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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday, March 17, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 45)

Willey's Weak Credibility?; Flowers Found; Emma Thompson: Yes to Clinton

1) The White House counter-offensive worked as the networks Monday night focused on the letters and messages left by Kathleen Willey, but skipped her revelation about Clinton's 1992 come-on.

2) GMA's Lisa McRee wondered why the public didn't take Gennifer Flowers seriously. Maybe because it took GMA over six years to interview her.

3) The stars of Primary Colors enthusiastically back Clinton. Emma Thompson gushed on Letterman: "Yes!" she would have voted for Clinton, because of his views on "rights for women."

4) Bryant Gumbel has high negatives, but CBS doesn't care. He promised no tabloid topics. Tonight's interviewee: Louise Woodward.

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Monday night the White House spin led all the networks as each focused attention on the letters and phone messages left by Kathleen Willey even after the incident with President Clinton. The CBS Evening News spent the most time with anti-Willey material as Bill Plante highlighted how a Willey friend doubts her honesty, while only NBC's Lisa Myers allowed a sexual harassment expert to point out that Willey's efforts to remain friendly with Clinton do not contradict her claims.

ABC featured unique 1992 video of Clinton hugging Willey and asking for her name. All the networks ran a soundbite from White House operative Ann Lewis casting doubt on Willey because of her friendly notes, but only ABC's Sam Donaldson illustrated her hypocrisy by showing a 1991 clip of her defending Anita Hill for sticking around Clarence Thomas.

None of the networks uttered a word about Willey's "chicken soup" revelation on 60 Minutes that, the night before the 1992 Williamsburg debate with Bush, Clinton invited her to his hotel room for sex. CNN dedicated a half hour of prime time to Willey and managed to locate a soccer mom who doesn't care about it. Only NBC mentioned Johnny Chung's courtroom appearance.

FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report began with a story from Wendell Goler on the White House reaction followed by a piece from David Shuster on reaction from Trent Lott, William Ginsburg and Jesse Jackson. Shuster also raised the issue of Starr looking at Nathan Landow's role in trying to suppress Willey.

Here's how the other networks handled the story on the March 16 evening shows, a night all three broadcast anchors took off:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Sam Donaldson began the show anchored by Forrest Sawyer: "The President's defenders here sense real danger in Willey's story, particularly because of the way she told it on television. Here was a woman who appeared vulnerable...and sympathetic to many of those who watched..."

After showing Clinton's denial, Donaldson noted that letters to Clinton showed she "spoke admiring of him." Like the other networks Donaldson reported that "White House Communications Director Ann Lewis says she's convinced the President is telling the truth because what she saw on television."

Lewis completed Donaldson's sentence: "Simply is contradicted by the person I met with who in 1996 was so positive about the President."

But, Donaldson highlighted a contradiction missed by the other network reporters: "The letters released today appear to support Lewis's view. But, when Anita Hill was questioned sharply about why'd she not charged Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment until years later, during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, it was none other than Ann Lewis who said women would understand the delay."

Ann Lewis, October 1991: "We know what it's like to work for a boss who insults you, who degrades you and yet you feel you have to go on working, you have to go on working, you have to go on being friendly."

ABC also uniquely featured video of Willey and Clinton from 1992. Donaldson explained: "The friendship between Mr. Clinton and Willey began at this moment in October of 1992 when then Governor Clinton arrived in Richmond for a presidential candidate's debate. [video of Clinton hugging Willey] He apparently asked then Virginia Lieutenant Governor Don Beyer for the name. [video showing Beyer, can see him mouthing words] Beyer replies, 'Willey, Kathy Willey.'..."

Next, Jackie Judd examined Starr's interest in Willey as he looks into whether efforts to keep her quiet, such as by Nathan Landow, constitute obstruction of justice. Judd noted a 60 Minutes comment from Willey skipped by the other networks: "Last night Willey also claimed she felt pressure not to tell her story from Clinton's own attorney, Robert Bennett..."

Finally, Linda Douglass looked a how women are reacting: "Nearly seven years ago female member of Congress marched into the U.S. Senate to demand that male Senators treat sexual harassment as a serious issue..."

Anita Hill reignited the woman's movement and Bob Packwood "galvanized" it, Douglass asserted. "Yet now that there are such charges against a Democratic President who has championed their causes, Democratic women in Congress are keeping quiet, a fact not lost on the Republican Senate leader."

Viewers saw a clip of Lott and of former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder calling Clinton's behavior a "sexual assault."

 -- CBS Evening News. Substitute anchor John Roberts opened the show: "Someone's lying. President and former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey are giving very different accounts of an Oval Office encounter four years ago..."

Bill Plante began with the White House spin: "John, the White House fought back by releasing friendly, even admiring correspondence from Kathleen Willey to the President dated even after the alleged incident..."

Following clips of Clinton and Willey, who said on 60 Minutes it's "time for the truth to come out," Plante countered: "But not everyone agrees that it is the truth. Willey's friend Julie Steele said in a sworn statement that, quote 'Miss Willey never said anything to suggest that President Clinton made sexual advances towards her,' unquote."

Adding that Starr is also looking at whether Landow asked Willey to be quiet, Plante quickly returned to doubts about Willey, citing some of her letters to Clinton thanking him and asking for a job. Plante concluded:

"And there's more. In that sheaf of documents there's a phone message dated just two days after the incident in which the President is told that Kathleen Willey says he can call her anytime. The President's defenders say that they don't want to slime Kathleen Willey, their word, but they are, on the other hand, attacking her credibility, even suggesting that it was Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr who was behind her decision to go public, a charge which Mr. Starr's office vigorously denies."

Up next, Bob Schieffer checked in from Capitol Hill where, he reported, Democrats are not defending Clinton and Republicans, who have stayed clear, are now condemning Clinton.

For the third and final piece, CBS went to Richard Schlesinger for a look at how Clinton is losing female support as NOW President Patricia Ireland has finally criticized Clinton. Schlesinger suggested "some of her own members are asking what took so long. Why didn't the leadership ask questions after Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky."

I don't recall any previous CBS stories on this obvious hypocrisy.

Schlesinger concluded: "More people are beginning to ask could women, who once made Clinton's presidency, now break it?"

-- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET devoted the first half of the one hour show to the swirl around Willey. First, anchor Martin Savidge provided the background to the story and how Willey became known in 1997 because of the Jones suit.

Second, Wolf Blitzer on how the "White House launched a counter-offensive." Blitzer showcased the letters "showing she wanted to maintain a friendship with him" and cited one signed "your number one fan." Before making its next move, Blitzer concluded, the White House is waiting to see poll numbers.

Third, Pierre Thomas examined who is lying. "On its face it's a classic case of he said, she said," he noted before showing conflicting statements from Clinton and Willey.

Fourth, Joie Chen interviewed Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne who dissected Clinton's comments.

Fifth, Eileen O'Connor checked in on soccer moms: "The White House has a dilemma -- how to question the credibility of Kathleen Willey without doing exactly what women's groups and Democrats complain was done to Anita Hill in 1991. Republicans who were critical of Hill wondered why she followed then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas to another job after his alleged untoward behavior."

After a clip of Ann Lewis casting doubt on Willey's claim, O'Connor allowed a Republican woman to denounce the tactic: "There are some on Capitol Hill who see something familiar in the rhetoric used by the White House."

Senator Susan Collins, (R-Maine): "It's interesting to me that the Democrats who are making those arguments against Kathleen Willey are the same ones who condemned those arguments when they were made against Anita Hill. So at the very least, they are applying a totally different standard in this case."

But not all women care, O'Connor showed in leading into a soundbite from one woman on the street: "Mothers picking up their children from school were troubled, saying all these unproven allegations, at the very least, shift the focus from important women's issues."

Sixth, Jonathan Karl delivered a profile of Kathleen Willey.

Seventh and lastly CNN ran a series of person on the street reaction soundbites.

-- NBC Nightly News. Claire Shipman started her top of the show piece: "The White House is employing a familiar strategy: deny Kathleen Willey's story and question her credibility." Shipman highlighted Clinton's denial, Ann Lewis blasting Willey and the letters and phone messages, before concluding:

"The White House is saying that the phone messages, the letters, none of it represents a woman upset by her encounter with the President. But they are treading carefully with this witness, though they are comfortable so far it's a case of he said, she said, they also know Kathleen Willey may prove to be the most credible witness against the President to date."

Lisa Myers then looked at the political and legal implications as Willey's story "reverberated across the country."

Noting NOW President Ireland's new concern, Myers became the only network reporter Monday night to let a sexual harassment expert denounce the White House argument about Willey's subsequent letters and messages:

"And the White House counter-offensive against Willey drew fire from some sexual harassment experts. They say the fact Willey later worked at the White House and remained friendly with the President does not in any way discredit her."

Later, in NBC's "In Depth" segment, Pete Williams examined he impact of Willey's testimony on Starr's obstruction of justice case and on the Jones lawsuit.

Even later in the show anchor Brian Williams took 23 seconds to tell viewers about Johnny Chung's trip to a Los Angeles courthouse to plead guilty.

cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Tuesday morning Today and Good Morning America brought on Anita Hill as an expert on the credibility of sexual harassment victims as the shows looked at Willey's credibility. But on Monday morning the two shows focused on the 60 Minutes interview from the night before, devoting most of the first hour to the Willey story.

Matt Lauer opened Today: "Good morning. President Clinton is a liar. That's what former Clinton supporter Kathleen Willey says. In a television interview last night she claimed the President made unwanted sexual advances toward her and is now lying about it. But the White House is responding with its own fire today, Monday, March the 16th, 1998."

Later, interviewing former Jones lawyer Gil Davis, MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this inquiry sympathetic to he President's predicament: "The people who opposed you before the Supreme Court were arguing that, hey if we open the door to this type of a lawsuit so many side issues are gonna come up that were gonna be such a major distraction to the President he won't be able to carry on his daily functions. Now isn't there some reason to argue that may be true at this point?"

Monday's Good Morning America featured an interview with Gennifer Flowers. MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen picked up these noteworthy questions from co-host Lisa McRee:

"Reaction to Ms. Willey and her story stands in stark contrast to the reaction to you and your story, why do you think that is?"

"Ms. Patricia Ireland of the National Organization of Women said that last night that she was deeply troubled by Willey's account. Why didn't feminists rally behind you and Ms. Lewinsky?"

Well, let me suggest that part of the answer to both questions is that the media dismissed Flowers in 1992, and since. Date of the first appearance by Gennifer Flowers on Good Morning America: March 16, 1998, six years and six weeks after she issued her allegation about Clinton. She finally made it to Today back on January 25, a Sunday, but is still awaiting her weekday debut on that show. (See the February 13 CyberAlert for details on co-host Jodi Applegate's argument with Flowers about her credibility.)

cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) The actor and actress who play the Bill and Hillary characters in Primary Colors, the movie premiering Friday based on the book by Joe Klein, are both enthusiastic supporters of the real Clinton. And they don't care if the sex charges are true or false.

Co-star Emma Thompson plugged the movie on Monday night's (March 16) Late Show with David Letterman. Here's the relevant exchange between Letterman and the British actress:

David Letterman: "From what you know of what's going on, could you, would you have voted for President Clinton if you lived, were a resident of this country?"

Emma Thompson, very emphatically: "Yes! I would, I would for all sorts of reasons, but most especially sort of rights for women."

Letterman: "Well, isn't that ironic?"

Thompson: "Yes it is and it isn't."

Letterman, turning serious: "But we have to be very careful because there does remain the possibility that none of this has happened."

Thompson: "Well, absolutely, I mean how do we know?"

[Thompson is cut off by audience laughter prompted by Letterman looking toward audience and frowning, showing he was only being facetious.]

Thompson: "Oh, you're so naughty!"

Her co-star John Travolta, who plays the Clinton character, is also in awe of the real Clinton. In a March 13 USA Today story Elizabeth Snead relayed: "Travolta, who has met Clinton twice, once at the White House, came away impressed. 'You get the feeling it's just you and him in the room. Everyone else disappears and everything he says is so profound.'"

Travolta won't let facts get in the way of his image as he blocks out news he doesn't like: "He had 'zero reaction' when he read about the Monica Lewinsky allegations. 'And I still have zero interest. It's funny because when I read that 70 percent of the public felt the same way, I went, 'Oh, well, that's why I don't care.' I couldn't even tell you the details, that's how little I care.'"

The perfect panelist for ABC's Politically Incorrect: someone proud of his ignorance.

cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Viewers don't like Bryant Gumbel, but CBS doesn't care even though it just might explain the low ratings for his frequently-bumped show. Back on March 3, the last time Gumbel's program aired, USA Today ran a story discussing with Executive Producer Jon Klein its move from Wednesday to Tuesday night. Inside TV reporter Peter Johnson noted: "Gumbel registered high viewer 'negatives' during his 15 years on Today, but Klein says CBS hasn't commissioned any new studies. He assumes Gumbel, now making $5 million a year, still carries those negatives."

No need I guess to confirm the obvious. Back on September 25 USA Today carried a story by Johnson on Gumbel's then-upcoming show. Johnson discovered: "Since joining CBS News this spring, for a reported $5 million-plus a year, Gumbel has been spreading his gospel: Eye won't become a 'bottom-feeder' -- a newsmag that chases the latest scandal or tabloid story for ratings."

Tuesday night at 9pm ET/PT Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel will feature Gumbel interviewing au pair Louise Woodward.  -- Brent Baker

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