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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday, March 3, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 37)

CBS Highlights Starr's "Police State Tactics;" Clift's Warning

1) Monday night ABC skipped Monicagate while NBC, CNN and FNC previewed Jordan. CBS denounced Starr's "ominous" grand jury in which his deputies "pelt" innocent witnesses, leading to "emotional collapse" and rage "about police state tactics."

2) Just back from Mars, GMA's team says Monicagate has "finally shifted" to Starr's conduct as "Republican" Leahy denounced him.

3) Eleanor Clift warned that if House Republicans take up Starr's case against Clinton the media will probe their private lives.

4) NBC's Matt Lauer tried to get Bill Gates to agree that "we as journalists have gone overboard on this story."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)Monday night the CBS Evening News featured another hit on Ken Starr's tactics, as all his witnesses "felt the ominous chill that comes with the arrival of a grand jury subpoena" and then are "pelted" and "shaken" by his team. NBC, as well as CNN and FNC, ran preview/background pieces on Vernon Jordan, expected to testify Tuesday. Tom Brokaw asked in reference to his friendship with Clinton: "Will his testimony drive a wedge between these two old friends?" NBC's David Bloom noted that for the first time Lewinsky's lawyer, William Ginsburg, conceded Lewinsky met alone with the President, but he insists nothing happened. ABC, which ran a Jordan piece Sunday night, went Monicagate-free on Monday's World News Tonight.

All three broadcast shows on Monday night, March 2, featured lengthy pieces on a new anti-cancer vaccine breakthrough and all ended with stories on new recollections from the bodyguard in Diana's crashed car. After the cancer story which led the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather announced: "President Clinton is going after another leading killer of Americans, the drunken driver...."

Late in the show Rather noted Jordan's planned Tuesday appearance, adding: "As CBS's Eric Engberg reports, appearing before any grand jury, especially this one, can be a gut-wrenching experience."

Eric Engberg then launched a less than balanced look at the grand jury system, a look that portrayed prosecutors as the bad guys who hurt innocent people:

"It is now the one invitation in Washington no one wants, a call to testify before Ken Starr's grand jury. It left some [video of Marcia Lewis] near emotional collapse, others [video of Sidney Blumenthal] raging about police state tactics. And nearly all the witnesses, it is safe to say, felt the ominous chill that comes with the arrival of a grand jury subpoena. [video of Betty Currie hounded by press]

Bob Weiner: "The fear starts when you are outside the grand jury room, actually it starts days before when you start losing sleep wondering what's going on."

Engberg: "Bob Weiner, a press spokesman in the White House drug policy office doesn't know Monica Lewinsky but he did call some friends to support an effort to start a Maryland state investigation of Linda Tripp for taping Lewinsky's phone calls. Starr hauled him before the grand jury to ask if his bosses ordered him to make the calls as a way to hinder Starr."

Weiner: "It was a very nerve racking experience. You walk in there not knowing what he's really after."

Engberg then explained that as an information gathering tool a grand jury is not like a trial, so the "tools of impartiality" like a judge are missing. It's just the witness, grand jurors and prosecutors. CBS was not allowed to see room being used by Starr, Engberg complained, but CBS learned "the witnesses are ushered by a prosecutor into a windowless, rose pink carpeted room with eggshell colored walls..."

Engberg painted a dire picture of prosecutorial abuse: "Front and center at a large table are the prosecutors, who may try to shake the witness by acting as a pack. When Lewinsky's mother Marcia Lewis testified, five different prosecutors, some ranked among the toughest in the nation, pelted her with questions until she couldn't continue."

A former prosecutor confirmed Engberg's theme, calling it a "threatening environment" for a witness before Engberg concluded:

"And always the witness must consider that any untruth uttered in this secret room may be considered perjury, a crime that has brought dozens of scandal figures to the doorsteps of federal prisons."

Earlier, Rather had delivered this short item on the upcoming Thompson committee report: "CBS News reporter/producer Mary Hagar and correspondent Phil Jones have obtained a final copy of the report due this week by the Senate committee looking illegal contributions to the 1996 presidential campaign. CBS can now report that the committee will say, quote 'it cannot conclusively determine whether the Chinese government directed or encouraged illegal contributions,' unquote. Committee Republican claim there is, quote now 'strong circumstantial evidence China's government was involved,' unquote."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)A time warp at Good Morning America where Starr has yet to be doubted or attacked? Patrick Leahy is a Republican? Here's a transcript of the first 45 seconds or so of Monday's 7am news update on Good Morning America, a bit of news I watched at the urging of a CyberAlert recipient. Read it and see if you note anything odd.

Kevin Newman: "Good morning everybody. The Kenneth Starr investigation is starting to get as much as it gives. For the last couple of weeks most politicians on Capitol Hill have been keeping their distance from Starr and the allegations he's investigating. But now some leading Republicans are joining Democrats in saying Starr is out of line. ABC's Michel McQueen is at the White House for us this morning with more on this. Good morning Michel."

McQueen: "Good morning Kevin. The President returned from several days down time in Utah to slightly more favorable political terrain here in Washington as the debate has finally shifted from his conduct to that of independent counsel Kenneth Starr."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D) Judiciary Cmte: "The fact of the matter is Kenneth Starr has gotten totally out of control. He has this fixation with trying to topple the President of the United States and he's doing everything possible to do it."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R) Judiciary Cmte: "It looks to me like he's getting pretty close to getting to the bottom of this. And I suspect before it's all said and done the President is going to be in some degree of trouble."

McQueen, moving on, oblivious to how her story so far has made no sense: "Now the grand jury reconvenes tomorrow...."

Three observations:

-- The CNN ad making fun of the banality of Today and GMA isn't that far off: Newman and McQueen say "good morning" three times in a mere 17 seconds.

-- "The debate has finally shifted from his conduct to that of independent counsel Kenneth Starr." Welcome back to Earth Michel. "Has finally shifted"?? It shifted to Starr weeks ago in the media.

-- "But now some leading Republicans are joining Democrats in saying Starr is out of line." Leading Republicans like Patrick Leahy, a Democrat? The above transcript identifies the Senators just how they were correctly labeled on screen, Leahy from Meet the Press and Hatch afterwards outside NBC's DC building. The Republican soundbite from Hatch says Clinton, not Starr, "is going to be in some degree of trouble."

On Sunday Republican Senators John McCain and Arlen Specter did criticize Starr, so this part of ABC's thesis might have worked if they had bothered to coordinate soundbites with their text.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)Speaking of the debate finally shifting to Starr's conduct, here are a few hits on Starr issued a few weeks ago by Newsweek's Eleanor Clift that ABC's morning crew must have missed. MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught and transcribed these attacks announced on CNBC's Equal time back on February 12, but I haven't had space to fit them in until now.

-- On Marcia Lewis being forced to testify: "On a human level I think the image of Mrs. Lewis emerging from that courthouse, looking distraught, and when we have to remind ourselves what this is all about. That Ken Starr is trying to get from her corroborating evidence that her daughter allegedly had an affair with the President you have to ask yourself, what century are we living in? I don't recall Timothy McVeigh's mother having to testify against him. And that was a bit more serious crime."

-- On Ken Starr, to co-host Bay Buchanan: "Bay, I'm not gonna let that just slide by. Portraying Mr. Starr as this innocent. I mean he has flaunted his right wing connections. He's the one who wired a woman. He's the one who is now taking subpoenas from the Paula Jones case from women who've signed affidavits that they did not have a physical relationship with Bill Clinton. And going to check all those women out and see if they are lying. If that isn't a witch-hunt I don't know what is."

-- If Congress gets Clinton, we in the media will get those Republicans who dare bring down our great President:

Bay Buchanan: "Eleanor, George Stephanapolous has said that basically if there is a movement to bring down this President that he will then go after, all his goons, will go after all the people on the Hill, anybody in the press, their personal lives, expose them. Do you approve of this strategy?"

Clift: "I don't speak for George Stephanapolous but...may I finish? If in fact the House committee investigates the President's private life after Ken Starr has investigated the President's private life the news media will then investigate the people who are investigating the private life the same way they investigated the campaign funding donations of people who inquired into the campaign funding habits of the Democrats. It's how the game is played. White House isn't going to have to do that. We're gonna do that and it's called doing our job."

cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes)Microsoft CEO Bill Gates testifies Tuesday before a Senate Committee chaired by a Senator from the state where Novell and Corel's WordPerfect division are headquartered -- Utah. The Gates appearance reminded me of how last week NBC's Matt Lauer tried to enlist Gates in his crusade to denounce the media for overplaying Monicagate. Gates resisted, saying the public can make up its own mind, but Lauer kept trying.

Here are Lauer's February 24 questions to Gates, joining Today from Selma, Alabama, where he was promoting Internet use in schools, as transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens:

-- "Based on your dreams for the information age can you give me your reaction to the type of information we are hearing in the current situation between the President and Monica Lewinsky. Is that the way you envision the information age turning out?"

-- "But in this particular case do you think it's gotten to the point where possibly there is a chance that there is too much information on this particular subject?"

-- "As our partner I'm sure you watch our programming, you're probably a news junkie like the rest of us. Do you think though that we as journalists have gone overboard on this story?"

 Lauer's new credo for journalism: Don't give the public "too much information" -- at least not about Presidents who are doing great things policy-wise for our country.

  -- Brent Baker

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