Starr Leaks Before Currie Coaching; CNN Takes on Starr
1) The networks followed the
White House distraction strategy, putting Betty Currie after their attack
on Ken Starr whom Dan Rather obligingly termed "the man they see as a
politically biased special prosecutor, Republican Kenneth Starr."
"Investigating the Investigator" delivered a one hour assault
impugning Ken Starr, "a man who already has given many people the
impression he's on a mission. That may have a lot to do with Starr's
religious and Republican roots."
3) "I know he wasn't
Slick Willie, and not a scourge," CNN President Rick Kaplan once said
of Bill Clinton.
Friday night the networks played right into the White House diversionary
strategy as all three broadcast evening shows put Clinton lawyer
Kendall's attack on Starr ahead of the New York Times revelation about
Betty Currie's gift processing and coaching by Bill Clinton. (At least
that's how it played in the Eastern and Central time zones where Kenneth
Starr's strongly worded written reply came too late for the 6:30pm
ET/5:30pm CT feeds, though Nightline later highlighted Starr's
The networks all pointed out that though
Clinton said he could not talk about the Lewinsky case, there is in fact
no legal prohibition against him doing so. Only Scott Pelley on CBS raised
the possibility that the Currie leak did not spill from Starr's office,
noting that Clinton lawyers also knew what she said and were quick to
capitalize on the leak.
In the morning, however, the just breaking
Times story led though the shows quickly transitioned into a debate about
Starr's conduct thanks to appearances by Paul Begala:
-- ABC's Good Morning America,
MRC analyst Gene Eliasen reported, opened with a story on the Currie
matter from Jackie Judd, followed by a reaction interview with Clinton
aide Paul Begala (who attacked Starr for leaking), then a discussion with
Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. Next, Charlie Gibson interviewed
Democratic Congressman John Conyers about his demand for an investigation
of Starr. ABC ended its show opening series of segment on the scandal with
Lisa McRee talking to George Stephanopoulos and Jeffrey Toobin about the
hows and whys of leaking.
-- NBC's Today greeted
viewers with a story from David Bloom on the Currie development. After the
rest of the 7am news, MRC analyst Denise Froning observed, the show
devoted the rest of the half hour to two discussion segments: First, Matt
Lauer with Tim Russert and Jack Ford, and for a portion of the segment,
Paul Begala. Second, a preview of the upcoming press conference with Lauer
leading a discussion with UPI's Helen Thomas, British reporter Peter
Riddell and former Clinton Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, now a NBC
Here are highlights from the Friday,
February 6 evening shows:
-- ABC's Peter Jennings led World
News Tonight by citing both the White House attack on Starr for
leaks and the Currie story, but ABC put Currie in the second story slot.
First, Sam Donaldson reviewed the press conference and highlighted
Kendall. Donaldson noted that at the press conference Clinton
"steadfastly refused to talk specifics," though no legal barrier
kept him from talking. Donaldson said David Kendall "angrily accused
Kenneth Starr's office of being responsible for the leaks," before
Donaldson returned to the news conference, citing Clinton's answers on
Flowers (that he told truth in 1992), the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy and
showing his answers to Wolf Blitzer on Lewinsky and Michael Frisby about
resigning. But Donaldson closed with this tough assessment:
"The President's brave and defiant
stance will be welcomed by his supporters. But his critics believe that
this furious White House assault against the leaks reflects a fear here
that a substantial number of the leaks could turn out to be true, in which
case brave words may not be enough to save the President from great
political harm. Peter."
Next, Jackie Judd ran down the Currie story
and like CBS, but not NBC, she told viewers about the charge that Lewinsky
gave Currie her gifts from Clinton so that Lewinsky would not have to turn
them over the Jones' lawyers. Currie eventually gave them to the
Reporter Tim O'Brien then explored leaks,
"Given freedom of the press and a story of this magnitude, leaks are
inevitable. Rarely do they bring any punishment. They didn't in
Watergate, they didn't in the Iran-Contra matter and most legal observer
believe they will not be punished here."
-- "In Washington tonight, it's
Starr wars. President Clinton takes the special prosecutor to court for
allegedly leaking secret testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case. Has the
President even thought about resigning?"
That's how Dan Rather teased the CBS
Evening News. Rather then delivered this overwrought opening, in which his
identification of Starr fulfilled the White House strategy:
"Good evening. New and heavy return
fire late today from the White House under fire. Clearly and dramatically
the President's side confirmed a key part of their strategy is to
counterattack the man they see as a politically biased special prosecutor,
Republican Kenneth Starr."
Rather proceeded to report the White House
desire to have Starr held in contempt for "illegal" leaks,
citing the Currie story as the latest example.
Reporter Scott Pelley reviewed the press
conference and found Clinton "casting himself as a victim of partisan
attacks." Pelley emphasized that on Lewinsky Clinton "did not
add any information about their relationship." Confirming that the
Currie report "shook the White House," Pelley asserted that
Currie did retrieve gifts from Lewinsky and then turned them over to the
OIC. After noting that the White House had successfully put Starr on
defensive, Pelley offered this intriguing analysis:
"The heavy question hanging over all
of this tonight is who leaked the Currie grand jury testimony. All day the
White House has been suggesting only the prosecutors could have known, but
CBS News has learned the President's own lawyers knew about most or all
of what Currie had to say. We do not have any information that they leaked
it, however the White House has been making a virtue of these sensational
headlines all day. Dan."
Continuing to keep Starr on the defensive,
Dan Rather, who just minutes earlier tagged Starr as
"Republican," asserted: "Now, in our effort to have
fact-based coverage let's move on to CBS News chief Washington
correspondent Bob Schieffer with the latest on the President's fight
back strategy against Starr in court." Schieffer aired a clip of
David Kendall's attack on Starr, quoted excerpts from his letter and
noted the request from Conyers that the Attorney General probe Starr's
CBS then showed video of Lewinsky being
hounded by cameramen as she went to a restaurant and the Frisby/Clinton
exchange about resigning. Later, Bill Plante contributed a profile of the
"beloved" Betty Currie. Plante relayed one interesting detail:
The door between Currie's office and the Oval Office has a peep hole so
Currie can see inside.
-- Tom Brokaw opened the NBC
Nightly News by citing both stories, but putting Starr first:
"Good evening. Tonight, the war
between the White House and Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr went to a
new level, with the President's lawyer threatening to take Starr's
operation to court, accusing the prosecutors of leaking secret testimony.
This on a day when the President faced a whole new set of questions: Did
he coach his personal secretary on his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
He was also asked if he'd ever consider resigning over this. A lot of
ground for NBC's Claire Shipman to cover tonight."
Indeed, she handled all three parts in the
order announced by Brokaw, adding this bit of news: Lewinsky visited the
White House as late as January 15.
Brokaw next showed a series clips of
Clinton's various answers on Lewinsky, from Jim Lehrer on day one to
Friday's press conference. Tim Russert then appeared with some analysis,
explaining that Clinton "can say anything he wants" since he's
not bound by any laws or courts. Russert intoned: "Two weeks ago he
said, quote 'these are legitimate questions. I will answer them quickly,
sooner rather than later, more rather than less.' A White House adviser
said that was two weeks ago, our polls are high, we don't have to give
any answers as long as we keep that high ground with the public."
beat Kendall to the punch. The night before the White House ratcheted up
its war on Ken Starr CNN launched the latest campaign for the White House
with a one hour special Thursday night (February 5) titled "Ken
Starr: Investigating the Investigator." Burden of Proof hosts Greta
Van Susteren and Roger Cossack hosted the 8pm ET hour which CNN repeated
at 12am ET/9pm PT.
To cite all the bias would take far too
much space. (The transcript from the CNN Web page runs 24 pages.) The
program did include soundbites from Starr defenders, such as former U.S.
Attorney Henry Hudson, former Justice official Terry Eastland and former
independent counsel Joseph DiGenova, but they were mainly on the defense,
reacting to charges from Starr's enemies. A look at the opening and
conclusion as well as some of the intros to segments will give you a
flavor of the show's agenda.
Announcer: "This is a special report
from CNN. In pursuit of the real Ken Starr: Independent prosecutor?"
Ken Starr: "I have a very strong
belief in facts and in truth."
Announcer: "Or persecutor of the
President of the United States?"
Hillary Clinton: "There are
professional forces on the right at work for their own purposes and
Protesters: "Save our democracy,
Announcer: "Starr's critics, and even
some of his friends wonder how did his investigation of the failed
Whitewater land deal in Arkansas lead to the White House, a former intern
and allegations of sex, lies, and audiotapes?"
Cass Sunstein, former Justice Dept.
official: "I think the office of independent counsel has made him
nutty. Now Ken Starr is going off on a fishing expedition."
Announcer: "Starr has cast his ever
widening net in many directions during his three and a half year, roughly
$30 million investigation: Clinton friends Webster Hubbell and James and
Susan McDougal, the suicide of Vincent Foster, the flaps over the White
House travel office and FBI files and now, Monica Lewinsky."
Senator Patrick Leahy: "This is the
most partisan end- justifies-the means investigation that I can remember
in my life."
Announcer: "Defenders rushed in to
offer Starr cover, as he took flak for the bombshell he aimed at the White
C. Boyden Gray, Bush counselor: "He is
about as straight a shooter as you will find anywhere in American
Senator Arlen Specter: "He's entitled
not to be vilified on newspaper headlines or newspaper stories."
Announcer: "Tonight, a CNN special
report: From his targets and tactics, to his feelings about this
President, is this independent counsel at war with the White
Greta Van Susteren: "Good evening. Two
weeks ago, the Monica
Lewinsky case exploded into our living
rooms. Since then, the talk has been about politics and the political
legacy of President Clinton. But tonight, we're in a court of law, and the
discussion is the law and independent counsel Ken Starr."
Roger Cossack: "In Starr's comments
today, he argues that he followed the letter of the law in his
investigation into the alleged presidential affair and cover-up. But the
road from Whitewater to wiretaps raises some doubts, even among his peers.
CNN's Bruce Morton begins our investigation
of the investigator."
-- Van Susteren introducing the
second segment: "CNN has learned the ranking Democrat on the House
Judiciary Committee plans to ask Attorney General Janet Reno to
investigate whether Ken Starr should be removed from office. Sources say
Congressman John Conyers is writing a long letter to Reno, accusing Starr
of repeated abuses of power, including pressuring witnesses to commit
perjury. The allegations are specific and serious, aimed at a man who
already has given many people the impression he's on a mission. That may
have a lot to do with Starr's religious and Republican roots...."
-- Beginning a later segment, CNN's Kathy
"The spotlight is now on Ken Starr.
How independent is the independent counsel? Is his investigation objective
or a political vendetta? Friends and associates describe Ken Starr as a
pillar of integrity. But Ken Starr is also burdened with a partisan
pedigree of his own making. He has shown his political stripes in ways
that have given his critics ammunition. His conservative connections --
his links with the President's political opponents have made him
-- After Slobogin finished, Cossack plugged
the next story:
"Even if Starr's critics overlooked
his connections to the right, they'd probably still find ammunition by
focusing in on his tactics. Coming up: The ways Starr has put the squeeze
on witnesses. Has he actually shackled his investigation by crossing the
-- To be fair, the story from CNN's John
King also reviewed White House efforts to hide and delay documents from
Starr. After King, Time's Sam Gwynne looked at bitterness in Arkansas
about Starr's pressure tactics. Gwynne concluded:
"But more than four years after the
office of the independent counsel launched its investigation, there
remains in Little Rock bitterness, anger, and fear, and also the knowledge
that investigators won't be going away anytime soon."
-- Next, Van Susteren delivered this nice
plug: "You may have your own opinion about whether Ken Starr has gone
too far. Our fellow legal experts certainly have theirs. They'll weigh in
on the question 'Is he out of control?' when we come back."
-- Concluding comments:
Van Susteren: "You know, Roger, this
is what distresses me about the independent counsel. Of course, if there's
unlawful conduct, it should be investigated, but the idea that we give one
person who has strong political background -- to give him an unlimited
budget to go after the President of the United States and to dog him for
several years and to allow him simultaneously to maintain a law practice
where he makes over a million dollars a year and, it's almost a rainmaker
for his law firm, fundamentally, I think is wrong."
Cossack: "Well, I think the problem,
though, was best articulated in 1988 when they took this law before the
Supreme Court to see if it was constitutional, and the Supreme Court said
it was, but there was one justice that dissented, and that was Justice
Scalia, and he warned us at the time in his dissent. He said, 'Be
careful because someday we may have an unfettered prosecutor who is
combining both political and legal philosophy and without any form of
Van Susteren: "But you have to wonder
why in the world would the U.S. Court of Appeals have selected Ken Starr,
and why would he have accepted the appointment, especially in light of the
fact he may be the most honest, fair person there is in the world, but he
had so much baggage. Why put the American people in this position, and why
give him an unlimited budget to go after the President of the United
States? I mean, it really is astounding that the U.S. Court of Appeals
would have selected him. There are thousands of lawyers in this country
without even the appearance of impropriety, and why select Ken Starr, and
why accept it?"
Quite the legal tag team of balance. If you
want to see more, CNN is repeating the special, I assume with some
updates, Sunday night February 8 at 9pm ET/6pm PT.
What might explain CNN's decision to abandon any attempt at balance and
enlist the network for Clinton's crusade to discredit Starr? The MRC's
Tim Graham recently recalled a telling comment from CNN President Rick
Kaplan, the man who advised Clinton in 1992 on how to overcome the
Gennifer Flowers story. Tom Rosenstiel recounted the advice in his book on
the 1992 campaign, "Strange Bedfellows," and Rosenstiel quoted
this from Kaplan on Bill Clinton: "I know he wasn't Slick Willie,
and not a scourge, a really terrific, terrific person."
When you assume Bill Clinton always tells
the truth, you must find that everyone else in the world is a liar. -- Brent Baker
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