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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Friday, March 6, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 39)

Deposition Leak Speculation; "Darth Vader" Scaife Hit by NBC

1) All the networks led Thursday night with Jordan and speculation about who leaked Clinton's deposition, but differed on whether Jordan matched Clinton's story. Johnny Chung's guilty plea got a few seconds from all; Gandhi's arrest skipped by NBC.

2) NBC impugns Ken Starr by insidiously linking him to Richard Scaife, "the Darth Vader of the alleged right-wing conspiracy."

Nazi Germany = Ken Starr's America?

A fresh MRC Media Reality Check has been posted at the top of the MRC home page by MRC web manager Joe Alfonsi. It's titled: "Who Knew A 'Decade of Greed' Savings & Loan Robber Would Become So Popular with the Media? Susan McDougal, Celebrity Crook." The MRC's Tim Graham collated examples of the media's fawning coverage and uncovered this bit of idiocy from Larry King: "On February 24, she appeared on CNN's Larry King Live. Among King's questions: 'Is this a witch-hunt?....Why do you think Starr's popularity is so low?....In a sense, do you feel like you're a political prisoner?' When McDougal protested questioning of Monica Lewinsky's mother, King added: 'Germany did it, too.'"

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)Thursday night ABC, CBS, CNN, FNC and NBC all led with The Washington Post story detailing President Clinton's Paula Jones case deposition and Vernon Jordan's grand jury testimony, though they did not all agree on whether the two men's comments meshed or clashed.

On FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report Rita Cosby told viewers that sources say in his testimony Thursday "Jordan testified that he got messages from Betty Currie to help Lewinsky, but those efforts were initiated by the President himself. Legal experts say this new information could be quite damaging to the President..."

But on CNN's The World Today an hour later John King insisted: "For all the White House complaining about leaks, the President's account is largely consistent with the testimony of his friend, Vernon Jordan."

(CNN followed with a report from Wolf Blitzer on Lewinsky's lawyer William Ginsburg and Ken Starr meeting with the judge to decide if Lewinsky had an immunity deal and if not under what circumstances she'll testify.)

All the broadcast and cable networks at least gave a few seconds to reporting Johnny Chung's guilty plea and agreement to cooperate in the Justice Department's probe of the campaign finance scandal. All but NBC also reported the arrest of Yogesh Gandhi, suspected of giving illegal foreign money to the Democrats, as he tried to leave the country. Only CBS offered a full report on the two developments. The other networks stuck to a brief summary read by the anchor. None of the broadcast network evening shows, nor the CNN or FNC shows cited above, uttered a word about the Thursday release from the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee of it final report on its 1997 hearings into campaign fundraising abuses.

Of the broadcast networks, only ABC's Sam Donaldson explained how the publication of Clinton's deposition would help guide witnesses to match his story, ABC and NBC, but not CBS, noted that the Post confirmed that Clinton did concede sex with Gennifer Flowers, and only NBC's Claire Shipman emphasized how Clinton had been presented with "an all encompassing" definition of sexual relations.

Here's how the broadcast networks covered the deposition, Jordan, Chung and Gandhi on Thursday night, March 5:

-- ABC's World News Tonight gave equal weight to how the information came out as to what was revealed. Sam Donaldson began:

"Peter, this is a case of substance and intrigue. The substance concerns what the President allegedly said under oath in his deposition in the Paula Jones case. The intrigue is over who leaked it. The Washington Post got the leak, writing that the President had said he talked to Monica Lewinsky about the likelihood that she might be called to testify about the nature of their relationship. He had talked with Vernon Jordan about Jordan's efforts to find Lewinsky a job, but it was Betty Currie, not him, who had initiated the job effort; He acknowledged that he may have been along with Lewinsky on perhaps five occasions, but they had no sexual relationship. However, according to the Post story, the President said in fact he had had sex with Gennifer Flowers on one occasion...."

ABC showed Clinton refusing to comment, noting "I believe I have given all the answers that matter."

Donaldson pounced: "If the President means by that he's now through answering questions period, that would seem to conflict with what he said in January when the story first broke."

Clinton, January 22: "There are a lot of other questions that are, I think, very legitimate. You have a right to ask them. You and the American people have a right to get answers."

Donaldson then ran through a list of denials about who leaked the deposition, running a soundbite from Bob Bennett denouncing the President's "antagonists." Peter Jennings asked Donaldson "Why would the President's antagonists leak this?" and second, "But there have been some suggestions that the President's team may have leaked it. What would be in their interest?" Donaldson suggested a reason: "Well, it's a road map Peter to prospective witnesses before the grand jury. They can't ask the President what's your story, sir. They read it in the Washington Post, they know what he's going to say..."

Second, Jackie Judd reported on Vernon Jordan's testimony in which he "confirmed the President was in the loop at all times" about finding Lewinsky a job and lawyer, but he denied the help was to assure her silence. Starr and Ginsburg, she also explained, met with the presiding judge over immunity for Lewinsky. Concluded Judd:

"The White House has to be anxious about the outcome. If Lewinsky is given immunity, sources say, she will say there was a sexual relationship with the President. That claim of course would contradict what we now know Mr. Clinton has said under oath in his deposition."

Third, Jennings took 33 seconds to explain how Johnny Chung had agreed to plead guilty and cooperate while the FBI picked up Yogesh Gandhi, suspected of delivering $325,000 in illegal foreign money to the Democrats, as he tried to leave the country.

-- Dan Rather dramatically opened the CBS Evening News:
"Good evening. New and exclusive information tonight on what Vernon Jordan, a central figure and close friend of President Clinton has told the Ken Starr grand jury. We have agreed not to reveal the source of this information. We can tell you it was not gathered illegally. Vernon Jordan made his second appearance before the grand jury today. He said in public that he helped Monica Lewinsky find a lawyer and a job. Tonight CBS's Scott Pelley has some of what Jordan said under oath behind closed doors."

Pelley explained that Jordan told the grand jury that Clinton wanted him to find a job for Lewinsky, but not in order to buy her silence. Jordan asked Clinton if they had sex and Clinton said no. In other words, the same thing all the other networks reported, but without the false "exclusive" bravado.

Pelley did deliver one unique detail, saying that Jordan was confronted with information from an FBI sting operation in which the FBI taped Monica Lewinsky asserting Jordan must find her a job before she'll sign an affidavit denying sex. Pelley agreed with FNC's Rita Cosby: "But Jordan's testimony appears to be at odds with Mr. Clinton's claim that the job hunt was his secretary's idea."

After reviewing what the Post revealed about the deposition, Pelley concluded: "This evening, at the end of his testimony, Jordan did not predict vindication for himself or for the President. Instead, he said, 'I have kept the faith, we will see what time will tell us.' Dan."

Rather next turned to Phil Jones for a full story on Chung and Gandhi. Jones opened with video of Chung with Clinton from the White House coffee tape collection, then moved on to Gandhi, who contributed $325,000 in illegal foreign money "to attend a Democratic fundraiser where he posed proudly with President Clinton."

-- NBC Nightly News. Claire Shipman launched her story:
"The battle over leaks has the White House on the defensive. At the same time they're very happy with what they're hearing from the testimony of the President's friend."

Noting that Jordan denied the job for silence claim, Shipman went on: "But the day began with debate over who was behind an enormous leak." After citing denials and running Bennett's attack on those responsible for the "reprehensible" leak, Shipman recounted the deposition: "10:30am, 18 people crowded around a long conference table in the Washington law firm of Scadden Arps, just 15 blocks from the White House..."

15 BLOCKS? More like barely two blocks, or about 1,500 FEET.

Back to Shipman, who uniquely informed viewers: "Jones lawyers asked the President whether he had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, based on an all encompassing definition of the term sexual relations." He "denied them all with the exception of Gennifer Flowers." (The Post reported March 5 the definition used by Jones' lawyers: "Any contact with someone's groin, buttocks, breast or inner thigh if intended to stimulate sexual arousal. No specific mention was made of kissing lips." I guess now we know why the White House floated the "they just kissed" story last week.)

Shipman concluded by contradicting Pelley and Cosby, but agreeing with the assessment issued by CNN's King: "So who in this battle had the motive to leak the President's deposition? Now, it does seem to help the President, matching both his own story and the stories of Vernon Jordan and Betty Currie. Ken Starr's office has denied the leak..." She ended by noting how the Jones lawyers were planning on making it public next week anyway in a court filing.

Following a hit on Richard Scaife (see next item), anchor Brian Williams devoted 21 seconds to how Chung "is pleading guilty to charges related to the Clinton campaign finance scandal." Zilch on Gandhi.

cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)Joining CNN and CBS, Thursday night NBC aired its own ominous examination of the supposed Starr tie to Richard Scaife which taints the independent counsel. NBC's hook for the look at the "reclusive anti-Clinton billionaire"? A complaint filed by an obscure local public defender in Connecticut. Unlike the CBS and CNN stories, detailed in the February 17 CyberAlert, NBC's Lisa Myers, as she usually does, made an effort at fairness by allowing Starr allies to dismiss as preposterous the idea Starr is tainted. But NBC did still devote valuable air time to the diversionary contention.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams intoned, as viewers saw "Mystery Man" under a photo of Scaife: "Back in Arkansas, one of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's enemies was asking a court to order an investigation into the investigator. Part of the reason: Starr's ties to a controversial conservative. More on that tonight from NBC's Lisa Myers."

Myers asserted: "A long time critic of the independent counsel today urged a court to fire Ken Starr because of alleged ties to a reclusive anti-Clinton billionaire."

Frank Mandanici, identified on-screen as "Connecticut Public Defender," whatever standing that gives him for such a complaint: "This is a situation where a person has an awesome amount of power and it's being tainted by his conflicts of interest." [AP labeled him "an assistant public defender in New Haven."]

Myers laid out the liberal case against Starr: "The alleged conflicts involve this man, Richard Mellon Scaife, an heir to the Mellon family fortune and the 148th richest American according to Forbes magazine. Scaife is the financial patron of conservative causes, donating tens of millions of dollars a year. To the Clinton White House Scaife is the Darth Vader of the alleged right-wing conspiracy against the President, having helped bankroll a Pittsburgh newspaper that specializes in anti-Clinton conspiracy theories, the American Spectator which broke the story about Arkansas troopers soliciting women for Clinton, lawyers once involved in Paula Jones' suit against the President and a group that ran ads in search of other women. [clip of radio ad run by the Free Congress Foundation]

"A conservative media critic says the groups funded by Scaife share this opinion of the President:"

Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media, subtle as ever: "They think the President is a disgrace to this country. He has scandal after scandal that should disqualify him from being the occupant of the Oval Office."

Myers continued with the liberal argument: "But what do Scaife and his views have to do with Starr? Well, a Scaife foundation helps fund the deanship at Pepperdine University, a job Starr accepted last year, then had to reject after a firestorm of criticism. Today, judges appeared skeptical of the charge against Starr and his defenders called the idea that he's tainted by the Pepperdine connection, absurd."

C. Boyden Gray, Bush White House counsel: "These connections were all well-known to the Department of Justice when they assigned him and the special panel assigned him this particular investigation."

Myers concluded: "Today, four former attorneys general, one a Democrat, also came to Starr's defense, saying he has the highest integrity. They called attacks on Starr orchestrated by the White House improper and designed to impede this investigation. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington."

As Tim Lamer, Editor of the MRC's MediaNomics newsletter, pointed out in the February issue, in a February 11 editorial Investor's Business Daily observed that the Scaife conspiracy to send Starr to Pepperdine doesn't match the claim that Starr is doing the bidding of Scaife by destroying the President. IBD explained: "Here was Scaife helping fund a new position that tempted Starr -- allegedly 'his' man -- away from the work of probing the President." In other words, the whole premise of NBC's weak story is fallacious.

And I'd add that if NBC News and the rest of the media were doing their job the evil Scaife would not have had to fund the divisive American Spectator in order to make sure Americans learned of how Clinton used state employees as personal pimps.

  -- Brent Baker

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