Networks Ignored the Charge
1) Monday night the broadcast
networks ignored the charge that the White House had hired investigators
to probe personal lives.
2) The White House conceded a
Nixonian act, using a PI, but who did the networks castigate? Starr.
Tuesday night ABC declared Starr "out of bounds;" CNN wondered
if he was "acting illegally."
3) The much-touted PBS profile
of Reagan delivered the usual liberal nonsense: "Cuts in social
programs created a homeless population that grew to exceed that of
Atlanta. AIDS became an epidemic in the 1980s...Reagan largely ignored
>>>> Some sad news. Sandy Hume, the 28-year-old son of FNC's
Brit Hume, died Sunday in his Arlington, Virginia apartment, apparently
from suicide. A reporter for The Hill, a weekly Capitol Hill newspaper,
the younger Hume broke the story last year of how House leaders were
plotting to topple Speaker Newt Gingrich. A few years ago he worked for
the American Spectator. You may recognize him from his appearances on
C-SPAN and most recently on his father's FNC show, Special Report with
Brit Hume. <<<<
networks were slow to pick up on charges that the White House had tasked
private investigators to probe the personal lives of Republican lawyers,
prosecutors and witnesses connected to the Lewinsky case. The charge came
to light on Sunday's Meet the Press, but the broadcast networks initially
ignored it and CNN described such activity as routine. As the February 23
Washington Post reported:
"Joseph E. diGenova, a former federal
prosecutor now working for House Republicans, said he was told that he and
his wife, attorney Victoria Toensing, 'were being investigated by a
private investigator with links to the White House.' DiGenova, who has
played a peripheral role in the Lewinsky investigation, offered no
evidence, attributing his charge to tips from reporters.
"'If the White House is condoning the
investigation of private citizens, looking into their lives...that is
truly a frightening...development,' diGenova said on NBC's Meet the Press.
"The White House fired back hours
later, berating diGenova for repeating what it called 'blatant
Sunday night and Monday night not even NBC's own Nightly News picked up
the story, choosing instead to buy the White House denial. Meet the Press
host Tim Russert appeared on Monday's Today to discuss Vernon Jordan, but
did not raise diGenova's charge.
Specifically, diGenova cited the Investigative Group Inc., headed by Terry
Lenzner. But the broadcast networks failed to look into the allegation,
despite the questions raised by this intriguing final paragraph in the
Post story by Susan Schmidt and Peter Baker:
"Lenzner declined to return phone
calls over the weekend about whether his company is investigating Starr or
his staff. Mickey Kantor, who represents Clinton as a lawyer in the
Lewinsky matter, refused to say whether he has collaborated with Lenzner.
As he was speaking to a reporter by phone Saturday, Kantor was overheard
telling a family member that Lenzner was on the other line. 'I've known
him for 30 years,' Kantor then explained."
Monday night, February 23, the broadcast networks did not air anything
about Monicagate or the possible obstruction of justice. Though they all
devoted much time to Iraq and the tornadoes which hit Florida, they also
managed time for other less pressing stories.
ABC's World News Tonight had time for Peter
Jennings to talk about a new asthma drug, the CBS Evening News made room
for an Eye on America on how tobacco companies make women's groups shut up
by distributing hush money to women's shelters and sports tournaments so
many women's groups are now "addicted to big donations from Big
NBC Nightly News managed time for a
Fleecing of America piece on a commuter rail project in Vermont, a report
on a New Zealand power outage, and a final story previewing the PBS
documentary on Reagan. NBC's Bob Faw asserted:
"The documentary shows his
contradictions. He preached balanced budgets, but never submitted one. His
priorities: budgets so big the Pentagon was spending $34 million every
hour. And his courage in 1981 when a bullet from a would-be assassin came
within an inch of his heart..."
Only CNN on Monday picked up the private
probe angle, only to dismiss its relevance, MRC analyst Eric Darbe
observed. In a story aired on both Inside Politics and The World Today,
CNN's John King began:
"Sources describe independent counsel
Ken Starr as angry at what he considers a White House sanctioned effort to
smear his prosecutors in the Monica Lewinsky case. Old news clippings
about controversial cases are sent to reporters, along with faxes raising
questions about Starr and his team. Such tactics are routine in political
campaigns, and most lawyers shrug given the high stakes in the Lewinsky
(Monday night the Fox News Channel delivered a story on another aspect of
Monicagate, with FNC's David Shuster offering this fresh take: "Starr
and his team of prosecutors, according to sources, are considering the
possibility that President Clinton helped Monica Lewinsky write the
so-called talking points memo. Lewinsky and Clinton met in the White House
at the end of December, just a few weeks before Lewinsky gave Linda Tripp
the memo suggesting how to answer allegations in the Paula Jones
Tuesday White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry conceded that Clinton and
White House lawyers had indeed employed private investigators, but instead
of pouncing on this admission of Nixonian behavior ABC concluded Starr
"is out of bounds" and CNN's Bernard Shaw demanded to know if
"by calling before the grand jury people such as Sidney Blumenthal,
is Ken Starr acting illegally?" CBS and NBC refused to make a moral
choice, treating the whole matter as a cat fight between equally corrupt
Here's a rundown of February 24 evening
show coverage. All led with the weather damage in California and Florida
ABC and NBC featuring full stories on an
18-month-old boy found safe inside tree after a tornado. About 20 minutes
into their shows all the broadcast networks got to Starr's decision to
call before the grand jury those he suspects of spreading misinformation
to the press about his staff.
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings set up the story by
emphasizing how Starr has gotten off track:
"In Washington today, the independent
counsel Kenneth Starr, who's investigated everything from Whitewater to
the President's behavior with Monica Lewinsky, has been trying to find out
how information about his staff ended up in the media, so today's events
were not about getting to the actual details of the allegations in the
Lewinsky case, they were a fight with the White House over tactics."
Jackie Judd began: "Starr struck back
at what prosecutors believe is a campaign coordinated by the White House
to smear them in the press."
Following a clip of Starr Judd explained
how White House aide Sidney Blumenthal and private investigator Terry
Lenzner had been subpoenaed, explaining: "Lenzner's appearance at the
courthouse caused the administration some discomfort because on Sunday he
had issued an apparently definitive statement that 'No one...hired...any
private investigator to look into the background of..investigators,
prosecutors or reporters.' Today, Mr. Clinton's attorney's conceded
Lenzner has worked for them since 1994. Mike McCurry claimed there was
nothing unusual about his work."
After a soundbite from McCurry, Judd concluded by painting the Clinton
White House as the aggrieved party:
"Starr justified the subpoenas of
Lenzner and Blumenthal by saying a smear campaign could amount to
obstruction of justice, but even some current and former federal
prosecutors say that Starr is out of bounds and he should get on with the
issues that really matter in the Lewinsky case."
-- CBS Evening News. In his typically overwrought manner, Dan Rather
highlighted Starr's supposed misdeeds:
"Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr has
increased the pressure even further on President Clinton today in what
some call the nastiest and most personal clash yet. The Clintons have
accused Starr of illegal, false and self-serving leaks of grand jury
testimony in a campaign to get the Clintons at all costs, as they see it.
Tonight, as CBS News White House correspondent Scott Pelley reports, Starr
is boring in bigger, harder."
Pelley explained how Starr is asking the grand jury to probe White House
efforts to sabotage his investigation by telling reporters about skeletons
in the past of his prosecutors. As for hiring a private investigator to
dig up dirt, Pelley reported: "Spokesman Mike McCurry said the
lawyers deny that allegation. Then he was asked if the lawyers are telling
him the truth." CBS showed McCurry saying "yes."
Pelley continued: "Then McCurry added,
quote 'God help them if they're not.' The prosecutors tonight say that the
techniques they are using are appropriate and traditional. But CBS News
has learned this evening there is another provocative move from Ken Starr.
He has subpoenaed Lanny Breuer, one of the President's principle lawyers
here at the White House."
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw treated both sides as equally
"In Washington tonight, the charges
and counter-charges between the White House and the office of Whitewater
investigator Kenneth Starr have reached now a new low. Is Starr
overstepping his bounds? Is the White House snooping into the private
lives of Starr's staff?"
Lisa Myers opened: "Today the war
between independent counsel Ken Starr and the White House got nasty as
critics warned both sides may have gone too far."
Myers told viewers that Starr hauled a
private investigator and Blumenthal before the grand jury, though
Blumenthal was never called into the room and left the courthouse angry.
Myers then relayed the spin offered by both sides. First, those against
"Tonight Starr said he trying to find
out who is spreading misinformation about his staff and whether they are
trying to intimidate prosecutors, intimidate witnesses, or otherwise
obstruct justice. But some lawyers say Starr is on shaky legal ground at
Professor Michael Seidman, Georgetown
University: "This investigation has now really gone over the top.
It's one thing to investigate the President, it's another thing to
investigate those who criticize the prosecutor."
Second, those on Starr's side:
"But other lawyers say the White House
may have overreached too, with its use of private investigators. Tonight
an embarrassed White House had to admit that investigators have in fact
been digging into the backgrounds of Starr and his team. Just two days ago
the White House insisted that was not true. In a statement, presidential
lawyers now say only that they have not investigated the personal lives of
prosecutors. Some lawyers worry that Clinton's investigators also are
going too far in digging up dirt on witnesses in the case."
-- On CNN's Inside Politics, after a story from John King similar to the
one delivered by Myers, co-host Bernard Shaw decided Starr, not the White
House, deserved more review. Shaw announced:
"We want to take a closer look at the
legal tactics Ken Starr is employing. Joining us for that, CNN justice
correspondent Pierre Thomas. By calling before the grand jury people such
as Sidney Blumenthal, is Ken Starr acting illegally?"
Thomas replied: "I talked with a
number of Justice Department sources today, and they don't think what Ken
Starr is doing is illegal, but they ask questions about what is the end
game. How useful is this to his investigation? The other question they
have is he becoming too sensitive to criticism? One of the cardinal rules
of Justice Department investigations, they tell me, is when there is
criticism not to say anything."
Shaw's next question: "Are his tactics routine, or are they
Thomas again criticized Starr: "Again,
I spoke with a number of sources today. They say that these might be a
little bit unusual, but they raise the question of how does this affect
his investigation? Is it helpful to his investigation? And they say they
can't see how it's useful to his investigation, so why do it."
much talked about PBS documentary on Ronald Reagan has aired and while it
overall did not reflect Bryant Gumbel's take on Reagan, it did deliver
some Gumbel-like assessments. That is, long on ideological disgust, short
on factual information. The two-part profile, part of "The
Presidents" series produced by WGBH in Boston for PBS's American
Experience, certainly included much material laudatory of the former
President and as PBS goes it was better than you'd expect with a
respectful review of many of Reagan's accomplishments. But, PBS marred
their presentation by refusing to refrain from repeating liberal
assertions from the 1980s that have little basis in reality.
Here are just two quick examples. First, from the two hours aired by most
PBS stations on February 23:
"The cuts fell most dramatically on
programs designed to help the poor. 'I'm trying to undo LBJ's Great
Society,' Reagan wrote in his diary. 'It was his war on poverty that led
us to this mess.' Reagan also called for a 30 percent tax cut across the
board. All taxpayers would benefit, but the wealthy would benefit the
most. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill vowed to fight. 'Reagan's program,'
he said, 'soaked the poor to subsidize the rich.'"
Second, from Tuesday night, February 24:
"The stock market crashed in October
1997, another setback for Reagan. Black Monday raised doubts about the
soundness of Reagan's economic policies. On Reagan's watch tax revenues
would double, but they never kept up with spending. The national debt
nearly tripled. Although most Americans benefitted, the gap between the
richest and poorest became a chasm. Donald Trump and the new billionaires
of the 1980s recalled the extravagance of the captains of industry in the
1880s. There were losers. Cuts in social programs created a homeless
population that grew to exceed that of Atlanta. AIDS became an epidemic in
the 1980s, nearly 50,000 died. Reagan largely ignored it..."
That's quite a high rate of erroneous assertions per minute. Not one thing
after the date of the stock market crash is correct, as the MRC has
repeatedly documented in MediaWatch over the years. Someday, a reporter
might actually check the facts and learn that not one social spending
program grew slower than inflation in the 1980s.
There's plenty more material I could cite from the PBS series, including
quite a bit of bias on the PBS Web site feature on "The
Presidents," but more on that when I have more room in a future
-- Brent Baker
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