ABC: Starr "Too Aggressive?" & An IC Leaking in 1992 Not So Bad
1) Sunday night the networks
ignored Panetta's rebuke of his old boss and focused on how Starr should
be dumped. Saturday night NBC dismissed the relevance of a Secret Service
officer's testimony. Friday night ABC asked if Starr is "too
2) Latest MRC Media Reality
Check fax report: "Networks Asking if Ken Starr is 'Partisan and
Political' Forget Lawrence Walsh's Last-Ditch 1992 Leak."
On Sunday's This Week former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta
insisted of Clinton "that at some point he's got to tell the
American people the truth of what was behind this relationship. Obviously,
there was something more here. And it's got to be explained to the
But the networks remain more interested in
attacks on Starr than in former top aides questioning the President's
integrity. On Sunday night the broadcast networks ignored Panetta's
comment and focused instead on hits on Ken Starr. The same occurred Friday
night when ABC set out to prove that Starr's "tactics are too
rough." Saturday night the networks focused more on Clinton, but ABC
and NBC offered conflicting takes on who Secret Service officer Lewis
Fox's testimony would help.
Here's a rundown of broadcast evening
show coverage in reverse date order -- Sunday, Saturday and then Friday:
-- Sunday, February 15
CBS: The demonization plan, we won't call
it a conspiracy, has worked. The White House and its operatives spent two
weeks disparaging the ethics of Ken Starr, leading the public to perceive
him, in the words of Dan Rather, as "conducting a partisan rather
than an impartial investigation." Now it's come full circle, with
the media able to highlight how even a Republican thinks Starr should be
dumped. On the February 15 Fox News Sunday a liberal Republican Senator
declared Ken Starr unfit because of public mistrust.
After mentioning how Newsweek will publish
e-mail messages sent by Lewinsky to Linda Tripp, CBS Evening News anchor
John Roberts announced:
"Republican Senator Arlen Specter says
someone other than Kenneth Starr should investigate Lewinsky because many
Americans think Starr, quote 'is out to get the President.'"
ABC: Over on ABC's World News Tonight on
Sunday night, Monicagate got 11 seconds, but all about Starr's conduct.
Anchor Kevin Newman reported: "Monica Lewinsky's lawyer, William
Ginsburg, says he has filed a formal complaint with the Justice Department
over what he calls 'a consistent flow of leaks' from independent
counsel Kenneth Starr's office."
ABC followed with stories on how the
scandal is not hurting Democratic fundraising and a piece prompted by Tim
Russert's Meet the Press questioning of National Security Adviser Sandy
Berger about a briefing he gave actor John Travolta on how the U.S. is
addressing the German crackdown on Scientology.
(NBA basketball bumped NBC Nightly News, at
least in the eastern and central time zones.)
-- Saturday, February 14
ABC: World News Tonight got to Monicagate
after stories on Iraq, the naming of a suspect in the abortion clinic
bombing and El Nino's impact. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas delivered this
intro: "ABC's Ann Compton reports on two more witnesses, whose
accounts are expected to support the prosecutor's version of what
happened." Compton outlined the deal with Secret Service officer Fox
that will allow him to tell how he let Monica Lewinsky into the Oval
Office where Clinton was alone, but not discuss security procedures.
Compton picked up on a Los Angeles Times
story about how on Thursday the grand jury had heard from Neysa Erbland, a
friend whom Lewinsky had told of sex with Clinton. A Washington Post
report on how Linda Tripp talked to lawyers for Jones the night before
they deposed Clinton, also got a sentence from Compton before she
concluded by noting that Newsweek will publish e-mail sent by Lewinsky.
Compton ended by reciting one of the messages: "And Monica laments
the Big Creep didn't even try to call me on Valentine's Day."
Next, ABC ran a story from John Cochran on
Newt Gingrich's quiet comeback from his fight for survival a year ago.
He's now less combative, less partisan and more popular.
NBC: Like ABC, NBC put Monicagate after
Iraq, El Nino and the bomber, but reporter Chip Reid, who relayed the
Tripp news and ignored Erbland, had the opposite spin on Fox's
"Fox's attorney doubts, however,
that the testimony has much value."
Michael Leibig, Fox's lawyer: "He
did not perceive then, and he doesn't perceive now that that was
something that unusual or something that needed to be reported or
particularly recorded because it didn't seem to be that unusual. So I
don't see the context in which that is a smoking gun."
CBS: Saturday's Evening News didn't
bother with a full report. Instead, anchor Paula Zahn delivered three
brief items: the deal with Fox, Erbland's testimony and how Tripp talked
to the Jones lawyers.
Friday, February 13: A front page
"analysis" piece in Friday's Washington Post carried this
headline: "To Some in the Law, Starr's Tactics Show a Lack of
ABC: On cue, World News Tonight picked up
on the theme. After two stories on Iraq, Peter Jennings claimed that
Starr's "tactics have been very widely discussed this week. Is he
being too aggressive for one thing?"
Reporter Linda Douglass gave time to
proponents and detractors, but the agenda matched Starr's opponents as
those upset by Starr got more time and the last counterpoint. Douglass
"The anguish on the face of Monica
Lewinsky's mother was the best evidence yet of how rough Kenneth Starr
is willing to play. Prosecutors say that sometimes comes with the
Following a clip of former federal
prosecutor James Cole, Douglass continued:
"But many prosecutors wonder if
Starr's tactics are too rough. Some examples: wiring Linda Tripp so she
could collect evidence on her friend. Sending FBI agents to a college
fraternity house to question Lewinsky's younger brother. And most
striking, forcing Lewinsky's mom to testify about her private
conversations with her daughter about her sex life. Former prosecutors say
those methods may be distasteful, but they are used all the time."
Former federal prosecutor Sean O'Shea
elaborated on that point before Douglass cited the example of prosecutors
making Tim McVeigh's sister testify against him. She picked up:
"But does this case, which involves
the possibility of lying in a civil deposition about sexual affairs,
warrant such strong- arming?"
David Schertler, former federal prosecutor:
"You don't use those no holes barred techniques in the less serious
felonies or the misdemeanor cases. You reserve them for he cases tat are
James Cole: "Is it really necessary,
is this the appropriate case to take an extreme measure like this?"
Douglass: "In fact, several former
prosecutors told ABC News they would never pursue charges of perjury in a
civil case in the first place. But because these charges involve lying and
cover up by the President, others say Ken Starr has no choice."
O'Shea explained how the involvement of
the President elevates the importance of the case, before Douglass
"Most criminal investigations are
conducted quietly, behind the scenes. This case is unusual because the
American people are watching and they don't always like what they
CBS: Dan Rather gave the whole case 28
seconds devoted to the plight of Marcia Lewis, claiming that in
Thursday's grand jury appearance "Lewinsky's mother screamed and
had an anxiety attack after hearing transcripts and listening to secretly
made tapes of her daughter."
NBC: Tom Brokaw spent 24 seconds reciting a
pep talk Bruce Babbitt gave Interior employees about the request for an
independent counsel. NBC's In Depth segments examined morality in
America and why there's not more outrage about the charges against
Clinton. Bob Faw discovered: "On Main Street America it's getting
harder to tell right from wrong" because of the reluctance to pass
judgement on others.
Continuing our "All Starr" edition, the MRC Media Reality Check
fax report from last Thursday. The MRC's Tim Graham compared current
network concern with the appropriateness of leaks from Starr to how the
networks didn't care about 1992 leaks from Lawrence Walsh which made
President Bush look bad. -- Brent Baker (fax report follows below)
Thursday, February 12, 1998 | Vol. Two, No.
7 | Media Inquiries: Keith Appell (703)
Networks Asking if Ken Starr is "Partisan and Political" Forget
Lawrence Walsh's Last-Ditch 1992 Leak
Who Bashed the Partisan Leaker?
The unasked question in the pack of stories
and polls suggesting the partisanship of independent counsel Kenneth Starr
is this: has Starr done anything as politically damaging as Iran-Contra
counsel Lawrence Walsh's October 30, 1992 reindictment of ex-Defense
Secretary Caspar Weinberger four days before the 1992 election, complete
with the leak of a note suggesting George Bush lied when he said he was
"out of the loop" on Iran-Contra? The networks underlining
Starr's partisanship have displayed a double standard:
ABC's Nightline reported: "When asked
if there is a right-wing political conspiracy against Bill Clinton, 45
percent say yes, 43 percent no." The night of Walsh's leak, Peter
"The question of truth and character
came up again today for President Bush." After reading the leaked
Weinberger note, Jennings was the only anchor to mention the note was
"released by the special prosecutor, who is seeking a new indictment
of Mr. Weinberger for lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra
affair." But he didn't mention Walsh by name.
On CBS, after years of calling him a
"Republican prosecutor," Dan Rather noted "By more than two
to one, the public says special prosecutor Ken Starr is politically
motivated to damage the Clintons." But the night of Walsh's leak,
Rather cited new "grand jury evidence" without any mention of
Walsh. Reporter Rita Braver ran two soundbites of unlabeled liberal
columnist Anthony Lewis who, she related, "says it's ironic George
Bush is trying to
make Bill Clinton's truthfulness an
issue." Braver concluded: "The independent counsel insists the
release of the note was timed to meet the schedule for Caspar Weinberger's
trial, not to embarrass the President in the final days of the
NBC News touted a poll showing 64 percent
said the Starr probe is "partisan and political" while only 22
percent found it "fair and impartial." But the night Walsh
leaked, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw cited "new material that directly
contradicts President Bush's claim he was out of the loop in the
Iran-Contra affair." John Cochran noted: "the last thing George
Bush needs is a reminder of the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran."
Andrea Mitchell added:
"The Iran-Contra developments were a
gift to Bill Clinton, who's been struggling to counteract Bush's attack on
his credibility." No one mentioned Walsh.
CNN President/Clinton pal Rick Kaplan
followed his seminar on "Media Madness?" against Clinton with a
special on "Investigating the Investigator," where reporters
announced Starr's conservative connections, his links with the President's
political opponents, have made him suspect." On the October 30, 1992
World News, Anthony Collings noted that "pre-trial court papers in
the indictment of...Caspar Weinberger quote from Weinberger's notes
seeming to contradict Mr. Bush." But Collings also found someone the
others ignored who thought Walsh was "playing politics" -- then-Weinberger
lawyer Bob Bennett, who said: "They've had this information for
years. There can be no doubt any more that this is not about justice. This
is an outrageous political prosecution."
None of the networks followed up on The
Washington Times story of November 6, 1992 asking: why did the Clinton
campaign issue a detailed press release dated the day before Walsh's
re-indictment? Did the Walsh team leak to the Clintonites? It may seem
late to seek answers now, but it should chasten media attacks on Starr,
who worked quietly throughout the 1996 campaign as each new inquiry added
to his plate (Travelgate, the FBI files) disappeared from the news media.
-- Brent Baker
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