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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday June 29, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 101)

"Hosannas" for Clinton's "Virtuoso" Performance; "Good-for-Nothing" Tripp

1) Tim Russert set up Jack Quinn for a hit on Ken Starr. ABC and NBC picked up in the evening how Starr "should be ashamed."

2) "Widespread Hosannas of praise for President Clinton on the issue of human rights," insisted ABC. Only CBS detailed what Dale Young disclosed about the definition of sex 'incompleted' by Clinton.

3) Tragedy to triumph. Friday night the networks hit Clinton for going to Tiananmen Square, but by Saturday they were saluting his "virtuoso" press conference performance and how "he turned the memory of a massacre into a defense of democracy."

4) Geraldo Rivera labeled a Starr witness "a treacherous, back-stabbing, good-for-nothing enemy of the truth."

Reminder: Last night CBS repeated the Touched by an Angel episode crusading against the evils of McCarthyism in Hollywood. The episode originally aired on November 16, 1997. See the November 18, 1997 CyberAlert for details and quotes from the historically revisionist show. 

Correction. Item #4 in the June 25 CyberAlert began: "Another example Wednesday night of an issue on which the networks see know need for balance, fairness or honesty." Obviously that should have read "see no need for..."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Anatomy of a hit. No matter what he does there are always a few in the media willing to apply the most odious interpretation to Ken Starr's actions. One question on one Sunday morning interview show yesterday demonstrated how a single anti-Starr question can get amplified in other news shows when it fills a theme a reporter or producer wants to highlight.

     Step One. The question and answer on Meet the Press.
     Tim Russert: "Jack Quinn, what about the timing? President Clinton's in China on a diplomatic mission and Ken Starr calls Linda Tripp before the grand jury right smack in the middle of his trip."
     Jack Quinn, former counselor to President Clinton: "I think he should be ashamed of himself. You know the President's over there representing the United States of America, talking to the leaders of China about peace in the world, about human rights and you know it's just the most unfortunate sense of timing. I mean we've been saying for a long time that Ken Starr's got a political tin ear, but you know this was just really offensive."

     Step Two. The answer becomes a news item in and of itself.
     On ABC's World News Tonight reporter Karla Davis asserted: "Clinton defenders accuse Starr of trying to embarrass the President while he is on an international stage."
     Quinn, in Meet the Press video: "It's just the most unfortunate sense of timing. I mean we've been saying for a long time that Ken Starr's got a political tin ear, but you know this was just really offensive."

     And John Palmer raised the attack in his June 28 NBC Nightly News piece.
     Palmer: "Some suspect Starr may be trying to embarrass the President by calling Tripp while Mr. Clinton is away."

Quinn, from Meet the Press: "I think he should be ashamed of himself."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Sunday night ABC gave a couple of vague sentences to the news that Newsweek had interviewed Dale Young about what Monica Lewinsky had told her, but NBC gave it just a sentence. Only CBS provided enough detail to enable viewers to understand the substance and relevance of the new information. Still glowing from President Clinton's "extraordinary joint appearance" with Jiang Zemin Saturday morning China time, as Sam Donaldson described it, a day later on Sunday night the network correspondents remained in awe of his performance.

     Some quick notes on the Sunday, June 28 broadcast network evening shows:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight/Sunday. Sam Donaldson went through Clinton's day of going to church and seeing the Great Wall. Recalling his "extraordinary joint appearance," Donaldson allowed U.S. Ambassador James Sasser to praise Jiang Zemin for putting it on television before Donaldson concluded with admiration for Clinton:

     "Predictions of dire consequences if he went to Tiananmen Square have turned into widespread Hosannas of praise for President Clinton on the issue of human rights. Murphy's Law says things could still go wrong, but so far the famous Clinton luck, or whatever it is, is holding."

     On the Monica front, Karla Davis began her story: "ABC News has confirmed that Dale Young, a 47-year-old New York resident and friend of Monica Lewinsky gave new details to a Washington grand jury about the alleged affair between the intern and the President. Young says in May 1996 Lewinsky confided in her that while her relationship with Mr. Clinton was sexual in nature, he put limits on his physical involvement in fear he may be questioned about it."

     How romantic.

     That was it for Dale Young. Davis moved on to previewing Linda Tripp's testimony and relaying the Quinn attack on Starr. See item #1 above.

     -- CBS Evening News. Bill Plante provided a run down of Clinton's day of church-going and sightseeing.
     Sharyl Attkisson made CBS the only broadcast network to give viewers a real clue as to what Young told Newsweek. Noting that her story contradicts the denials of a sexual relationship issued by Lewinsky and Clinton, Attkisson explained (portions in single quotes appeared in on-screen graphics):
     "Young told Newsweek that Monica Lewinsky confided in her, saying there was 'intimate touching' with the President, that he set ground rules for the relationship at the outset because 'he didn't trust anybody.' 'Nothing was ever taken to completion,' Young quotes Lewinsky as saying. The President 'felt it really wasn't oral sex if it wasn't completed.'....

     And if it's not oral sex then it's not sexual relations and if it's not sexual relations then Clinton didn't lie.

     -- NBC Nightly News anchor Len Cannon opened the show by portraying Clinton as so powerful and persuasive that he's put fear into the Chinese:
     "President Clinton today again raised the issue of human rights. It was a toned down message, however, compared to his sharp comments earlier which have given the Chinese government second thoughts about President Clinton's access to the Chinese people..."
     Clinton prodded the Chinese for more religious freedom, but NBC's David Bloom noted that millions in China are forced to conceal their beliefs. Giving Gary Bauer his only evening network appearance, Bloom picked up a soundbite from Fox News Sunday in which Bauer urged Clinton to meet with underground church leaders.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Clinton ended the week on Friday by getting hammered by the networks over China's human rights abuses and his agreement to appear in Tiananmen Square, but his joint appearance with Jiang Zemin, in which he mentioned Tiananmen Square, caused the networks to do a 180. Saturday night ABC, CBS and NBC applauded his effectiveness. "A virtuoso performance for both Presidents," oozed ABC's Sam Donaldson. On CBS Scott Pelley insisted that "with his forceful statement in the news conference the President was able to deliver a sharp rebuke to his critics." NBC David Bloom lauded Clinton for "lecturing Chinese President Zemin on personal freedom." If only the Clinton team hadn't delayed the Beijing arrival ceremony and press conference until Friday night east coast time, a lot more people could have seen the glowing networks coverage.

     During the press conference, unprompted, Jiang Zemin denied that China made any effort to influence the 1996 U.S. election. CBS gave the comment one sentence leading into a quick soundbite. But ABC, CNN and NBC Saturday night didn't utter a word about it, so from Thursday night through the weekend that one CBS mention represents the total network evening newscast focus on the whole China money matter.

     Some highlights from Friday and Saturday night. First, Friday, June 26. CBS, CNN and FNC led with the Supreme Court's sexual harassment decision; China topped ABC and NBC.

     -- ABC's World News Tonight. Sam Donaldson previewed the Tiananmen Square ceremony just hours away (at 9pm ET) and how Clinton spent his day visiting a village. Donaldson reminded viewers that he was denied access the day before to one dissident, but another got through and Donaldson ran a soundbite from him before running a clip of National Security Adviser Sandy Berger denouncing China's human rights record as "terrible."
     Deborah Wang followed-up with a story on how the dissident arrests are a "public relations disaster for the Chinese."
     For the A Closer Look segment Peter Jennings looked at Tiananmen Square, asserting in a taped piece from it that "this has always been the political and spiritual center of China."  Though he acknowledged "1989 lingers in the air," Jennings concluded by implying Clinton was correct to agree to a ceremony there: "What is one to think of Tiananmen Square. It is irresistible. The idea of going to China and not seeing it is unthinkable. It is China."

     -- CBS Evening News. Scott Pelley painted Clinton as the victim of Chinese ingratitude, leading into the same Berger soundbite played by ABC:
     "By the time he landed in Beijing the President of the United States had been double-crossed. China swept up dissidents even as Mr. Clinton prepared to accommodate the government at the site of the Tiananmen massacre. The embarrassment drew a sharp rebuke from the President's National Security Advisor."

     For the "Journey to China" segment Dan Rather delivered a tough piece on Tiananmen Square in which he scolded Clinton. To give you a flavor, here are Rather's opening and closing words.
     Opening: "No matter what the President says here, the picture of his being in this place represents a triumph for the Chinese dictatorship."
     Closing: "For those of us who were here in 1989 as the historic moment built, there is the haunting realization that the drive for democracy has stalled, at least on the surface and at least for now. It has been nearly drowned out, in many ways, by a kind of free market and a drive for dollars. The same people who crushed the movement for freedom have been working ever since to have the world forget it and to have an American President come and stand here. Tonight they get what they want."

     -- NBC Nightly News. David Bloom argued that as Clinton promises to make a statement on human rights he "confronts the ghost of Tiananmen Square." Like ABC, NBC featured a soundbite from a dissident. Bloom got Yang Hai, just released in Xian by the authorities. As Clinton's speech writers draft his press conference remarks, Bloom observed, "he knows that critics back home will say he's been too soft or too hard on the leaders he used to call the butchers of Beijing but tonight will embrace."

     Next, Tom Brokaw asked U.S. businessmen whether human rights should be a factor in their decisions. His piece also featured Paul Wellstone as well as some exiles who think more business will make China more democratic. In listing China's offenses, Brokaw included selling human organs.

     Saturday, June 27:
     -- ABC's World News Tonight/Saturday. At the press conference Friday night U.S. time, Clinton hit Tiananmen Square "head-on," insisted Sam Donaldson. Clearly impressed, Donaldson proclaimed:  "It was an amazing give and take, particularly so since in an unprecedented move, Jiang allowed it all to be telecast live throughout China....It was a virtuoso performance for both Presidents. Delicate disagreements aired without rancor."
     Following video of Clinton conducting the band at the state dinner, Donaldson judged Clinton a success: "If the test was how well the President stood up for human rights, Mr. Clinton will probably be judged to have passed it. Tonight jubilant White House officials are claiming a policy success."

     -- CBS Evening News. Scott Pelley began his top of the show story with this well-crafted verbiage taking the viewer through the day:
     "The President of the United States walked over the very stones where soldiers fired and students died. For the Chinese the ceremony was a political absolution, paying respects to the army that crushed democracy. The morning began as Mr. Clinton's critics had warned, but in the end he turned the memory of a massacre into a defense of democracy."
     After some press conference highlights, Pelley paid homage to Clinton's performance, concluding his story: "This was the moment that carried the highest political risk in Mr. Clinton's controversial tour of China. But with his forceful statement in the news conference the President was able to deliver a sharp rebuke to his critics even while standing in Tiananmen Square."

     Up next, Bill Plante offered more clips from the "dramatic, impromptu debate" between Clinton and Jiang Zemin. One item selected as a highlight by Plante: "Without being asked, Jiang insisted that the charges China had contributed to American political campaigns were false."
     Neither ABC or NBC, nor CNN's 8pm ET The World Today mentioned the China donations issue.

     -- NBC Nightly News. David Bloom explained the dichotomy of the day: "This was an extraordinary day in U.S.-China relations. It was to many unconscionable -- the American flag flying over Tiananmen Square, President Clinton reviewing communist troops on the very ground where Chines soldiers massacred pro-democracy demonstrators nine years ago. It was also unprecedented. A spirited debate on human rights, televised live, watched by millions throughout China, Mr. Clinton lecturing Chinese President Zemin on personal freedom..."

     Balancing all the emphasis on dissidents, NBC aired a story by Jonathan Alter about how things are better than ever. He began:
     "Today's China isn't free but it's actually freer than in years for most of the nation's 1.2 billion people. This is now a country with rock concerts, cyber cafes, newspapers that go beyond just dishing up the old communist propaganda and leaders torn between an instinct for repression and the knowledge that loosening their iron grip is the only way to keep the economy strong...."

     -- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. The only story CNN aired 20 hours after the event dealt with how Beijing residents were trying to see Clinton. Reporter Rebecca MacKinnon contrasted the reality of Beijing life with the promise of Chinese leaders. Noting that a CNN camera-crew was detained for an hour because it was interviewing people, MacKinnon observed: "As President Jiang was telling the world that the Chinese people had freedom of speech, the police were telling us that it's against the law to interview any Chinese citizen without prior government approval."


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Linda Tripp: Good for nothing. Normally I don't deal with Geraldo Rivera, but now that he's part of the NBC News team, not just a little-watched cable network, and covering Clinton's China trip for the Today show, what he says is relevant. Here's an exchange I caught from Friday night's edition of his CNBC show, Rivera Live, with John Hockenberry filling in as host and Rivera making a brief appearance at the top of the show from Beijing.

     John Hockenberry: "If, as you say, the Linda Tripp testimony leads to a Monica indictment it will be the ultimate betrayal of Monica."
     Rivera: "And I think that's what Linda Tripp was aiming for along with her mentor Lucianne Goldberg, the book agent. They wanted to make money on a book but once push came to shove they were perfectly willing to sacrifice the young former White House intern on the alter of greed, on the alter of hatred for Bill Clinton and his administration and I think they're going to accomplish that at least in the short term. But if it comes to trial Linda Tripp will be facing some severe questioning by Monica Lewinsky's very capable counsel. And my God, a first year law student hearing those tapes will be able to make her look like exactly what she is, a treacherous, back-stabbing, good-for-nothing enemy of the truth."

     Can't we all get along?  -- Brent Baker

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