los Angeles, McQueen concluded by picking up on the poll numbers:

"It could be a negotiating tactic to put pressure on prosecutors to come to an agreement, but it's probably one that would appeal to the public. Polls show that most people already believe that everybody, including the media and prosecutors, have gone too far in this case and they wouldn't mind at all if it disappeared for awhile."

Michele Norris checked in with a story on Hillary Clinton in Switzerland before Karla Davis showcased conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) criticizing Clinton. She showed clips of John Ashcroft, Steve Forbes, Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott. CPAC organizer David Keene, however, saw no gain in attacking Clinton though ABC aired a soundbite from Bill Bennett calling for Clinton's resignation if the allegations are true.

For the last story of the night Anderson Cooper talked to high school students from Louisiana who just completed the Close-Up program which brings students to DC. Cooper found that Clinton's actions raised his standing among them:

"While the scandal in the White House may have appalled their parents, it seemed to give many of these high school students a new appreciation for their President."

Fifteen-year-old female: "America has this stupid idealism that like the President should be some like perfect symbolic guy or you know like some super-hero. The fact that he's like more human actually is like more comforting to me."

I couldn't make this stuff up.

Concluded Cooper after two more similar soundbites: "While the crisis in Washington may have added to these kid's cynicism, it's also made government more real, something worth paying attention to -- at least for a couple of days."


-- CBS Evening News. Iraq came first followed by a rundown on the scandal from Wyatt Andrews and a piece from Terence Smith on how the White House is winning public opinion.

Later, Diana Olick dropped in on a New Jersey high school for a "Class of 2000" feature on how they see the Lewinsky case. But unlike ABC, CBS found appalled students who insisted they would not follow the example set by Clinton, prompting Olick to observe: "The President, a figure teenagers used to look up to."

A teacher explained: "They're already cynical, they're very cynical. Sure it makes them more cynical. How much more cynical can you get when you're 14 years old."

Olick then concluded: "And yet these kids are also optimistic. They unanimously believe, despite the scars of sexual scandal, the Clinton presidency will survive and so will the morals and values of the Class of 2000."


-- NBC Nightly News was was the only one to lead with the scandal and only NBC's Claire Shipman reported that Deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey had been subpoenaed. After anchor Brian Williams talked with Richard Ben-Viniste, the former Watergate prosecutor, about the status of the investigation, NBC went to John Palmer at CPAC. He ran clips of Alan Keyes and Jesse Helms denouncing Clinton, but noted caution from the RNC Chairman. Palmer admonished:

"There were signs and T-shirts calling for the President's impeachment even though no wrongdoing has been proven. Buttons read 'Another Member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy,' a mocking reference to the charge made this week made by Hillary Rodham Clinton...."

Later, Jonathan Alter explored Hillary Clinton's role as "Defender-in-Chief."

cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Media interest in Clinton's sex scandal proves there never was any liberal bias. At least that's the conclusion argued by former New York Times and U.S. News reporter Steve Roberts. On Sunday's Late Edition on CNN he charged:

"I think we can now safely conclude that this whole notion that the liberal media elite is coddling Bill Clinton and always plays to the Democrats is absurd. I mean the fact is who's been the undoing of Bill Clinton: Newsweek and The Washington Post, those raging conservative publications..."

Roberts still finds bias -- against Clinton: "The question is though are we fair to Clinton when we cover it and I think in many ways we have not been..."

National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne countered: "There's an awful lot of people who think the media, frankly, is playing catch up from 1992 when stories in the '92 campaign weren't covered enough..."

Indeed, see the January 27 CyberAlert for more on that theme and item #4 below details how the networks have overlooked some very serious stories about Clinton ethics.

Even liberal reporters will jump on a Democratic scandal if it doesn't involve the administration's policies. All negative stories are not alike: There's a big difference between saying Clinton is stonewalling or his team isn't up to the big leagues because multiple AG nominees implode, quite another to file a report on how Reagan again today proposed a tax change that will help the rich and hurt the poor. One deals with the mechanics of an administration, the other its policies.

Remember, just two weeks before Monica, Tom Brokaw framed the child care issue just as the White House wished. He told January 7 NBC Nightly News viewers: "The dilemma of every working parent is front and center tonight at the White House, President Clinton unveiling a multi-billion dollar plan to provide more and better care for America's children."

cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) By popular demand, my "Viewpoint" piece from the Monday, January 26 Investor's Business Daily. Editorial page editor Ben Boychuk kindly checked with his bosses and they have okayed my request to distribute it by e-mail so long as I note that the article is copyrighted by Investor's Business Daily and reprinted with the permission of Investor's Business Daily. MRC research associate Kristina Sewell made the changes to my draft so what is below matches what appeared in IBD following the editing changes made by Boychuk to clarify points and make my bit too long submission fit the available space.

Now They Decide To Cover a Scandal

By Brent H. Baker

When Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr spoke publicly on Thursday about the current sex scandal, ABC News reporter Tim O'Brien stood behind him and interrupted by yelling, "How is this Whitewater? How is this Whitewater?"

The question is not why Starr is going beyond Whitewater. The question is: When will the networks go beyond sex?

A former Clinton Cabinet officer is indicted while those around another official admit giving him illegal gifts. Another Cabinet secretary contradicts earlier statements and concedes he made payments to former Associate General Webster Hubbell. A federal judge rules that the first lady and a top White House aide made misleading statements in court papers. The discovery of an old check contradicts the president's earlier sworn Whitewater claims.

All that happened in the past three months, before the Clinton sex scandal fueled the network news frenzy. But television viewers learned little if anything about any of the developments.

In early November, Cable News Network broke a story about the discovery, in the trunk of an abandoned car, of a 1982 Madison Guaranty check for $27,000 to Bill Clinton. The check contradicts Clinton's assertion that he never borrowed any money from the failed savings and loan.

A few days later NBC picked up on the explosive find that suggests the president committed perjury in his trial testimony, but ABC never got around to it in the morning or evening. Zilch on the CBS "Evening News" or "CBS This Morning."

Not even a prison term and a guilty plea that implicated a former Cabinet official could stir the broadcast networks.

On Jan. 15, the ex-mistress of former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros pleaded guilty and agreed to a 3 -year prison term for fraud and conspiracy related to her lying about how much Cisneros paid her to keep quiet about their affair. CNN and Fox News Channel ran stories, but ABC, CBS and NBC were silent on both their evening and morning shows.


The Cisneros indictment a month earlier, for lying and obstructing justice during his FBI background check, did warrant a full segment on NBC, but generated just 18 seconds on ABC's "World News Tonight."

CBS didn't get around to it for another day. Dan Rather gave it nine seconds on Dec. 12. That same night, he gave two minutes to El Nino's impact on butterflies.

The plight of those around former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy has also gone unnoticed by network viewers.

Not even the cable networks that mentioned Cisneros on Jan. 15 bothered with the Espy case in their prime time shows. That day, a Tysons Food Inc. vice president and lobbyist were indicted for giving illegal gifts to Espy and later lying about it.

Ignoring Espy is nothing new. The Dec. 2 conviction of Ronald Blackley, Espy's top aide at Agriculture, for lying about money he received never made it onto an ABC, CBS or NBC morning or evening news show, or CNN in prime time.


The networks were just as uninterested in the latest news about Hillary Clinton's Health Care Task Force. The news of a federal judge's Dec. 18 ruling that White House officials lied about the makeup of the '93 health plan panel didn't generate one network story. U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth accused White House officials of engaging in a "cover-up" and levied a $285,000 fine.

Clinton health care adviser Ira Magaziner had insisted the panel included "only federal government employees" and didn't have to hold open meetings. Lamberth ruled that Magaziner's claim was "actually false." The only network coverage of this fabrication: One question from Tim Russert over a week later on NBC's "Meet the Press."


And former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor admitted that he had indeed helped Webster Hubbell obtain a do-nothing contract with the Los Angeles city government.

The Los Angeles Times noted on Dec. 14 that Kantor "said earlier this year that it would have been 'inappropriate' for him to have gotten involved with the Los Angeles payment," but "in sworn testimony to congressional investigators...Kantor described steps he took to help Hubbell obtain the $24,750 payment from the city government in late 1995."

The networks, however, didn't devote so much as one second to this admission of "inappropriate" behavior.

These are important stories that deserve as much attention as Monica Lewinsky and then some. The American viewing public deserves better.

(Brent H. Baker is vice president for research and publications at the Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va.)


I'd note that since I wrote this Kantor has come aboard the White House crisis control team, but I've yet to see any news story which used that as a hook to discuss his efforts on Hubbell's behalf.  -- Brent Baker

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