Starr's "Secret Briefings" Alarm Reporters Who Already Knew About Them
1) "Hasn't Starr
handed the White House an enormous political opportunity?" asked
ABC's Charles Gibson. Yes, as the media make a big issue of what Dan
Rather ominously dubbed "secret briefings." But Lawrence Walsh
did the same thing, as only one reporter noted.
2) Monday morning GMA
delivered only the White House spin. The Starr controversy consumed the
whole first half hour of Today as Newsweek's Jonathan Alter insisted
Starr did wrong.
>>> The Media Research Center is
pleased to announce the June 16 launch today of the Cybercast News Service
with the right news, right now: http://www.cnsnews.com.
The CNS is the world's first conservative online, full time news operation
that will fill the growing news void left by the establishment media in
their chase for the sensational at the expense of important stories. Stop
by and VISIT the site today....then BOOKMARK it for DAILY reference. The
CNS web site features:
- Hourly updates of top news stories from
around the country
- Detailed reports on the news of the day
- Access to news that is often ignored by
- Original reporting from CNS staff ---
free of liberal bias
- Links to the country's best conservative
radio talk show Web sites
- Quick access to numerous conservative
experts and spokespersons
- Visitor Bulletin Boards and Viewer Polls
Bookmark it today: http://www.cnsnews.com
The last item in the June 15 CyberAlert featured Rush Limbaugh's
endorsement of Content magazine and declared: "I hope he's learned
his lesson: Don't endorse a product until you've seen it." I
think this came out more strident and personal than I intended. Many,
including myself, seem to have misjudged the expected content of Content
and it is Steve Brill who should be criticized for not delivering what he
promised, not Limbaugh for believing in Brill.
Network news took on a surreal quality Monday night as all the networks
reported as hot news that Ken Starr admitted he and a colleague talked to
reporters. Dan Rather ominously referred to his "secret
briefings." But the reporters involved and their colleagues knew the
contacts occurred, so if they were so troubling and newsworthy why
didn't anyone report them months ago? In a way Steve Brill did upset the
Washington media norms by putting into play something everybody knew but
had decided journalistic rules on protecting sources prevented them from
reporting. But if everyone knew the independent counsel's office was
feeding information to reporters why are Starr's comments even news?
Monday night CBS,
CNN and FNC led with the controversy over Starr's comments to Brill. ABC
began with U.S./NATO operations to quell violence in Kosovo and the Dow
plummeting 200 points topped NBC. CNN and FNC, but not the broadcast
networks, highlighted Steven Brill's record of contributions to
Democrats, including the Clinton-Gore campaign. Here are some highlights
from the Monday, June 15 evening shows:
-- ABC's World
News Tonight devoted the A Closer Look segment to Starr. Anchor Charles
Gibson noted that Judge Norma Holloway Johnson had summoned all the
lawyers to her court, then set up the segment: "There are really two
major questions at play here. Was it legal for Kenneth Starr or his
employees to talk to reporters the way they did? And by admitting he did
talk to reporters hasn't Kenneth Starr handed the White House an
enormous political opportunity?"
The answer to the
second is yes, but only if the media play along as they are and treat his
talking to reporters as something improper.
Starr's past assurances that his office did not leak or could not
comment on a particular matter and how Clinton lawyer David Kendall had
filed a complaint about leaks from Starr's office. Gibson asserted:
"So despite all his earlier statements
Kenneth Starr is now in the position of acknowledging he has given
information to reporters in private, although he still maintains he has
done nothing illegal. In a statement today Mr. Starr said nothing his
office has done violates the law or Department Justice policy. That's is
his legal argument. But legal issues aside, Kenneth Starr has really
handed the White House an incredible political gift, one they've already
started to use against him."
In other words, we
won't bother exploring whether he did anything illegal. If he didn't
then shouldn't the story die? Instead, ABC stuck to politics. Gibson
discussed the impact with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. Donaldson
relayed that White House officials "believe Starr has turned the
dagger on himself." Their strategy is to delay and change the
subject and Starr, Donaldson charged, is playing into their game plan.
Capitol Hill is baffled about why Starr talked to Brill, Roberts reported.
Evening News. Dan Rather opened dramatically:
"New and serious accusations about special
prosecutor Kenneth Starr's conduct during his investigation of President
Clinton are the subject of a special federal court hearing in Washington
tonight. Subject: Starr now admits giving reporters secret briefings about
details of the case. Starr says he did nothing illegal. Aides to President
Clinton have another view."
summarized the Content story, ran a soundbite from Mike McCurry and
relayed Starr's denial of any wrongdoing. But Pelley showed how
unnewsworthy the whole matter is, pointing out a historical note the other
networks skipped: "There is precedent for this. Former independent
counsel Lawrence Walsh says he often briefed reporters so the taxpayers
would know what he was up to."
-- CNN's The
World Today. Co-anchor Jim Moret announced at the top of the 8pm ET show:
"The independent counsel. Questions about whether his interview with
this magazine reveals he broke the law."
began with the same theme which put the burden on Starr: "Did
independent counsel Ken Starr break the law when he talked to reporters
about the Monica Lewinsky investigation? Well, that depends."
After soundbites from experts offering both
views, Thomas noted how "former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh
agrees, this is a murky area." After a clip of Thornburgh, Thomas
allowed Starr to deny any secrecy violations. Thomas then summarized the
rules Starr must follow, noting that "a number of courts have issued
rulings broadly prohibiting any discussions related to grand jury
proceedings." Picking up on complaints from Starr-bashers, Thomas
concluded by highlighting their complaints about how Janet Reno hasn't
moved fast enough on Clinton attorney David Kendall's charge:
"For weeks, Attorney General Janet Reno has
refused to address allegations that Ken Starr is leaking to the press.
Reno says she's waiting on Judge Norma Holloway Johnson to rule on a
complaint filed by Clinton attorney, David Kendall. Democrats have
screamed for action, but Reno has held fast..."
Thomas finished co-anchor Joie Chen took a few seconds to tell viewers
about Brill's Democrats-only donation policy: "CNN's check of
Federal Election Commission records shows that Content Editor Steven Brill
gave $1,000 to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1995. He also gave more than
$9,000 to various Democratic candidates for Congress since 1992. There
were no donations to Republican candidates."
-- FNC's Fox
Report at 7pm ET started with David Shuster on the Starr controversy.
After presenting the White House complaint, Shuster uniquely pointed out
that Starr talked with reporters in the first days of the scandal to
correct false allegations made by Clintonites of prosecutorial misconduct
over how Lewinsky was supposedly detained against her will. Like CNN,
Shuster also raised Brill's record of putting his money into the hands
"In his story Steve Brill accused the media
of being corrupted to its core. Brill himself however never mentioned his
own possible conflict of interest. Since 1992 records show he has given
almost $10,000 to Democrats running for Congress. And in 1996 he gave
$1,000 to the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign. When asked why he
couldn't find room in a 24,000 word story to discuss his own political
history, Brill said he didn't think it was relevant."
CyberAlert is 2,100 words, so Brill's treatise is equal to about 12
Later, Eric Burns
provided an outline of Brill's allegations which Burns said "are
damning if not new." Burns concluded: "Steven Brill's story is
one-sided, which means one of two things. Either the facts are one-sided
or this interpretation of them is." Next, the anchors
discussed the story fallout with Matthew Rees of The Weekly Standard.
-- NBC Nightly
News. Unlike ABC, CBS and CNN Tom Brokaw refrained from putting the burden
on Starr to prove he did not do something illegal, not giving an advantage
to either side:
"There's a new battle tonight between the
White House and independent counsel Ken Starr. It's erupted with the
publication of a magazine article in which Starr acknowledges that he and
his staff gave reporters information about the Monica Lewinsky
David Bloom, however, concluded with this hit on
the independent counsel: "Starr insists that in part he was just
responding to White House leaks, but the President's advisers have
renewed their call for an independent investigation of the independent
counsel. One source put it this way, federal judge Norma Holloway Johnson
tonight is intent on taking Starr to the woodshed."
This from the
reporter Brill disparaged for performing "lapdog-like work" for
Starr. In this case I bet that "one source" is closer to the
Oval Office than Starr's office.
Monday morning Today went to the Starr matter right at the top of the
show, devoting both interview segments in the first half hour to the
controversy. ABC's Good Morning America, MRC analyst Clay Waters
observed, encapsulated the imbalance of the White House versus Starr
public relations battle. No one from Starr's side appeared, but GMA
dedicated an interview segment to former White House scandal flack Lanny
Matt Lauer opened
Today by asking about Starr:
"Did he break the law by leaking information
about his investigation of President Clinton to the press? The editor of a
new magazine says he did. He interviewed Ken Starr for an article on press
coverage of the Monica Lewinsky story. Starr says he did nothing wrong.
But the White House says this is a bombshell. We will get into it in just
a few minutes."
concluded his 7am news update piece by marveling at how the controversy
had diverted attention from Clinton:
"Even Starr's supporters are frustrated.
That it would give more ammunition to his critics and divert attention
from his investigation."
Trent Lott: "But once again the story is
about who leaked to whom, not about what laws were potentially violated.
That should be the emphasis."
Bloom: "But the President's advisers
insist their focus is on what laws were potentially violated. Namely did
the independent counsel break the law by leaking confidential information
to the press?"
For the rest of
the first half hour of the June 15 Today viewers saw Matt Lauer interview
Steve Brill and Katie Couric talk with Newsweek's Jonathan Alter.
challenge some of Brill's contentions and asked Brill to respond to
Starr's retort, at one point noting: "The irony here is that
you're writing an article about the recklessness of the press in
covering the Lewinsky story and now you're being accused of being
reckless with the facts in the article."
Alter argued to
Couric, as transcribed by MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens, that Starr
did do something very wrong:
"Well I think Ken Starr's candor might
actually cost him this time. You can look at this and say, 'What's the
big deal? So he's leaking, everybody leaks, the White House leaks.'
But the law is very clear. It's okay for the White House to leak as
sleazy is it might be in P.R. terms. It's not okay under the law for Ken
Starr or his people to leak. The law is very clear. It says they cannot
talk about quote, 'matters before the grand jury,' unquote. And that
covers a lot of territory."
If Starr leaking
to reporters is such an awful transgression why didn't anyone in the
media report that long ago? So reporters put their journalistic norms of
never divulging a source and never naming a colleague's source ahead of
the interest of blocking an independent counsel from abusing his power and
unethically maligning the reputation of the President of the United
States? If you follow the media logic that Starr abused his power by
divulging secrets to reporters which thereby corrupted the judicial
process, then reporters were partners in that corruption and are hardly in
a moral position now to pass judgment on Starr. -- Brent Baker
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