McCurry: Nothing "Innocent" About Bill & Monica but Nets Unmoved
1) Mike McCurry conceded he
doesn't think there's an innocent explanation for Monica's
relationship with Clinton, but to the networks the top aide's disbelief
in Clinton was no big deal.
2) Prosecutors Comfortable or
Appalled by Starr? Depends on the headline. Margaret Carlson complained:
"In Ken Starr's America, moms do tell -- or else."
3) The Justice Dept. is
probing the possible improper influence a Clinton-Gore campaign official
had in a bad deal that has cost taxpayers millions, but NBC decided to
leave its viewers uninformed.
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Chicago Tribune carried extraordinarily candid comments from White House
Press Secretary Mike McCurry, remarks that demonstrated that even the man
paid to convince others of Clinton's spin does not himself believe
Clinton's denial in the Monica Lewinsky matter. Later the day McCurry,
at the daily press briefing, even provided video for the networks by
confirming on camera that the Tribune had quoted him accurately.
The February 17 Chicago Tribune story by
Roger Simon began:
"President Clinton's relationship with
Monica Lewinsky could end up being a 'very complicated story' that
will not be easy to explain to the American people. 'Maybe there'll be a
simple, innocent explanation,' White House spokesman Mike McCurry said.
'I don't think so, because I think we would have offered that up
A huge news story, the trusted aide saying
he did not think there's an innocent explanation? Not on the network
morning and evening shows. Tuesday morning, MRC analyst Gene Eliasen
reported, Good Morning America news reader Kevin Newman gave McCurry's
comments a few seconds. NBC's Today though didn't utter a word about
them, observed MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens.
Tuesday night ABC and CBS allocated a few
seconds of brief anchor-read Monicagate updates to McCurry while NBC did
not even hint he made any noteworthy remarks. Only ABC ran a soundbite
from McCurry. None of the broadcast networks ran a full story on
Monicagate as Iraq news led the three evening shows, with Clinton's
speech and the UN Secretary General's trip to Baghdad consuming over
half of the CBS Evening News.
Here's a look at how the February 17
shows covered fellategate:
-- ABC's World News Tonight allocated 46
seconds to Monica matters. Peter Jennings noted that "the grand jury
hearing testimony about the alleged Lewinsky affair" heard from
retired Secret Service Officer Lewis Fox, but he didn't talk to the
press. Jennings continued:
"At the White House today there were
interesting comments from the President's spokesman Mike McCurry. He
told the Chicago Tribune this is 'going to end up being a very
complicated story, as most human relationships are. And I don't think
it's going to be entirely easy to explain maybe.' He was asked about
that at the White House briefing today." ABC showed McCurry saying:
"I've put myself in my own dog house for having answered a question
I shouldn't have answered."
-- The CBS Evening News also told viewers
about McCurry and Fox but in reverse order from ABC. Here's the entirety
of Dan Rather's 40 second update on the "alleged" story:
"While President Clinton concentrated
on explaining his Iraq policy today, his official spokesman, Mike McCurry,
gave a newspaper interview about the alleged Clinton-Monica Lewinsky
connection. McCurry told the Chicago Tribune, quote 'I think it's
going to end up being a very complicated story, as most human
relationships are. And I don't think it's going to be entirely easy to
explain maybe,' unquote. McCurry now says he wishes he hadn't said
that. A new indication today of just how complicated all this is. Special
prosecutor Ken Starr's grand jury took sworn testimony from Lewis Fox,
he's a retired uniformed Secret Service officer. Prosecutors wanted to
know if Fox ever saw the President and Lewinsky together."
It would be less complicated if Rather
explained what Lewis was set to say.
-- NBC Nightly News skipped Fox and
McCurry's candid concession, but Tom Brokaw took 11 seconds to report
the request from lawyers for Clinton that a court dismiss the Paula Jones
suit and then 12 seconds to explain an appearance not highlighted by ABC
or CBS: "A grand jury looking into the President's relationship
with Monica Lewinsky heard today from Steve Goodin, who served for three
years as Mr. Clinton's personal aide. Goodin had no comment as he left
the courtroom today."
The February 23 Time magazine highlighted dueling headlines from February
-- The Washington Post:
"Ex-Prosecutors Uncomfortable With Starr's Tactics."
-- The Wall Street Journal:
"Ex-Prosecutors Defend Starr's Handling of Clinton Probe."
Interestingly, my copy of Friday's
Washington Post carried a different headline over the same story shown in
Time. The Post's "Final" edition headline offered a more
nuanced hit on Starr: "To Some in the Law, Starr's Tactics Show a
Lack of Restraint."
Time displayed the headline contrast on
page 25, just below the weekly Margaret Carlson attack on Starr. In this
week's edition she concluded: "We are now on notice that the
conversations we have with our children are not safe from their
government. It seems quaint that on the day Monica was handed over by
Tripp to Starr's deputies, she could turn to her mother with the
expectation that whatever she said, Mom wouldn't tell. But in Ken
Starr's America, moms do tell -- or else."
gimmick ahead of reporting, NBC Nightly News managed to run an entire
story, on millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted on a lease for an
empty office building, without bothering to mention the role of a
Democratic fundraiser close to Al Gore. First, NBC's story; second,
details on how the Justice Department is now probing whether the
Democratic operative arranged the lucrative lease only after the building
owner made a large contribution to the DNC and a $1 million payment to the
The "Fleecing of America" segment
from the February 12 NBC Nightly News, as transcribed by MRC analyst
Geoffrey Dickens. To save space, we're skipping the soundbite quotes:
Tom Brokaw: "Tonight, The Fleecing of
America. Your money, your real estate, your headache, courtesy of the
federal government. This one involves a large building in Washington DC,
millions of dollars and everyone involved blaming everyone else. Here's
NBC's Bob Kur."
Bob Kur: "The walls are unfinished,
the floors still bare, wiring still exposed. Would you start paying the
rent? The government did. Eight months ago and yet this is how the
building looks today."
[Senator John McCain]
Kur: "A costly Fleecing of America.
More than $7 million in rent since July and you are going to pay at least
$7 million more before this building will become the new home of the
Federal Communications Commission, the FCC. Why is this happening? It's
such a mess it's hard to sort out. But Hap Connors, who is with the
government agency that rents buildings for bureaucrats, accuses the FCC of
stalling the project for ten years."
[competing bites from Hap Connors and the
FCC's Liz Rose] Kur: "Right now the FCC is spread among nine
buildings. Consolidating and modernizing made sense. But the old buildings
are close to Washington's power centers, lobbyists, lawyers and
convenient restaurants. The new building, though it has spectacular views,
is out of the way. For its part the FCC says plans for the new building
never were exactly what it wanted. It pushed for even more space than the
new building was originally going to provide, better security, and more
money to cover moving costs."
[Liz Rose, FCC]
Kur: "Who is to blame? Some say it
maybe the agency that rents buildings for the government, the one that
signed a lease that was in such dispute."
[Rep. Billy Tauzin]
Kur: "Now, two government agencies and
five congressional committees are spending even more money trying to
figure out what happened while you keep paying the rent on a vacant
building that's a Fleecing of America."
Plenty of time given to blaming everyone
but a key Democratic fundraising scandal figure: Peter Knight, manager of
The next morning, February 13, The
Washington Times front page featured a story headlined: "FCC's Deal
on New HQ Investigated by Justice." And NBC had plenty of opportunity
to check out this angle since the Times first raised the issue in a
November 12, 1997 story headlined "Gore Friend's Role in Financing
for New FCC Home Questioned."
Reporter Doug Abrahms opened the February
"The Justice Department has entered
the investigation of the Federal Communications Commission's future
headquarters and is focusing on financial links between the building's
developer and Peter Knight, a top Democratic fundraiser.
"The agency's Campaign Financing Task
Force is looking into payments made by Tennessee developer Franklin Haney
to Mr. Knight at the same time the FCC agreed to accept a $400 million,
20-year lease at the Portals -- a Southwest Washington office building
co-owned by Mr. Haney. A Justice Department spokesman confirmed the
"The deal supplanted an earlier
Portals lease that was worth some $238 million over 20 years....
"The Justice Department probe adds to
an investigation already under way by the House Commerce oversight and
investigations subcommittee, which wants to know why Mr. Haney paid Mr.
Knight $1 million in January 1996 at the same time the new Portals lease
"At the beginning of 1995, the FCC did
not want to move into the Portals, located at 445 12 St. SW, but by year's
end had agreed to the move after Mr. Haney became involved with the
project, the subcommittee spokesman said. He added that the panel also
wants to know why Mr. Haney paid Mr. Knight $1 million the very day the
General Services Administration -- the federal government's leasing agent
-- signed the revised Portals lease...."
Why indeed. Maybe if networks reporters
spent less time worrying about Ken Starr's tactics and whether the media
have gone "too far" or done "too much" on Monicagate,
they would be able to tell viewers about substantive charges of corruption
that don't involve sex. Then again, time isn't the problem, interest
is as NBC had enough time to highlight Knight's role if they wished.
-- Brent Baker
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