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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Thursday, February 26, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 34)

CBS: "Trigger-Happy" Starr & His Unethical Team; Blumenthal Bio

1) CBS launched a jihad against Ken Starr Thursday night, relaying personal attacks on his team; NBC's Brokaw worried about the "chilling effect" Starr is having on the First Amendment.

2) A network anchor denounced First Amendment attacks on Starr and insisted "Starr should find it out" if Blumenthal leaked any "nasty stuff." Obviously not an ABC, CBS, CNN or NBC anchor.

3) Tim Russert blamed Ken Starr for media focus on his tactics, as if the media couldn't avoid conforming to the White House spin.

4) Today's Katie Couric conducted a tough interview with William Ginsburg, unlike GMA's Lisa McRee who asked if Starr is guilty of "blackmail?"

5) A MediaWatch profile of Sidney Blumenthal. Who did he once denounce as "an incredibly mean-spirited right-wing character."

Foul Family Hour. The Parents Television Council, a project of the MRC, on Wednesday released a new study titled "Bigger Isn't Better: The Expanded TV Ratings System." The AP distributed a story on it Wednesday that you may see in your Thursday newspaper. MRC entertainment analyst Tom Johnson reviewed a month's worth of family hour shows and found that the new content ratings (L, S, D and V) are meaningless: 65 percent of shows with obscenities did not carry an L for coarse language and 76 percent of 8-9pm ET/PT shows with sexual innuendo did not carry a D for sexual dialogue. To read the whole study of ABC, Fox, CBS, NBC, UPN and WB family hour content and ratings, with illustrative graphs created by MRC research associate Kristina Sewell, go to the top of the MRC home page where MRC Web Manager Joe Alfonsi has posted it, or directly to:

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)Wednesday's New York Times story reporting that the White House would invoke executive privilege prompted ABC to focus on the decision Wednesday night, but NBC still worried more about Kenneth Starr's tactic in calling Sidney Blumenthal, asking if it would have a "chilling effect on the First Amendment." CBS ignored executive privilege altogether, running a hit piece on Starr's team straight from Blumenthal's play book, a story which employed the same methods liberals and the media have condemned Starr for supposedly using -- leaking hearsay comments and tidbits of harmful looking personal information, in this case about a "trigger happy" Starr and his over-aggressive staff.

Wednesday night's 8pm The World Today on CNN included a story on how both sides are preparing for a constitutional showdown over executive privilege. Reporter John King showed how Clinton ignored questions about the matter, but noted that scholars favor Starr's position as the privilege only covers official government business. King highlighted dueling soundbites of Starr saying it is the grand jury's duty to check out efforts to impede its work followed by a bite from Harold Ickes claiming Starr is out of control with what "smacks of Gestapo tactics." FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report also featured a full report by David Shuster on the executive privilege battle.

Here's how the broadcast networks handled Monicagate Wednesday night, February 25, starting with the CBS hit on Starr:


-- CBS Evening News. Well into the show Dan Rather noted that Starr called before the grand jury the Director of Oval Office Operations Nancy Hernreich. Rather, who built his career by detailing Nixon's efforts to hide the truth, didn't find Clinton's expected executive privilege claim newsworthy and instead portrayed Starr as the man with something to hide. Rather intoned:

"Starr's subpoenas to people close to Clinton are one reason the Clintons are convinced that the special prosecutor and his staff are out to get them. So who's on this Starr team anyway and where did they come from. We asked CBS's Phil Jones to find out."

Phil Jones opened: "When you listen to Kenneth Starr and his lawyers they sound so gentlemanly."

Starr: "Our job is to get at the truth and the truth will speak for itself."

Jones: "But many of the lawyers working for Starr are known for everything but gentleness. They have reputations as some of the toughest prosecutors in the nation who are proud of successfully prosecuting high public officials for wrongdoing."

Then, as picture of each appeared one by one on a graphic of a file folder with the basic resume items announced by Jones listed, he ran through their backgrounds:

"Jackie Bennett, a Justice Department public integrity prosecutor has two big trophies. Convictions of a former Minnesota Senator and a Texas Congressman. [The only Minnesota Senator I recall being convicted was a Republican, something Jones didn't bother mentioning.]

"Hickman Ewing, lead counsel in Little Rock, brought down a Tennessee Governor and ten sheriffs while he was a U.S. Attorney.

"Bruce Udolf, nailed more than a dozen judges, mayors and cops for corruption while U.S. Attorney in Miami. But, earlier in his career, Udolf was sued and found guilty of violating a defendant's constitutional rights.

"Michael Emmick, from the U.S. Attorney's office in LA. In 1994 a judge attacked Emmick and his prosecutors for being 'callous, coercive and vindictive' in their tactics to get a woman to testify against her ex-husband.

"The boss has never been a prosecutor, but Kenneth Starr himself may be the toughest of them all according to Dallas attorney Dan Guthrie (sp?). Guthrie defended Arkansas banker Herbie Branscom (sp?) when Whitewater prosecutors went after suspected illegal contributions to Clinton campaigns. Starr lost the case, then threatened a re-trial.

"In an interview with CBS News Dan Guthrie disclosed for the first time what he described as a stunning private conversation he had with Starr's deputy in Little Rock, Hickman Ewing. Ewing talked candidly about the frustrations of working for Ken Starr."

Guthrie: "And he said 'well, there's good and there's bad.' I said oh really? He said 'yeah, the problem is Ken wants to indict everybody for everything. Ken is trigger happy. We're constantly having to tell him, Ken, you can't indict somebody for that.' And I was frankly stunned."

Jones, in mock astonishment which allowed him to repeat the charge: "Hickman Ewing said that Ken Starr was trigger happy and wants to indict everybody?"

Guthrie: "That's correct."

Jones: "We asked Hickman Ewing about that conversation. He denied using those exact words, but did confirm that sometimes Starr has wanted to move faster than his team of experienced prosecutors. However, Ewing said, Starr may be the boss but he doesn't do anything unless his senior prosecutors agree. Phil Jones, CBS News, Washington."


-- ABC's World News Tonight, in stark contrast, led with Clinton's maneuver. Peter Jennings asserted: "We begin tonight with a couple of questions that are important to the Clinton presidency. Is the President trying to withhold information about the Monica Lewinsky case from a grand jury and is it his right to do so? There are signs today that the White House is moving to formally invoke something called executive privilege, an effort to protect information that the President's staff may have about the Monica Lewinsky case."

Jackie Judd explained that in Florida Clinton avoided questions from Sam Donaldson and that the issue was triggered by Bruce Lindsey's refusal to answer questions about conversations with Clinton about Lewinsky. Prosecutors fear the White House holds the cards, Judd noted, because Lindsey knows things no one else does and by just making the claim they can delay Starr for months as the battle goes through the courts.

Later, ABC dedicated the "A Closer Look" segment to executive privilege. After Jennings noted Thomas Jefferson first claimed it, Linda Douglass delivered a story recalling how Nixon used it.

Jennings then told viewers that Clinton invoked it in the Espy case and that "a court agreed that the President does have executive privilege, but only to protect conversations or advice that pertained to governmental business. On the face of it, to a layman, it would seem conversations about Monica Lewinsky do not qualify. But we thought it best to ask an expert." Former Assistant Attorney General Charles Cooper agreed.

Finally, Jennings asked Donaldson about White House strategy. Donaldson explained that to deflect attention from their stonewalling the Clinton team plans to "zero in" on Starr. Today, Donaldson noted, they faxed around to reporters public quotes condemning Starr.

Now the White House can put Wednesday's CBS story in their next fax.


-- NBC Nightly News came down between ABC and CBS with Claire Shipman talking about Clinton and Tom Brokaw condemning Starr. Tom Brokaw told viewers:

"Just when you thought all of this possibly could not get any more complicated or convoluted, it in fact has. NBC's Claire Shipman joins me now with the growing controversy over Kenneth Starr's grand jury and President Clinton's claim of executive privilege."

Shipman, in a story which also aired on MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams, stuck to Clinton, noting that "for all practical purposes" executive privilege was invoked last week by Bruce Lindsey when he refused to testify about some matters. The White House, she continued, won't talk about "what it knows will be an embarrassing move" most memorably employed by Nixon, concluding: "Legal experts doubt that the claim would be upheld."

Brokaw insisted upon returning to Starr's tactics, asking Shipman: "From the Kenneth Starr point of view, I gather that he's asking a lot of these White House aides, in the grand jury room, about the contacts that they've been having with the press. That will have a chilling effect on the First Amendment, won't it?" Shipman agreed, "That's right..."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)A "chilling effect"? Well, here's an example of how the Fox News Channel really is different than the other networks. Wednesday night Bill O'Reilly made this comment at the top of his 8pm ET O'Reilly Factor show:

"First of all, I'm a journalist and I'm not upset because Sidney Blumenthal's being forced to testify in front of the grand jury. After hearing many in the media decry Mr. Starr's action against Blumenthal I can't figure out what the fuss is all about. Blumenthal isn't a journalist anymore, he works for the Democrats. If he tried to intimidate anyone connected with Mr. Starr's investigation that's against the law and Mr. Starr should find it out. Word is that Sidney Blumenthal leaked some pretty nasty personal stuff from his White House perch. I don't know if that's true, but if it is we all should know about it."

cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)Ken Starr controls NBC News and maybe the entire media? That's what NBC's Tim Russert seemed to be saying in an exchange on Wednesday's Today caught by MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens.

Matt Lauer: "Sidney Blumenthal's attorney said, and we just saw it, that Ken Starr has gotten out of control. Do you think that's true?"

Russert: "Many legal professors believe that he has overstepped his bounds. If not legally he has certainly made a political blunder. We are talking this morning about Ken Starr's tactics and not the White House stonewalling."

Lauer and Russert did later discuss the White House use of private investigators, but who decided to make investigator Starr the lead Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and not the Clinton team's tactics? No one made the media focus on Starr. That was the media's choice.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Katie's back and she greeted Lewinsky attorney William Ginsburg with a much tougher set of questions than her fill-in Jodi Applegate would have posed and Good Morning America's Lisa McRee did actually ask.

Tuesday morning, February 24, Katie Couric returned to Today for the first morning since her husband died and she challenged some of the default answers Ginsburg repeats in every interview. Here are two representative questions Couric put to Ginsburg:

-- When Ginsburg insisted Starr is invading privacy and being a keeper of morality for the country, Couric countered: "It's not only morality though is it Mr. Ginsburg, we're talking about real legal issues here. Perjury, suborning perjury, it's not simply whether or not the President had sexual relations with an intern."

-- "Bernard Lewinsky, Monica Lewinsky's father, did an interview on Friday night with Barbara Walters. He said he did not believe she was having a relationship with the President and yet he said that she never told him 'Dad, this isn't true.' Doesn't that strike you as a bit odd? It did me."

Contrast that tone, which put the burden on Lewinsky's side, to the approach MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen noticed GMA's Lisa McRee took Wednesday morning. She was more interested in how Starr was improperly pushing around Lewinsky. Here are a few of her questions to Ginsburg:


-- Note the use of the words "taxpayer" and "girl" in this inquiry: "You say an indictment. She could be charged with lying on an affidavit in the Paula Jones case, whether or not she testifies before the grand jury. She could also be charged with telling Linda Tripp to lie, according to the tapes. What sort of punishment would she face if, in fact, Kenneth Starr spends taxpayer's money to put this girl on trial?"

-- "We'll talk about the leaks in a second, but if Kenneth Starr is withholding full immunity because Monica's 'truth' [McRee uses fingers to imply truth is in quotes] doesn't go far enough, is that legal blackmail?"


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes)With Sidney Blumenthal expected to be called before the grand jury Thursday morning, I thought some information on the tactics of the man who was a Washington Post reporter in the early 1980s and is now suing Matt Drudge might be of interest. So, below is the "Revolving Door" article on him from the July, 1997 MediaWatch, a newsletter published by the MRC. The article reviews how he disparages conservatives and used his media positions to help the Clintons by tattling on his colleagues. -- Brent Baker (Blumenthal story below)

Sidney's Clinton-Loving Slant

Sidney Blumenthal, the former Washington Post, New Republic and New Yorker reporter, started his new White House job on July 1. He was picked to "work on major speeches and serve as an all-purpose message-meister," noted the June 7 National Journal. Blumenthal insisted in the Feb. 17, 1992 New Republic: "While George Bush -- all whiteness -- talks about 'family values,' the Clintons demonstrate them by confessing to adultery."

Even his colleagues realized he's been a Clinton promoter. Observed the June 23 New Republic: "We are delighted to note that the noted Democratic journalist Sidney Blumenthal, having worked so long for the Clinton White House outside the Clinton White House, will now work for the Clinton White House inside the Clinton White House." The magazine quipped: "With any luck, one of his journalistic colleagues remarked, he'll get his back pay."

Indeed, Blumenthal told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz: "This is a chance to help change the country. I was always in journalism because I thought I could help make a difference." A June 29 Post story reported that while at the New Yorker he began "brainstorming sessions" with Dick Morris. "Morris said Blumenthal recommended ideas for staging Clinton at the Democratic National Convention and for using Clinton's appearances at the Atlanta Olympics to boost him politically."

Kurtz's June 16 profile included some illuminating anecdotes about Blumenthal's journalism:

-- "During the 1992 campaign, says Julia Reed, a Vogue magazine reporter, Blumenthal urged her at a party not to write a piece questioning Clinton's character. But what, she shot back, if it were true? 'It doesn't matter,' she recalls him saying. 'This is too important.'"

-- "Peter Boyer, a New Yorker writer, says Blumenthal tried to sabotage his story about the Travelgate affair last year. Boyer says he mentioned the piece to his colleague after learning that Blumenthal had lunched with Clinton's friend Harry Thomason on the day the Hollywood producer pushed for the firing of the White House travel office employees....Boyer says he was later told...that Blumenthal had warned them Boyer was anti-Clinton and planned to smear them."

-- "Blumenthal shied away from writing about his friend Hillary Clinton. 'That's where [Editor] Tina [Brown] finally said, 'This is untenable,' says a New Yorker writer. By 1995, Blumenthal was no longer writing the Letter from Washington. He was replaced by Michael Kelly, a fierce Clinton critic. Kelly ordered Blumenthal to stay away from the magazine's downtown office. 'I did not trust him...I felt his relationship...with the President and First Lady was such that I was not sure I wanted him around the office as I was working on stories.'"

Blumenthal has a mean-spirited streak, offering this assessment in the April 16, 1993 Boston Phoenix: "Bill Bennett is basically a schismatic heretic practicing his own contrived lunatic version of the Latin Mass in the basement. That's what Buchanan is doing, only with Confederate flags flying. You have Phil Gramm of Texas, an incredibly mean-spirited right-wing character backed by big- oil money. He is the kind of perverse version of Lyndon Johnson whittled down to his vices and exaggerated. Then you have Bob Dole: when he's most sardonic and cruel is when he's most sincere. I think that's the Republican Party right now."

  -- Brent Baker

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