"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..."
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
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
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."
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:
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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."
"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
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
-- 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."
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.
"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."
all get along?
-- Brent Baker
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