Executive Privilege Protected; Primary Colors Primarily Boosts Clinton
1) Clinton invoking executive
privilege hardly condemned. Half a story on NBC; ABC contended it's not
clear that personal matters not protected. Both accentuated how much money
Flowers has made.
2) Friday night the networks
highlighted Bob Bennett's attack on Jones and Willey. ABC stressed how
troopers used Clinton to get women.
3) Fred Barnes and Eleanor
Clift agreed Primary Colors makes Clinton look good: "His empathy
with people trumps his personal flaws."
The Clinton team's decision to invoke executive privilege led ABC on
Saturday night but instead of pointing out how inappropriate it is to
invoke for personal affairs, as opposed to for national security or policy
matters, ABC portrayed it as a close legal call. NBC spent more time on
the shocking news that conservatives bash Clinton while the network failed
to recall Watergate or suggest that the White House may just be trying to
get people to blame Starr for not coming to a resolution, two themes
NBC's own Tim Russert suggested Sunday morning. Both ABC and NBC took
the time to report how much money Gennifer Flowers has received.
Sunday night, ABC didn't utter a word
about executive privilege, focusing instead on Clinton's
"historic" trip to Africa. NBC finally realized the seriousness
of the executive privilege request, but reporter Bob Kur couldn't bring
himself to mention Watergate, letting Trent Lott raise the historical
precedence before Kur reported another attack on Kathleen Willey.
Here's how the networks covered the
scandals on Saturday night, March 21 and Sunday night, March 22. (NCAA
basketball bumped the CBS Evening News both nights in the east.)
-- ABC's World News Tonight Saturday led
with Mike Von Fremd's story on how Republicans are outraged and the
delaying tactic could backfire if it gets Republicans mad enough to take
Next, John Martin recalled how Nixon tried
to invoke it during Watergate to protect his tapes, but while the Supreme
Court denied his request it ruled that a President does have such a
privilege. Noting that Clinton invoked executive privilege in the
investigation of Mike Espy, Martin found that "the court accepted it
on the grounds that it protects conversations about government business.
If the courts found Mr. Clinton's conversations did not involve such
business, his aides might be compelled to testify. But that's not
certain because executive privilege is still being debated in the legal
system. As one scholar said today, it sits on the margins between law and
ABC anchor Antonio Mora then announced:
"Gennifer Flowers has earned more than half a million dollars
capitalizing on her sexual liaison with President Clinton. Deposition
papers released yesterday show Flowers earned $150,000 for telling her
story to the tabloid the Star and made a quarter of a million dollars for
posing nude in Penthouse magazine."
-- CNN's The World Today at 10pm ET began
with Clinton's claim. Reporter John King, in contrast to Martin, found
that scholars question if personal conversations are covered, but
"Given the President's sky-high poll numbers it's unclear whether
invoking executive privilege will carry a political price by suggesting
the President has something to hide." King ran a soundbite from
Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution asserting that old-timers will
recall Nixon, but that's too arcane for most people.
-- NBC Nightly News. Following three
stories on tornadoes, NBC went to Chip Reid for a report on executive
privilege. While he noted that an expert says it's not a right created
to protect politically embarrassing conversations, Reid quickly switched
"Even so the President could fight
Starr all the way to the Supreme Court, delaying the criminal
investigation for months. Meanwhile, in the Paula Jones civil case, the
President's attorney Bob Bennett released evidence he says undermines
the credibility of some witnesses. For example, Bennett's
cross-examination of Kathleen Willey."
Reid read a couple of questions and
answers, before continuing: "Bennett also released testimony that
suggests that some witnesses were motivated by money. Gennifer Flowers
admitted making half a million dollars for telling her story, including
$150,000 from the tabloid newspaper that first printed her allegations.
And former Arkansas state trooper and Clinton bodyguard Larry Patterson,
who testified that he procured women for then Governor Clinton, said under
cross-examination that he told his story to meetings of conservatives for
up to a thousand dollars per appearance. Patterson also admitted that
there was quote 'a lot of Clinton-bashing' at those meetings,
testimony that the President's attorney's are sure to highlight if
their effort to get the case dismissed fails."
The next morning on Today Reid's boss,
NBC News VP and Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert, suggested some more
sinister motives for the White House maneuver. On the March 22 Today he
"This is the first time a President
has tried to assert executive privilege, protect his conversations with
his aides, involving a potential criminal proceeding, not since Richard
Nixon. No one in the White House truly believes that these conversations
should be protected. This is merely an attempt to delay this investigation
so people get more frustrated with Kenneth Starr and hopefully force him
into coming to some sort of resolution....They don't want to see the
ghost of Richard Nixon hovering over the Clinton White House. They realize
the media and the American people will be making that connection."
But not NBC Nightly News.
Sunday night, March 22:
-- ABC's World News Tonight Sunday began with the Cuban athletes found
in the Carribean. Opening a preview of Clinton's Africa trip Mike Von
Fremd declared: "This is not only the longest overseas trip of his
presidency, this will also be the first time an American President has
ever set foot in any of the six countries Mr. Clinton is
Later, anchor Carole Simpson had a
conversation with sex therapist June Reinisch about how Americans feel
about the charges against Clinton. Reinisch contended that Presidents
"should be allowed to lie about their sex lives."
-- NBC Nightly News finally caught up with
the boss. After pieces on the Cuban athletes and Clinton's Africa trip,
Bob Kur intoned from the White House lawn: "Majority Leader Trent
Lott today accused the White House of stonewalling. On Meet the Press he
charged that the President invoked executive privilege to delay and block
Following Lott's soundbite, Kur noted
that critics say it should not be used for personal matters and then Kur
got back to the media's favorite topic: Willey bashing. Kur reported:
"Today, a possible new complication. In the latest Time magazine a
report that Kathleen Willey lied about a 1995 relationship in order to get
back at her boyfriend at the time..."
night, March 20, ABC and NBC led with Bob Bennett's attack on the Paula
Jones case while CBS and FNC went first with the tornadoes. ABC followed
Bennett's spin, painting Clinton as a victim since he cannot fight back.
ABC also highlighted how one trooper claimed another actually used Clinton
to bag women. CNN aired a half hour "Jones vs. Clinton" special
at 10pm ET. FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report ran two scandal stories. First,
David Shuster on Bennett's charges. Second, Rita Cosby on how Bennett is
trying to show how there is no connection between the sex incidents and
job prospects, especially in Willey's case.
Some brief highlights of the March 20
broadcast network evening shows:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Substitute
anchor Lisa McRee opened the show:
"The President's attorney was
clearly frustrated today. Robert Bennett said there is no evidence to
support Paula Jones's sexual harassment case against the President. But,
he said, the President is not getting the fair treatment he deserves and
he asked the court, again, to dismiss the case. There had been quite a bit
of speculation about how far Mr. Bennett would be willing to go to defend
Reporter Jackie Judd proceeded to explain
how Bennett wanted to submit evidence of Jones's sex history, but could
not because of the bad PR such a move would generate. Judd relayed a
charge from the depositions that the other networks skipped:
"Buddy Young said another trooper who
claimed he procured women for Mr. Clinton was really using Mr. Clinton to
get women for himself. Young said that Larry Patterson 'evoked Bill
Clinton's name whenever he needed to. He hustled for himself on a
regular day in and day out basis.'"
Next, ABC ran a piece from Terry Moran on
how many are questioning Bennett's performance, pointing to his
embarrassing threat to expose Jones's sex life and to how he angered
Linda Tripp by calling her a liar.
-- CBS Evening News. After detailing the
tornadoes that hit Georgia and North Carolina, substitute anchor John
Roberts told viewers:
"In Washington, President Clinton's
attorney moved today to have Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit
dismissed, saying it is based on, quote, 'a web of deceit on
Bob Schieffer then explained how Bennett
challenged the credibility of Willey, highlighting how she found Clinton
"sympathetic and consoling" in later meetings and admitted he
never demanded sex.
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw's
pre-news theme music tease:
"Bill Clinton's lawyer strikes back
in the Paula Jones case."
Bob Bennett: "The case brought by
Paula Jones is groundless."
Brokaw: "The President's lawyer
charges part of the Jones case is a joke. He claims she suffered no
NBC showed two reports. First, Lisa Myers
on how Bennett maintained that even if Clinton did make an advance toward
Jones there's no evidence of damage and how Bennett again attacked
Willey's credibility. Second, Claire Shipman checked in with an update
on how the White House put out a firestorm over Bennett's plan to
include details about Jones's sex life in his filing on Friday,
something he backed off after negative headlines.
Fred Barnes and Eleanor Clift have come to a rare agreement: the movie
Primary Colors makes Clinton look good because the liberal compassion of
the candidate in the film modeled after Clinton is more important than his
personal flaws. Just like real life. At the end of this past weekend's
McLaughlin Group John McLaughlin asked for a review of the film. Here's
how Barnes and Clift responded:
Fred Barnes: "I'd give the film a
B+. It was enthralling, pretty good. But my objection is that it is
pro-Clinton, that it says though he's philanderer, that he's a liar
and so on that because he's a compassionate liberal that makes
Eleanor Clift: "Beautifully said Fred.
It's a good movie, it's not a great movie. John Travolta's
characterization of the Clinton character is a little overdrawn, a little
too much of the Southern bumpkin. But his empathy with people trumps his
personal flaws. I'd say it's a B+ too."
If the movie producers needed a
Clinton suck-up journalist they wouldn't have had to hire an actress.
Clift could have played herself. Than again, maybe she did. I haven't
seen the movie.
-- Brent Baker
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