Brill a Clinton Lapdog, Not a Media Watchdog; Nets Skip China & Lindsey
1) Steve Brill promised that
his Content magazine would "hold journalists' feet to the fire,"
but instead he decided to join the media's conventional wisdom by
disparaging Ken Starr.
2) The Clinton administration
knew long ago that China was using U.S.-sold satellites for military
purposes. CBS, CNN and NBC ignore the disclosure.
3) Bruce Lindsey's contacts
with witnesses before they testified angered the judge, but all three
broadcast networks skipped the evidence of possible witness manipulation
and testimony coordination.
4) Rush Limbaugh: "This
effort by Steve Brill's Content to implement and advance that
accountability and hold everyone's feet to the fire is exactly what we
"At last, the media's free ride has come to a screeching halt."
So exclaimed huge lettering on the outside of a direct mail piece pushing
the new Content magazine. Since re-named the more egomaniacal
"Brill's Content" after founder Steve Brill, the premiere issue
generated plenty of publicity over the weekend not for taking on the media
but for taking on Ken Starr. How original and unique. And many reporters
acted as if the revelation that Starr talked to reporters was new when, in
fact, they must have know colleagues who had been to Starr's office.
(Brill created CourTV and his
American Lawyer magazine carried Stuart Taylor's November 1996 article
detailing the case for Paula Jones. But now Brill dismisses Stuart as a
"partisan." Ralph Nader and Rush Limbaugh endorsed Content in an
insert in the direct mail package for the magazine.)
The cover of the premier issue announced:
"In Watergate reporters checked abuse of power. In the Lewinsky
affair they enabled it by lapping up Ken Starr's leaks which he now admits
for the first time." How does that correspond with what Brill
promised potential subscribers? A letter from him in the direct mail
package asked: "Name the industry that, when it comes to power, lack
of accountability, arrogance, and making money in the name of sacred
constitutional rights, actually makes lawyers look good." His answer
was not the bar or independent counsels but "The media."
A color flyer in the subscription package,
with a dog on the cover, declared: "Now there's a fearless media
watchdog," and as you turn the pages you read, "that holds
journalists' feet to the fire...exposes incompetents &
charlatans...applauds the ones who get it right...separates wheat from the
chaff on the Web...debunks long-standing myths...and helps you get to the
Yet, in his 28-page article he denounces
Starr's investigation as an "abuse of power." To the extent he
takes on the media he does so from the left, from an anti-Starr point of
view, thus hardly offering a fresh or unique watchdog role. CNN aired an
anti-Starr special, "Investigating the Investigator," back on
February 5! And as any CyberAlert reader knows, questions about whether
Starr has "gone too far" and labeling him "partisan"
are a regular feature of network news.
The cover story "contains considerable
criticism of the press as a 'cheering section' for Starr and
unsubstantiated reporting," The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz
observed in a June 14 story. Kurtz elaborated: "Brill said The Post's
[Susan] Schmidt 'does stenography for the prosecutors' and NBC's David
Bloom does 'lapdog-like work' as 'a virtual stenographer for Starr.'"
Someone really interested in offering a
refreshing publication "that holds journalists' feet to the
fire," would go outside of conventional media wisdom. How about a
look at how good a job the media did in providing their readers and
viewers with both sides when one side (the White House) had a staff of
current and former flacks while the other side (the independent counsel)
had nobody on staff and was constrained from talking about the very issues
the White House put into play. I haven't seen Brill's piece yet, but that
doesn't sound like an issue he considered.
Despite Brill's promise to be a watchdog on
the media like they are on everybody else, the founder, CEO and
Editor-in-Chief of Content spent Sunday morning denouncing not the media
but Ken Starr. Brill popped up on Fox News Sunday, Face the Nation and
CNN's Late Edition as well as NBC's Today to claim Starr had violated
federal evidence Rule 6(e) which prohibits disclosure of grand jury
Schieffer opened Face the Nation: "Today on Face the Nation: Has Ken
Starr been manipulating the media to get the President? Our guest today,
the editor of a new magazine about the media, suggests he has..."
Brill made no effort to move beyond
attacking Starr and when challenged about how Starr's interpretation may
be correct in that he can brief reporters before testimony and in order to
make sure reporters know the facts, Brill insisted: "Every court that
had to take a look at it has flatly contradicted the use of that kind of
loophole." On Late Edition he argued about the matter with a former
Attorney General -- Richard Thornburgh.
Brill's story is so one-sided that it even
embarrassed the Washington press corps. Examples:
-- On Face the Nation, Gloria Borger of
U.S. News & World Report, propounded: "Ken Starr's people might
say that the media had been manipulated in fact by the White House on this
Bob Schieffer made the obvious point that
Brill's theory is contradicted by reality: "Do you think in fact this
has helped Ken Star because his poll ratings, when you go out around the
country, if he was using the media in this way it does not seem to have
In the next segment, George Washington
University law professor Jonathan Turley declared: "It hardly makes a
basis for suggesting actual wrongdoing in any legal sense. I'd be
surprised if this article made it past the copy editor of a small town
newspaper. It's very, very one sided."
-- CNN's Wolf Blitzer pressed Brill on Late
Edition: "In your article, which basically makes two very serious
allegations one against Ken Starr, a second one against several reporters,
who are accused of basically being spoon fed by Ken Starr and his staff in
printing, and reporting, whatever they are told, there still is -- you
don't get into the whole question of anything that the White House may be
doing, similarly trying to leak information, sensitive secret information.
Is it fair to say that this is a one-sided, simply anti-Ken Starr article
that you have written?"
-- After interviewing Brill Fox News Sunday
brought on Lucianne Goldberg to criticize his reporting. Brill's polemic
was too much even the liberal Juan Williams, who declared during the end
of the show roundtable: "I thought it was horrifically one-sided. I
can't quite grasp, other than he idea he's trying to get publicity for his
magazine, why he would do such a one-sided piece..."
But Ruth Conniff of the far-left
Progressive loved it: "I think it's an excellent piece. I think it
does exactly what Brill has set out to do, which is to be a watchdog on
Despite the morning scrutiny, though
the June 14 evening show stories included Starr's denial of any
wrongdoing, the network newscasts led with the White House spin:
-- ABC's World News Tonight/Sunday. Anchor
Carole Simpson intoned: "Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr has
admitted in an interview released today that he and his office were the
source of some of the leaks about his investigation into President
Clinton. The news may come as no surprise in Washington, but the fact that
he said it -- that's another matter."
-- CBS Evening News. Anchor John Roberts
announced: "The White House is jumping all over the news that
independent counsel Kenneth Starr has been talking to the media about
witnesses who are appearing before his grand jury. The White House is
calling for an investigation of the investigator, claiming that Starr may
have broken the law. But as Bob Schieffer reports, Starr is proclaiming
Schieffer trumpeted how "Steven Brill
drops a bombshell..."
-- NBC Nightly News. Anchor Len Cannon told
viewers: "The man heading the investigation of the President,
Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, has his own problems tonight concerning
briefings he gave he media an an unidentified source." Reporter
Suzanne Malveaux included Rahm Emmanuel's comments o Meet the Press
calling the Brill charges a "bombshell, very serious" and
"grave," adding: "Some legal experts say this is
serious." Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein
insisted: "If there's a lot more under the surface it could lead to
possible dismissal of Kenneth Starr."
Final Thought. When I first heard about
Content I was excited that someone with Brill's heft would be able to
force the media to confront and answer the same questions reporters force
everyone they cover to deal with. I hope that's what he will offer and may
even have done so in the current issue outside of the cover story, but
judging by his Sunday appearances and theme of his cover story, he may
just have created another Columbia Journalism Review: a publication where
journalists are applauded for pursuing liberal agenda items and castigated
when they stray off the media reservation to the right.
Knew China Military Used Civilian Satellites, Reports Show,"
announced a June 13 headline on the front page of the New York Times. But
that night CBS, CNN and NBC ignored the disclosure. So did CNN on its 8pm
ET The World Today.
Times reporter Jeff Gerth began:
"For the past two years, China's
military has relied on American-made satellites sold for civilian purposes
to transmit messages to its far-flung army garrisons, according to highly
classified intelligence reports.
"The reports are the most powerful
evidence to date that the American government knew that China's army was
taking advantage of the Bush and Clinton administrations' decisions to
encourage sales of technology to Asian companies. The United States has
barred American companies from selling military equipment to the Chinese
military since the 1989 killings in Tiananmen Square.
"The intelligence reports, which were
described by administration officials, were recounted last year in a
document compiled by Pentagon intelligence officials and sent to hundreds
of senior policy-makers at the White House, State Department and other
night, June 13 all three broadcast networks led with the funeral in
Jasper, Texas for James Byrd.
-- Only ABC's World News Tonight touched
China. In a piece on a gathering of GOP presidential candidates in Cedar
rapids, Iowa, Ann Compton said the "potential candidates ripped into
the White House on its China policy." Attributing the attacks to
Republicans instead of information from a newspaper, Compton explained:
Republicans also accused the White House of allowing the Chinese military
too much access to American technology. There's new information this
weekend that Beijing communicates with Chinese troops in the field using
American made satellites. American companies are forbidden from selling
military equipment to the Chinese, but the White House is quick to point
out these are commercial satellites."
-- The CBS Evening News ran two stories
(Clinton's trip to Oregon and the Iowa GOP conclave) in which they could
have raised the China revelations, but they did not though anchor Paula
Zahn found time for another story in the Saturday New York Times: the
breaking news that Ken Starr told Brill he had briefed reporters.
oozed: "In Oregon the President assumed the role of healer. To
graduates at Portland State University Mr. Clinton emphasized the need to
build an inclusive society..."
In Cedar Rapids Phil Jones broached China
in a clause about how "all made the morality of President Clinton and
his foreign policy their targets," but offered nothing from the Times
-- NBC Nightly News. In an edition
shortened in the east by a WNBA game, from Jasper, Texas Bob Dotson found:
"James Byrd's neighbors want his death to be a wake up call for all
of America to face racism and defeat it. Another out of towner, the
Reverend Al Sharpton, agrees."
"We must not fall in a trap while we are the hated to become the
Al Sharpton's hardly a symbol of racial
Palmer checked in from Oregon with Clinton, but did not utter one word
about China. Anchor Brian Williams did, however, squeeze in this item
which, up to the last sentence, could have been written by James Carville:
"Also tonight what might explain some
of the leaks the White House has been complaining about over the course of
Ken Starr's investigation. In an interview for the premiere edition of
Content magazine, Starr admits that along with an aide he has talked to
reporters about the case but as an unnamed source. He says he has done it
to correct misinformation and in a statement tonight Ken Starr says he is
guilty of no misconduct."
Los Angeles Times story Friday morning raised the possibility of witness
tampering and story coordination on the Monica front by White House Deputy
Counsel Bruce Lindsey. But the networks which were so interested in
Brill's claims about how Starr manipulated the process in the early days
had no interest in how a White House operative may have tried to
manipulate what witnesses said, or at the very least made sure Clinton
said nothing which might contradict them. In the morning the networks were
silent and in the evening FNC mentioned the disclosure but only CNN ran a
full story. None of the networks picked up on the potential wrongdoing
over the weekend.
"Records Show Clinton Aide Contacted
Probe Witnesses," read the June 12 Los Angeles Times story by David
Willman and Ronald Ostrow. They explained:
"It was not a telephone call that a lawyer practicing in New
Hampshire would expect. But on the line that day in January was Bruce R.
Lindsey, a White House official. What, Lindsey wanted to know, did the
lawyer's client, a retired chief White House steward named Michael J.
McGrath, know about the President and a former intern, Monica S. Lewinsky?
Lindsey, said a source familiar with the conversation, 'was trying to take
a barometer of the facts.'
"After reviewing Lindsey's actions, a
federal judge has sharply questioned why a lawyer on the government
payroll was doing this kind of sleuthing, according to confidential court
records obtained by The Times.
"'The court questions the propriety of
the President utilizing a government attorney as his personal agent in a
personal attorney-client relationship,' Chief U.S. District Judge Norma
Holloway Johnson wrote in a 51-page opinion that she signed May 1...
"The records show that Lindsey
directly sought information from two other witnesses in the Lewinsky
matter at the time the controversy was erupting: Vernon E. Jordan Jr., the
Washington lobbyist who helped Lewinsky find a job, and D. Stephen Goodin,
the President's personal scheduler whose job had entailed shadowing
Clinton through much of his workday...
"Lindsey's contacts with the witnesses
came near the time when federal investigators confronted Lewinsky on Jan.
16 in an Arlington, Va., hotel with evidence that she had had an intimate
relationship with the president and lied about it under oath. The agents
sought her cooperation in determining whether Clinton or others were
involved in an illegal cover-up. They also sought other witnesses with
knowledge of the matter.
"The dates of Lindsey's calls to the
witnesses were not noted in the records, but they came before Starr had
brought the three before a federal grand jury in Washington to tell what
they knew. At the time Lindsey contacted McGrath's lawyer, only a
handful of attorneys including those cooperating with Clinton
through so-called joint-defense arrangements knew that McGrath was a
likely grand jury witness.
"The lawyers knew that McGrath was
positioned to shed light on a subordinate's account to him, describing an
alleged encounter between Clinton and Lewinsky in late 1995 near the Oval
Office. McGrath was prepared to testify that a White House valet, Bayani
B. Nelvis, just after the alleged encounter had given him details of what
he observed. Among other things, Nelvis told McGrath that Lewinsky's hair
was askew and that, on the floor of the study, the valet found towels
smeared with lipstick...."
Friday night, not a word on the broadcast
networks. ABC led with the impact of the Year 2000 problem on utilities.
CBS and NBC went first with the GM strike. All three had time for full
reports on people who survived an avalanche. ABC featured A Closer Look at
how technology is changing sports. CBS managed time for a story on
celebrity files now available on the FBI Web site as well as more on the
dangers of Olestra. NBC Nightly News included a story about online
shopping and excerpts of commencement speeches.
On CNN's The World Today John King
delivered Friday's only full story on Lindsey. Referring to the judge's
ruling denying attorney-client privilege to Lindsey, King relayed:
"Details of her sealed ruling were
first reported by the Los Angeles Times and confirmed to CNN by a lawyer
familiar with the White House legal strategy. The judge wrote, quote: 'The
court questions the propriety of the President utilizing a government
attorney as his personal agent in a personal attorney-client
"Lindsey was missing from the
President's side Friday in California, staying back in Washington helping
prepare the White House appeal. In a statement to CNN, the White House
said, quote: 'It is entirely appropriate for attorneys in the public or
private sector to speak with witnesses or their counsel, both before or
after they testify before any investigative body.' Sources tell CNN that
McGrath testified that another White House steward, Bayoni Nelvis, told
him he found towels smeared with lipstick after seeing Lewinsky leave the
Oval Office. Nelvis is also cooperating with the President's
to Content. Here's Rush Limbaugh's endorsement quote in the direct mail
package: "The First Amendment assures that there are no controls over
the press. The press, therefore, must be accountable and responsible to
itself. This effort by Steve Brill's Content to implement and advance that
accountability and hold everyone's feet to the fire is exactly what we
Given Limbaugh's criticism of Brill that I
just heard during his first half hour today, in which he pointed out that
the MRC actually does what Brill claimed Content would do, I hope he's
learned his lesson: Don't endorse a product until you've seen it. -- Brent Baker
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