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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Wednesday July 8, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 107)

Showcasing Clinton's "Safety Net" 
Solution; CNN Staffers Angry At Bosses 

1) No Tuesday evening show mentioned that the Maryland State Prosecutor pursuing Linda Tripp is a Democrat.

2) "A wide gap in the national safety net is about to close," oozed CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews is a sparkling report on how Bill Clinton has solved another problem by making taxpayers pay more.

3) "The symbolism was spectacular," declared a Cox Newspapers reporter is a glowing assessment for PBS of Clinton's China trip.

4) CNN is looking harder at Peter Arnett's role. And in a Monday conference CNN staffers unleashed "unusually personal criticism" of CNN/USA President Rick Kaplan.

Correction: The July 6 CyberAlert quoted Jeff Greenfield as saying on Imus in the Morning before the infamous NewsStand story that "it's gonna to raise a lot of eyebrows about what the gov, what the military was up too." Seeing that picked up by the Drudge Report, I noticed one too many o's in too. That should have read, "it's gonna to raise a lot of eyebrows about what the gov, what the military was up to."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Tuesday night the three broadcast networks and CNN led with the federal appeals court ruling compelling the testimony from Secret Service officers by rejecting the "protective privilege" claim. FNC squeezed a piece by David Shuster into their 7pm ET hour at about 7:40pm ET in an hour otherwise dedicated solely to the verdict on the Ennis Cosby murder trial. Though CNN led its 8pm ET The World Today with a Bob Franken piece on the Secret Service and on Linda Tripp, much of the hour was occupied by live press conferences from outside the Santa Monica courthouse.

     Every network noted Linda Tripp's third day before the grand jury and how Maryland had launched its own grand jury investigation into whether she violated state law by taping her phone calls with Monica Lewinsky. But, none noted that the Maryland State Prosecutor pursuing the case, Stephen Montanarelli, is a Democrat. (Tripp lives in Howard County, but the county prosecutor, an elected Republican, passed the decision on the case to the state prosecutor, a special appointed office set up to handle corruption and politically sensitive cases. In Maryland the Governorship and both legislative bodies are controlled by Democrats.)

     A 13-second item on CBS is all the coverage devoted Tuesday night to the indictment of Maria Hsia of temple fundraiser fame.

     Some notes on Tuesday night, July 7 coverage:

     -- CBS Evening News. After detailing the Secret Service ruling, Scott Pelley moved to Tripp. As any observant CyberAlert reader knows, Dan Rather has often referred to Ken Starr as "Republican special prosecutor Ken Starr." But Pelley avoided any partisan labeling: "A Maryland prosecutor announced he is investigating whether Tripp violated state law when she secretly recorded conversations with Monica Lewinsky."

     This 13-seconds from anchor Bob Schieffer represents the totality of network coverage for Hsia:
     "Democratic Party fundraiser Maria Hsia was hit with a new federal indictment today. She's already charged with disguising illegal campaign donations to the Clinton re-election campaign. Today she was indicted on federal income tax charges."


     -- NBC Nightly News. Lisa Myers handled the Secret Service story up front and reported that the White House was trying to keep officers quiet even before the public knew they knew anything relevant: "NBC News has learned that at least one senior Secret Service official told friends in early January, even before the Lewinsky story broke, that there was White House pressure to keep the President's private activities under wraps."

     Later, anchor Jack Ford introduced a story by Gwen Ifill on the "congressional session some are calling one long snooze." Ifill explained the congressional inactivity, with only 33 laws passed, but also noted the record public approval for Congress.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) The Florida fires topped all the network evening shows Monday night, July 6, except for ABC's World News Tonight which went first with the Pentagon report on Army Major General David Hale accusing him of affairs with the wives of his subordinates, and the controversy over how he was allowed to resign. Only FNC ran story on the Monica mess, a piece by David Shuster on how Starr wants to meet with Lewinsky before making a deal, but her lawyers want any information gathered in such a meeting to be off limits if a deal is not struck.

     The CBS Evening News dedicated a story to Clinton's effort to make sure even more people take advantage of a little-known welfare handout option paid for by taxpayers, dubbing it "the best idea Washington ever kept secret." As transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson, anchor Bob Schieffer announced:
     "President Clinton promised today to make it easier for low-income and disabled Americans to know about and to receive the special Medicare coverage that they're eligible to get. This comes just as a new study finds that out of more than three million entitled, fewer than 5,000 actually applied for and got the benefits. Wyatt Andrews has our report."
     Andrews highlighted the supposed problem Clinton decided to solve: "It may be the best idea Washington ever kept secret. Senior citizens like Lola Owens, who live near the poverty line, are supposed to have their Medicare premiums paid by the government. The problem is no one in Washington ever set up a system to actually tell them."

     Andrews concluded: "Lola Owens, who receives $519 a month, will now get $44 extra and will no longer pay co-payments for her medical care. For her and millions of others, a wide gap in the national safety net is about to close."

     A "gap" so serious no one noticed until now. How delightful that it's been closed so taxpayers can fund even more benefits for welfare recipients unable to figure out what they can get.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) "The symbolism was spectacular," declared Bob Deans of Cox Newspapers in reviewing Clinton's trip to China. The White House could not have dreamed of a better assessment than the one delivered last Friday, July 3, on PBS's Washington Week in Review by Deans. Just enough caveats to make it credible but otherwise dominated by glowing portrayals of his words as triumphant achievements.

     Here's the pro-Clinton re-cap, in full, as argued by Deans:

     "Well, I think the easy thing to say would be that here was a President who's addled by scandal at home. He's got a domestic agenda that's sort of driven into the mud here, and he went to China on, as you suggest, a highly symbolic and very low-substance trip, leaving China as harshly repressive as when he found it. All of which would be true.
     "But my view is that there's a bigger picture here. I do think that this will be remembered as probably the most important trip the President has taken, the most important of his career. The reason is that even though it was symbolic, the symbolism was spectacular. We started in Xian, as a reminder that, by the way, China is ten times older than the United States. We went on to Beijing to Tiananmen Square. The President told us before he went that he would be thinking about what happened June the 4th, '89, when he went to Tiananmen, but he didn't realize he was going to be able to go and tell the entire nation of China on television live unedited, uncensored that what happened at Tiananmen was wrong. That has never happened before. The Chinese people have never heard that from the state media. That was historic. That was important.
     "He goes on, as you say, to Beijing University. What's his message there? He tells the people there, 'I represent a government that doesn't fear its people. I represent a government that rules with the consent of the governed. And I represent a government that appreciates the fact that we need the strength of ideas of all of our people to succeed in the world.' Then he goes on to Shanghai where he takes questions from anybody who wants to call in to the President of the United States and he gets answers.
     "Communications wise, this was revolutionary in China. Now does it mean China is transformed overnight into a Jeffersonian democracy? No. We can't say enough, everyone of those millions of Chinese that Clinton spoke to has never had a vote. Not one has been able to stand up in China and say what President Clinton said without fear that they'll be tossed into jail. In fact, not one of them can even go to Tiananmen Square and lay so much as a rose pedal to remember those lives that were lost there. But the question becomes: What can the President do in nine days to try to move China forward?"


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) The indians are restless at CNN. Tuesday's New York Times and Washington Post featured re-caps of who complained about what during Monday conference calls amongst CNN staffers. Bottom line: many CNN employees are angry that top managers escaped the purge since they should have realized in advance the weakness of the story. (In the meantime, fired producers Jack Smith and April Oliver continue to defend their story: Oliver appeared on ABC's Good Morning America/Sunday and both were on CNN's own Crossfire on Monday and on MSNBC Tuesday morning. Oliver delights in bashing CNN/USA President Rick Kaplan for "caving" into military pressure.)

     Both stories accentuated how CNN is now re-evaluating Peter Arnett's role upon acknowledging he was more involved than initially maintained and how CNN Chairman Tom Johnson had offered to resign. The Post's Howard Kurtz added details about "the unusually personal criticism" issued by staffers toward top executives, such as how unnamed staffers even raised Kaplan's roles in ABC's Food Lion story and in faking a stand-up background for Cokie Roberts. Kurtz also relayed how Arnett had nothing to do with the Time article carrying his byline, but did not explore the contradiction between CNN using Arnett's name to impute credibility but then saying he had nothing to do with the story once it's torn down.

     Here are some excerpts of the most interesting and entertaining material. First, from Felicity Barringer's July 7 New York Times story:

CNN Employees Pointedly Ask How Managers Escaped Purge

Hundreds of angry Cable News Network staff members in the network's Atlanta headquarters and more calling in from CNN's bureaus around the world took part in two meetings on Monday at which some demanded to know why the network's top managers stayed on the job after last week's apology and repudiation of its report that the American military had used nerve gas on a 1970 mission in Laos.

Tom Johnson, the Chairman of CNN News Group, told the group that his offer of resignation had twice been rejected by Gerald Levin, the Chairman of Time Warner, the network's corporate parent, and Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and now Vice Chairman of Time Warner.

Some producers and correspondents asked why Richard Kaplan, the Chairman of CNN/USA, and Peter Arnett, the correspondent who narrated the report, had not chosen or been forced to resign.

And in an interview on Monday night a spokesman for the network, who insisted on anonymity, said, "Peter Arnett's role as a correspondent in the Operation Tailwind coverage is being re-evaluated based on new information provided to Tom Johnson over the weekend and on Monday." The military mission examined by the report had been code-named Operation Tailwind.

The network's top executives had believed that Arnett conducted just one interview for the program, the spokesman said, but have since learned that he conducted two others, including one with a pilot on the mission who said his aircraft had been loaded with tear gas, not nerve gas.

While Arnett said in recent interviews that he was a late addition to the reporting team and basically read a script, in an interview on Monday night, in response to the spokesman's comment, he said it had been widely known that he had conducted three interviews, not one, including one with the pilot....


Second, from the July 7 Post story by Howard Kurtz:

CNN Staffers Wait for the Other Shoe To Drop: Fallout Continues From Nerve Gas Story That Network Retracted

CNN chief executive Tom Johnson told colleagues yesterday that he had twice submitted his resignation over the nerve gas story that the network had to retract, but was rebuffed each time by Ted Turner, CNN's founder.

Johnson also told his staff in a conference call that he is taking another look at possible punishment for Peter Arnett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent on the story, according to several participants in the call. Johnson said he came within a hair of firing Arnett but reprimanded him instead, in part because of his courage in reporting from Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War.

Arnett called in to defend himself during a second conference call, declaring that "I contributed not one comma" to the story. He said he had helped build CNN's reputation and that he was "not going to let my reputation go down the tubes" over the controversy. He said he was "shocked" to hear his job is on the line....

When he raised questions with April Oliver and Jack Smith, the CNN producers fired over the story, he was presented with several hundred pages of documentation, Arnett said. When he joined in two key interviews, he asked questions from several pages prepared by Oliver. And it was Oliver who wrote the accompanying piece for Time magazine, CNN's corporate partner, with his name apparently tacked on for "marketing reasons," he said....

The intensity of the turmoil at the Atlanta-based network was reflected in the unusually personal criticism that several CNN staffers made of their bosses during the first conference call with dozens of staffers from the network's bureaus....

During the morning conference call, some staffers demanded to know how Kaplan, with his high-level experience, could have approved the nerve gas story. One even brought up his involvement with the ABC PrimeTime Live story on Food Lion supermarkets, which prompted a $5.5 million jury verdict against the network over its use of hidden cameras....

Another staffer questioned his role in having Cokie Roberts put on a winter coat and stand in front of a picture of the Capitol so it would look as if she were reporting from the Hill.

Much of the staff's anger was also directed at Arnett. Andrea Koppel, CNN's diplomatic reporter, questioned the nature of Arnett's job and whether the CNN brass is protecting him, participants said. Had it been a less famous correspondent, she said, that person would have been fired or should have resigned....

Days before the segment aired, Jamie McIntyre, CNN's Pentagon correspondent, wrote a memo questioning several weaknesses in the piece, particularly the account of retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, 86, who was presented as a confirming source although he never claimed firsthand knowledge that nerve gas was used....

In a widely circulated July 4 memo, McIntyre, the Pentagon reporter, said he was "angry" at Smith and Oliver for the "multitude of journalistic sins they committed" in pursuit of their "conspiracy theory." He said the two producers owe an apology to "their colleagues at CNN, whose reputations and credibility have been grievously wounded by this shoddy piece of journalism."

     On the bright side, Tom Johnson announced that he has created a new position: Executive Vice President for standards and practices. Named to the slot: Rick Davis, now in charge of all the Washington-based talk shows. -- Brent Baker

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