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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Saturday, February 7, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 22)

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."

2) CNN's "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.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) 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 comeback.)

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 analyst.

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 independent counsel.

Reporter Tim O'Brien then explored leaks, concluding:
"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?"

Clinton: "Never."

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 operation.

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."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)CNN 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.

-- Opening:

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 profit."

Protesters: "Save our democracy, investigate Starr."

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 House."

C. Boyden Gray, Bush counselor: "He is about as straight a shooter as you will find anywhere in American law."

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 House?...."

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 Slobogin asserted:

"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 suspect."

-- 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 line?"

-- 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 control.'"

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.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) 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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