Jennings Worries About Anti-Clinton Clique; CBS Wrong: Jones Ignored
1) What will the
"anti-Clinton clique" do now asked Peter Jennings; Time for
Starr to "put up or shut up"; CNN's Bruce Morton insisted
Clinton is the victim of character thrashing.
2) CBS's Harry Smith
preposterously asserted Wednesday night: "It was February 1994 when
Paula Jones first burst onto the public stage." In fact, the
networks ignored her.
3) Letterman's "Top
Ten Ways President Clinton will Celebrate the Paula Jones Decision".
The April 1 NQ. Before anyone starts
citing or quoting the April 1 Notable Quotables distributed in the April 1
CyberAlert, let me make clear that they were all made up by us. Every year
we try to balance the desire to show how plausible made up quotes are with
ensuring that after a good laugh everyone understands the quotes are not
real. So at the top of the issue I offered a subtle hint about paying
attention to the dates of the quotes (each dated April 1, a physical
impossibility since the e-mail was sent, and the actual hard copy issue
mailed, before any of the quotes were supposedly uttered or printed), and
put "April Fools!" at the end. If you missed the hints, sorry,
but now you know.
Susan Webber-Wright's decision to dismiss the Paula Jones lawsuit,
announced late in the afternoon, had the networks scrambling Wednesday
night. ABC, CBS, CNN, FNC and NBC all led with the development with both
the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News dedicating over half their
newscasts to the fallout. CNN and MSNBC ran hour-long specials at 10pm ET
which were repeated at 10pm PT.
ABC's Peter Jennings opened with a rhyme,
calling the decision "a political shock from Little Rock." On
CBS Phil Jones described it as "a shocker." Like NBC's Tom
Brokaw who dubbed it "a stunning victory for President Clinton,"
all portrayed it as a triumph for Clinton.
-- Of the broadcast networks, only CBS
explicitly pointed out that the decision does not mean the judge found
that Clinton did not do what Jones described.
-- Both CBS and NBC emphasized
Webber-Wright's Republican background and how she once campaigned
-- ABC's Jennings wondered who would now
carry the ball for the "anti-Clinton clique."
-- Is it time for Ken Starr "to put up
or shut up?" Dan Rather asked. Tom Brokaw posed a similar question.
-- Clinton's the victim, contended
CNN's Bruce Morton. In the history of the country no one has "had
his character so trashed" and that hurts us all since it means good
people will no longer yearn to be President.
There was far too much coverage to
adequately summarize, but here are some highlights of interesting takes as
aired Wednesday night, April 1:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter
Jennings opened the show:
"...The judge in Arkansas, Susan
Webber-Wright, appointed by Republican President George Bush, was
categorical. 'Miss Jones fails,' she said, 'to demonstrate that what
the President did to her was sexual assault...her claim of sexual
harassment is without merit.'"
Jackie Judd concluded her overview piece:
"Lawyer Bob Bennett's goal has
always been to ensure that the Jones case would not be Mr. Clinton's
legacy in office. As of today he has succeeded in that."
Following Judd's story, Jennings
discussed the case with Judd, Democratic operative Mandy Grunwald, Sam
Donaldson in Senegal and ABC legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin who praised
Webber-Wright for "a courageous and a difficult decision to
Jennings tossed this nice one to Grunwald,
suggesting the Jones case was little more than a tool of Clinton-haters:
"Mandy who do you think is now going
to carry the water, briefly, for the anti-Clinton clique in the country or
the anti-Clinton people in the country?"
-- Dan Rather opened the CBS Evening News:
"Good evening. A big legal victory for
President Clinton and his lawyers today in the Paula Jones case. United
States federal judge Susan Webber-Wright delivered a courtroom stunner.
She dismissed Jones's civil lawsuit on all counts...."
Phil Jones summarized the judge's action
and then Scott Pelley checked in from Africa. Rather asked Pelley:
"Scott, in human terms, for the
President and the First Lady there has got to be an enormous sense of
relief about this whether they're expressing that or not."
Pelley replied that it "has been
dogging the President for three years now, has often dominated the news.
When the President has been traveling overseas or pushing forward on a
major policy agenda in the United States..."
Rather next inquired: "Scott, is there
any doubt there that this increases the pressure on Ken Starr to put up or
shut up, to show whatever cards he has and do it fairly soon?"
After Bob Schieffer looked at how Clinton
is not out of the woods yet since Starr is still around, Rather promised:
"CBS will have much more on this story coming right up, we're going
to go long and hard on this tonight..."
Insert, I mean fill in, your own joke here
tying Rather's words to what Jones saw in the hotel room.
Back from the break Rather delivered this
bio of the judge:
"She's 49 years old, often described
by Democrats, Republicans and independents as tough, smart and extremely
conservative in her rulings. She was appointed to the federal bench by
President Bush in 1990 and she has a long, often unfriendly, history with
Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton was Wright's law professor and she fought with
him over her final grade. Wright campaigned against Mr. Clinton in 1974.
Reason: Mr. Clinton was then trying to unseat her boss, a Republican
Kristin Jeannette Myers explained the legal
basis for the ruling before another ad break. While all the networks noted
that Webber-Wright said that if true Clinton's behavior "may be
characterized as boorish and offensive," of the broadcast networks
only CBS explicitly explained what Rather next reported:
"I've just spoken with Jim Fisher,
one of Paula Jones's attorney's and he said and I quote, 'the judge
has not found Bill Clinton innocent of what Paula Jones said he did. The
judge found that there was not a serious or tangible job
(See item #2 below for more from CBS.)
-- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. I
only saw part of the show, but caught Bruce Morton noting that while the
judge dispensed a legal victory, he wondered:
"Has anybody in the history of
America, any President certainly, had his character so trashed, so
publicly, for so long? I think the answer is no and I think Mr. Clinton is
probably personally damaged by that and I think, if you were a young state
representative, 28 years old, you're sitting with your wife and kids
thinking do I want to run for President someday. What are you going to
say, you're going to say good grief no, look what they do to them."
Two comments. First, Clinton provided
plenty of material for his enemies to work with. Second, if you are home
with your wife and kids you probably are not doing the things that
generated the attacks on Clinton.
-- Tom Brokaw teased at the top of the NBC
Nightly News: "A stunning victory for President Clinton in the Paula
Jones case. The judge rules case dismissed. What now?"
Lisa Myers went first, observing:
"Many legal experts thought Jones's case was weak but strong enough
to go to trial and were surprised by today's ruling."
David Bloom checked in from the White
House, starting his story: "They are trying to contain their glee
here at the White House. But one official talking about their enemies said
'this ought to knock the wind out of their sails. After three years,'
he said, 'it's over.'..."
Brokaw went to Claire Shipman in Senegal
and then turned to Tim Russert for a look at the political impact. Brokaw
"Tim, as you know, in the past Arlen
Specter who is a Republican on Capitol Hill, also Trent Lott who's the
Senate Majority Leader, have suggested that Ken Starr move this
investigation along and wrap it up. But tonight he sounds as defiant as
ever. Do you think that there will be some back channel communication with
Later, Pete Williams provided an "In
Depth" story. He began by running down Webber-Wright's resume: law
student of future President, campaigned for a Republican Clinton opposed,
made judge by Bush. Williams concluded: "Many experts on sexual
harassment say the fact that Bill Clinton was President actually kept this
case, with fatal flaws, on legal life support, letting it go on longer
than it would have lasted for any other defendant."
accuser in this case, Paula Jones, has been various described as a victim,
a woman wronged and a political pawn of the Republican far-right." So
intoned Dan Rather in introducing an April 1 CBS Evening News story from
Harry Smith on the history of the Jones case. Smith launched his story:
"It was February 1994 when Paula Jones first burst onto the public
As Smith's CBS colleague
Eric Engberg would shout: TIME OUT! Smith must think that CBS
News is irrelevant to what the public learns because the CBS Evening News
ignored her February 1994 press conference. As did NBC News. And CNN. Not
until she filed her lawsuit in May 1994 did the media take note. To remind
you of the network attitude toward the Jones case, below are three
excerpts from previous CyberAlerts or MediaWatch articles detailing how
the networks ignored her or dismissed her relevance.
-- From the June 1994 MediaWatch study
compiled by Tim Graham, "Network Contrast of Hill and Jones Show
Dramatic Differences in Coverage, Tone," a rundown on how long it
took the networks to notice Jones:
"...MediaWatch analysts compared news
stories on Jones and Hill on five network evening shows (ABC's World News
Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS's
MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour)...In the first five days of the Hill and Jones
affairs, Hill's story received more than four times as much coverage as
On Sunday, October 6, 1991, Anita Hill's
story broke. In the five days before hearings began (October 6-10), all
the networks led with Hill every night except CNN, which led with the
story three times. (Due to football, NBC had no East Coast show on the
6th). The five programs aired 67 stories in five days on the charges
(averaging more than 13 per day).
When Paula Jones announced her charges on
February 11 this year, only ABC reported the story -- for 16 seconds.
That's 67 to 1. None of the evening shows touched it again until May 4,
the day The Washington Post ran its long-delayed investigation of Jones.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer led World News with it. ABC and CNN read brief stories
on May 5. On May 6, the day Jones filed suit, all five networks covered
the story, but none led the newscast with it. Only ABC and PBS did more
than one story. In the first six days of the Jones story -- May 4-9, the
networks reported 15 stories, or less than three stories a day, for a
Hill-Jones ratio of 67 to 15.
And far from
"bursting" onto the CBS stage, MediaWatch found that "CBS
had the most dramatic contrast -- 17 stories on Hill's charges, to one on
Jones. On May 6, Rita Braver's story came fifth, and featured no more
detailed description of Jones' charges (Clinton exposed himself and asked
for oral sex) than that she accused Clinton of 'soliciting sexual
-- Why no stories (except the few seconds
on ABC) the night of the Jones press conference? Because CNN said so.
Here's an excerpt from a March 1994 MediaWatch article on the February
press conference, as cited in the January 26, 1998 CyberAlert:
Why no stories from the same media which
made the uncorroborated Anita Hill a heroine and sexual harassment the
gravest political sin? In the March 7 New Republic, former Newsweek
reporter Mickey Kaus described the scene at the Jones press
conference: "Afterward...reporters conferred with
each other to try to figure out whether what they'd just seen was 'a
story' and...whether anybody was going to report it. The consensus was
that if CNN carried it the networks would carry it, which meant The New
York Times might carry it, in which case it would be a big story."
Kaus explained why that didn't happen:
"Clinton is also the best President we've had in a long time. That is
the unspoken reason the sex charges haven't received as much play as you
might expect. Reporters are patriots, too; it's their dirty little
secret...Few journalists want to see the President crippled now that he is
making some progress in cracking large, intractable domestic
-- CBS barely
covered Jones, but ABC decided to deliberately ignore her. So boasted
ABC's John Donvan last fall. The September 17, 1997 CyberAlert relayed
his comments from the September 16 CNN TalkBack Live. Donvan asserted:
"We do make decisions. And I would say
this is not just because I'm from ABC, but because I'm on ABC, I've seen
it in the case of the Paula Jones story in particular. I work for an
Executive Producer who has consciously said that until he is sure on a
daily basis that there's really news there that has really moved forward,
that it's relevant, that it matters to the public, that he will make the
choice not to do the story. And I think that may be one explanation for
why we've done it less than others. But I've always disagreed with the
notion that the news happens to us. We make decisions about it."
The name of the Executive Producer of World
News Tonight: Paul Friedman. Earlier in the show Donvan made his disdain
for the story quite clear, disagreeing with NBC's David Bloom who called
the Jones case a "legitimate issue."...
[CNN's Frank] Sesno: "OK. I want to
go over to the Internet now. We're joined, as we will be throughout the
hour, by our viewers from all over the world, really, who join us. This
one, 'So why does the press seem so consumed with this Paula Jones?,' from
Michelle Shelton. John, are you consumed?"
Donvan: "No, I'm not. I part ways with
David on this one. I would much rather that this story didn't exist,
that it didn't happen, that the suit had never come up. I don't
particularly enjoy it. I don't think the American public, the majority
doesn't enjoy it. I think there are Clinton haters who would like to be
able to use this issue to hurt him. It's difficult to know whether there's
a case there or not, because we're outside the process. But I would much
rather be talking about much larger issues than this one."
Top Ten Ways President Clinton Will Celebrate the Paula Jones
Decision," as presented on the April 1 Late Show with David
Letterman. Copyright 1998 by Worldwide Pants Inc.
10) Appear on 60 Minutes and tell Ed
Bradley 'damn straight I was aroused.'
9) Borrow the deep sea craft they used in
Titanic, join the 'three-mile-deep club.'
8) For the first time this year he'll
actually kiss Hillary.
7) Get to work on the other 14 lawsuits
pending against him.
6) Call Paula Jones and say 'I know
we've had our differences, but how about a date?.'
5) Enjoy giant stack of pancakes while
groping Mrs. Butterworth.
4) Stay up all night harassing himself.
3) At press conference drop pants and
shout 'I'm the king of the world!'
2) Call Kenneth Starr in the middle of
the night and say: 'subpoena this!'
1) 'Throw out a case' of Corona.
That's the first Letterman Top Ten on a
Clinton scandal since before the Olympics. I don't know what that means,
but I thought I'd toss out that "fun fact."
-- Brent Baker
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