Should Starr Go?; GOP, Not Clinton, Blamed for Sleazy Fundraising
1) Thursday night NBC said
Monicagate is "beginning to resemble a schoolyard brawl" and CNN
asked "Should Ken Starr resign?"
2) "Republicans kill the
bill to clean up sleazy political fundraising," declared Dan Rather.
He and Jennings whined about finance reform while ignoring more evidence
of Trie's ties to Clinton.
3) Today's Matt Lauer
spent two interview segments on how Starr has "overstepped his
authority," then admitted the media eagerly complied with the White
House strategy to put Starr on the defense.
an approach that serves White House interests, Thursday night NBC and CNN
portrayed a confusing personal battle between Clinton and Starr. CBS also
aired a Monicagate story, but ABC didn't mention it Thursday night. Each
of the broadcast network evening shows opened with a different story: ABC
led with the plan to topple Saddam Hussein, CBS with the defeat of McCain-Feingold
and NBC a report blaming the gondola crash in Italy on the U.S. military
Here's how the networks approached
Monicagate Thursday night, February 26:
-- NBC Nightly News.
Immediately after the Italian cable car story, Tom Brokaw announced:
"In the Monica Lewinsky investigation
the fight between the White House and the Ken Starr team is beginning to
resemble a schoolyard brawl. There are important principles involved here:
limiting first amendment rights, hiding behind executive privilege, but
the bitterness between these two camps has turned this into a blood feud
and the real purpose of the investigation seems to have been set
Of course, it's a bit hypocritical for
Brokaw to complain about that now when weeks ago the networks diverted
attention from what Clinton did to Starr's tactics.
Reporter David Bloom began:
"Presidential adviser Sidney Blumenthal testified before the grand
jury today and then launched into an attack, a tirade against independent
prosecutor Kenneth Starr. At issue: is the White House trying to smear
prosecutors to derail their investigation, or is Starr abusing his powers
to intimidate political opponents."
Bloom showed a soundbite of Blumenthal
saying he's not intimidated. Bloom added that the White House insisted
attacks on Starr are above board, "But sources say Starr's team now
believes it has evidence that prosecutor's personal lives are being
scrutinized. Inquiries about divorce proceedings and sexual preferences,
what Starr called an avalanche of lies."
Following a clip of Starr Bloom showed a
soundbite of Democrat John Conyers labeling Starr's inquiry an
"unconstitutional inquisition." Bloom concluded by noting how
Clinton "again ducked questions" about executive privilege and
how Vernon Jordan is scheduled for next Tuesday.
-- CNN. At the top of
Inside Politics Bernard Shaw also blamed Starr, not the media, for
diverting attention, and then featured a discussion about whether Ken
Starr should resign. Shaw asserted:
"Ken Starr's focus on White House aide
Sidney Blumenthal, and possible leaks to the news media, has given the
independent counsel something in common with the President: He's diverting
attention from Mr. Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
And, as our John King reports, Starr also
seems to be contributing to the plunge in his own, unofficial approval
King began by putting the burden on Starr:
"White House aide Sidney Blumenthal was the witness before the Monica
Lewinsky grand jury, yet many say independent counsel Ken Starr is the one
with questions to answer."
After dueling soundbites from Blumenthal
and Starr, King insisted: "Even some longtime friends question
Former U.S. Attorney Henry Hudson explained
"When Ken Starr began sending out subpoenas to gather information
about people that may be criticizing his staff -- if that's his intention,
I'm concerned about that, and yes, it does cause me to rethink just how
much support I can have of Ken Starr."
King led into a bite from Barney Frank:
"Democrats say the independent counsel is out of control." But
then King also gave the other side time: "Lawyers who say Starr is
well within his rights suggest the independent counsel can't worry about
the public relations war."
Concluded King: "Often lost in this
bitter tactical fight are the sex scandal allegations that led to the
investigation in the first place. No one here at the White House is
complaining about that."
King's piece, minus that concluding
paragraph, also ran on CNN's 8pm ET World Today. (Yesterday's
CyberAlert reported that the February 25 CNN World Today at 8pm ET carried
a full story by John King on executive privilege. MRC news analyst Eric
Darbe informed me that King's story did not appear on the 10pm ET
edition which offered only a sentence on Monicagate leading into a story
on how Russian women are writing love letters and poems to Clinton.)
Back to Thursday's Inside Politics, Shaw
opened the next segment: "Now let's discuss the question: Should Ken
Starr resign? Former federal prosecutor Henry Hudson joins us on Inside
Politics along with Stuart Taylor, a senior writer for the
National Journal and a contributing editor
for Newsweek. First to you, Stuart. Should Starr pack his bags?"
-- CBS Evening News.
Scott Pelley actually focused more on White House stonewalling than
Starr's tactics explaining that CBS and other news organizations have
asked the judge to reveal if witnesses are using executive privilege. Over
video of Clinton ignoring reporters, Pelley observed: "The President
is fighting off the question as though it was a plague. And the White
House has been stonewalling for a week."
After a clip showing Mike McCurry refusing
to answer questions, Pelley moved on to Blumenthal and showed a soundbite
of him denouncing Starr.
-- ABC's World News Tonight.
Zilch on any aspect of Monicagate, as if Blumenthal were never called.
-- Fox News Channel.
FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report included a complete report on Sidney
Blumenthal's appearance and the 6pm ET/9pm PT Special Report with Brit
Hume added a profile piece on Blumenthal, featuring a scintillating
soundbite from me.
evidence became public Wednesday night and Thursday about White House
demands for other government officials to help Charlie Trie, now indicted
for illegal foreign donations. But instead of telling viewers about that,
the three broadcast networks Thursday night highlighted how, as Dan Rather
so elegantly put it, "Republicans kill the bill to clean up sleazy
Wednesday night the networks worried about
the "chilling effect" Starr's subpoenaing of media contacts
might have on the First Amendment, but Thursday night the networks
didn't care about how more government regulation of campaign speech
would "chill" free speech.
-- On ABC's World News Tonight
Peter Jennings delivered this argument disguised as a news report:
"The Senate has effectively killed
political campaign finance reform for the foreseeable future which means
that even though a majority of Senators declared themselves in favor of
trying to change the way politicians raise and spend money, there were not
enough votes to end a Republican filibuster. Together the Senate and the
House of Representatives spent more than $9 million dollars to hold more
than 30 days of hearings on how to change the rules, and even though so
many Americans believe that money is more important to the process than
their vote -- which is not a pretty picture -- and though many, many
politicians believe the system is flawed, they will not be fixing it, just
-- Jennings offered a calm and reasoned
summary compared to Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News. "Republicans
kill the bill to clean up sleazy political fundraising. The business of
dirty campaign money will stay business as usual," declared Rather in
his top of the show tease. Instead of portraying the Senators as civil
rights heroes as a conservative would, for defending freedom of speech and
the right of all citizens to make their views knows, Rather delivered the
liberal line in this loaded and slanted take on what the Senate did:
"Good evening. Legislation to reform
shady big money campaign fundraising is dead in Congress. Republican
opponents in the Senate killed it today. It was the latest in a long
running attempt to tougher loose laws that shield hidden donors with loose
wallets and deep pockets. As CBS's Bob Schieffer reports, when it came
to the crunch today on campaign finance reform, it was all talk and no
Bob Schieffer began his story, which
assumed that the answer to law breaking is not to enforce the law but
create new ones: "For all those promises of bipartisan cooperation to
clean up the system, for all the investigations into White House coffees,
Buddhist temple fundraisers, stories about top Republicans chasing
campaign money in Hong Kong, and slick operator Roger Tamraz bragging
about buying appointments with the President, for all of that Senators
took a deep breath and killed campaign finance reform for another
Schieffer offered a very limitd summary of
the bill's impact: "The bill, sponsored by Republican John McCain
and Democrat Russ Feingold, would have tightened campaign laws by banning
unlimited contributions to political parties. But Republican leaders
claimed it violated free speech and used a filibuster to block it from
ever being voted upon...."
Schieffer asked Senator Fred Thompson:
"You must be a little disappointed. You brought out some things that
seem to be serious violations of this law and yet the Congress seems to be
unwilling to do anything about it."
Thompson agreed, and Schieffer concluded:
"....This legitimizes all of those loopholes the candidates found in
1996 which mean campaign costs and less accountability will be the rule in
-- NBC Nightly News. Gwen
Fill actually included a soundbite of Senator Mitch McConnell making the
First Amendment point, but she portrayed all the hearings into illegal
activity as a waste of money now that they did not produce more government
regulation: "Months of congressional hearings into campaign finance
abuse, complete with tales of money laundering and suspicious foreign
contributions. Total cost: nearly $6 million..."
Whether Jennings' $9 million or Ifill's
$6 million, viewers would have a better understanding of what their money
produced if the networks told them about the findings. On Thursday's
Inside Politics, Brooks Jackson revealed:
"Republican investigators are tying
President Clinton just a little closer to indicted Democratic fundraiser,
Charlie Trie. And to Trie's business associate, Mr. Wu....New documents
show Mr. Wu carried a total of $333,000 in cash, during six visits to the
U.S.; visits that included stops at the White House. Nothing illegal, just
a reminder that Mr. Wu's money allegedly financed Trie's donations. The
documents were released by Chairman Dan Burton, of the House Reform and
Oversight Committee. They also included a reminder of the President's long
friendship with Trie, whose name is noted as coming from Bill Clinton's
personal phone list, in the computer files of the '92 Clinton campaign.
"Also released, an interview with
former Democratic Senate aide, Steve Clemons, who told Burton's
investigators, he, 'did everything he could to stop Trie' from being
appointed to an advisory commission on trade, but was told by
administration officials that Trie was an, 'absolute must appointment'
that had come, 'directly from the highest levels of the White House,'
and Trie got the job. Trie funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to
the Democratic National Committee, and now faces federal charges of fraud
and conspiracy. He pled not guilty."
Though this story of an award for illegal
foreign cash moved Wednesday night on the AP wire, ABC, CBS and NBC all
ignored it and CNN did not put it on its 8pm ET prime time show.
Thursday morning ABC's Good Morning America played into the White House
strategy by giving equal weight to their noise about Starr as to their own
misbehavior. But at least ABC suggested the Clinton team may have done
wrong. NBC's Today, in contrast, focused on "Has Ken Starr gone too
Here are GMA co-host Lisa McRee's
February 26 questions to Ed Rollins and James Carville as transcribed by
MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen:
-- "Ed, I'm going to start with you.
Has this escalated out of control? What right does Kenneth Starr have to
subpoena aides to the President about their conversations with
-- "But doesn't using subpoenas to
get information out of aides about their conversations with reporters have
a chilling effect on all of us?"
-- "The [New York] Times said that the
White House may exert executive privilege on behalf of the President
before a federal judge as early as this week or possibly next. Why? And
why would conversations about Monica Lewinsky be protected under the
-- "Mr. Carville, again, we have one
minute left. Why would conversations, if you could just give a straight
answer, why would conversations about Monica Lewinsky be protected? Not a
matter of national security, not official government business, and the
Supreme Court ruled during the Nixon Administration that they didn't,
that the President did not have a right, a blanket right to keep his
Opening Thursday's Today, Matt Lauer
declared: "White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal is scheduled to
testify before Ken Starr's grand jury later today and his subpoena has
caused an uproar in Washington over Starr's practices. Has Ken Starr
gone too far? We'll talk about it in our first half hour."
First, Lauer interviewed Stuart Taylor of
the National Journal, asking: "Big fuss this week was over Ken
Starr's subpoena of Sidney Blumenthal. And he is expected to testify
before the grand jury later today. Apparently Starr thinks that Blumenthal
may be spreading negative and incorrect stories about his team to the
press. Has he overstepped his authority?"
Taylor somewhat humorous replied: "I
don't know as a legal matter. But any subpoena that succeeds in making a
First Amendment martyr of an amusing fellow like Sidney Blumenthal and
that succeeds in getting Starr criticized by his natural allies, The New
York Times and Washington Post editorial pages, must have something wrong
Lauer's second question: "The
subpoena of Sidney Blumenthal came on the heels of a grilling of Monica
Lewinsky's mother before Ken Starr's grand jury. Do you think he
overstepped his boundaries in that matter?"
Up next, another interview segment that
Lauer kept mostly to Starr's tactics. As also caught and transcribed by
MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens, Lauer stated:
"Cynthia Alksne is a former federal
prosecutor herself and Ben Ginsberg is a former general counsel for the
Republican National Committee. Good morning to both of you. Cynthia what
do you think about this subpoena to Sidney Blumenthal? Did Ken Starr
overstep his authority in your opinion?"
After noting that the Attorney General had
given Starr the okay to widen his probe, Lauer returned to how the
negative publicity is Starr's fault for allowing the White House to hit
him in a way the media eat up:
"Cynthia you have to admit that the
White House is spinning this pretty hard in their direction. I mean if
they start talking about the First Amendment they scare the heck out of
the press and they get us talking more about Ken Starr's behavior than
the President's behavior."
It has certainly worked as the White House
found an eager audience in journalists.
-- Brent Baker
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