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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday July 20, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 114)

Now Starr's Too Fast; Silberman's "A Righty;" Russert's Misread

1) Lani Guinier was falsely tagged the "Quota Queen," contended Paula Zahn in her Saturday CBS Evening News "One on One" feature.

2) Starr can't win. Networks now complain he's moving too fast. Starr spokesman Charles Bakaly stated Starr would not ask agents to tell what Clinton told a lawyer, but ABC relayed the opposite.

3) Even after every judge has dismissed the Secret Service's argument, they have an advocate in NBC's Jack Ford who highlighted the argument that "we're giving up this very important tradition of confidentiality" just so Starr can look at "a sexual liaison."

4) Judge Laurence Silberman denounced as a "right-wing hit man" by Al Hunt and as "a righty" by Margaret Carlson.

5) "It's not been on the front page of anything," Tim Russert incorrectly insisted in referring to an analysis about a missile threat. Actually, both Washington papers played it on page one.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Liberal news media champion of the weekend. The last exchange from the "One on One" segment on the July 18 CBS Evening News:

     Paula Zahn to Lani Guinier: "How many years is it going to take for you not to be called the Quota Queen?"
     Guinier: "I think it will be, unfortunately, part of my obituary."
     Zahn: "Guinier says she never supported quotas, only measures that give a greater voice to minorities, whether they be African-Americans or Republicans in Chicago or Democrats in Newt Gingrich's district."

     It's nice to have a political advocate on your side at a network.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Ken Starr can win every court battle over the Secret Service, but he can't win over the networks. Friday and Saturday night all emphasized the unprecedented nature of his request for testimony, without one story presenting either on camera or off any comment from his spokesman, Charles Bakaly. The July 18 Washington Post quoted Bakaly: "We have never intended to question Secret Service agents about privileged conversations they may have overheard between the President and his private lawyers." Not one broadcast or cable network story Friday night nor broadcast story Saturday or Sunday night relayed that assurance. Instead, on ABC reporter Mike Von Fremd stated that Starr had called agent Larry Cockell in order to discover what Clinton told his lawyer.

     For months the media line has been that Starr is moving too slowly, but his decision to immediately bring the officers before the grand jury Friday prompted NBC's Pete Williams and CNN's John King to highlight White House complaints about his swiftness. Williams focused on how Clintonites called it "an outrageous power play" while "some legal experts found it partly theatrical."

     Sam Donaldson concluded his Friday story by telling viewers how one White House staffer denigrated Starr's operation as "Keystone Cop Central." And remaining consistently biased, for the fifth night in a row on Friday, Dan Rather claimed Starr is poking into Clinton's "personal life."

     Here's are some highlights of coverage from Friday July 17 through Sunday, July 19 on the network evening shows.

     -- Friday, July 17: All led with the noontime decision by Justice Rehnquist to allow Secret Service testimony.

     ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Forrest Sawyer opened: "Good evening. For the first time in history a Secret Service agent testified today before a grand jury as part of a criminal investigation of a sitting United States President."

     Jackie Judd recited the dramatic decision at high noon and how Starr was "so anxious" he didn't wait for the regular grand jury to reconvene next week. Next, from the White House Sam Donaldson reported: "Forrest, reaction among presidential aides over today's turn of events ranges from anger to resignation. They still say they think the courts are wrong, but they know there isn't anything they can do about it." After clips from Clinton and Cockell's attorney, Donaldson ended with this swipe at Starr:
     "White House officials profess not to be worried about what the agents may say to the grand jury, even when Starr claims that they may possess evidence of possible crimes. What does Starr mean by that? Well, the answer Forrest given by one of the President's top aides is, and I quote, 'I have no idea what Keystone Cops Central is doing, no idea.'"

     CBS Evening News. Dan Rather intoned: "Good evening. At least three active-duty Secret Service employees were forced today to appear before special prosecutor Ken Starr's grand jury to give testimony. This happened after Chief Justice William Rehnquist cleared the way for Starr's unprecedented push to make the Secret Service tell him at least some of what it knows about the President's personal life."
     Scott Pelley added: "CBS News has obtained, from sealed court documents, a list of Starr's questions that Secret Service officers have refused to answer in earlier interviews. They include: 'Was Monica Lewinsky ever in the Oval Office?' 'Were Lewinsky and the President ever alone together?' Did any officer, quote 'witness the President in a romantic situation or engaged in a sexual act?' Finally, the officers have been asked about White House steward Byani Nelvis who works near the Oval Office and has already testified. Prosecutors wanted to know if Nelvis ever told the officers of a relationship between Lewinsky and the President."
     Next, CBS legal reporter Kristin Jeannette-Myers explained that "there is simply no statute on the books and no common law tradition of this so-called protective function privilege. In fact, agents who protected President Bush did testify during the Iran-Contra investigation."

     CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. Bob Franken ran down the day's events and Charles Bierbauer detailed Rehnquist's decision. In between, John King checked in from Clinton's trip to Little Rock. After showing Clinton defending the Secret Service and noting that Brian Stafford had replaced Larry Cockell at Clinton's side, King concluded:
     "White House aides are under orders not to publicly discuss the Secret Service controversy, but privately many accuse Starr of playing hardball, suggesting his rush to haul the Secret Service into court is more about sending a political statement than gathering critical testimony."

     FNC's Fox Report at 7pm ET. David Shuster pointed out: "Starr promised the courts he will only focus on events that occurred before this week, leaving the White House without the Starr investigation as an excuse if President Clinton in the future really chooses to push the Secret Service away."

     NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw ignored Bakaly's assurance, declaring at the top of the show that "not long after" Rehnquist's decision, "for the first time ever, agents were talking about what they saw and heard while guarding the President of the United States."
     Pete Williams explained the Rehnquist decision and ran soundbites from Clinton and Gingrich before worrying about Starr's efficiency:
     "Kenneth Starr's prosecutors had summoned the agents to be present before noon and ready to testify the minute the Supreme Court ruled. The White House called that an outrageous power play and some legal experts found it partly theatrical."
     Jeffrey Harris, former prosecutor: "I think it's a combination of Ken Starr flexing his muscles and also an aggressive prosecutor hoping to get the testimony before it's been combed through by the lawyers too carefully."

     After Williams Jim Miklaszewski provided a profile of Larry Cockell, the first black special agent in charge, recounting his climb from the St. Louis PD to the President's side.

     -- Saturday, July 18. ABC led with the tidal wave in New Guinea, CBS a new drug that impedes Alzheimer's and NBC the Secret Service testimony. Both Bill Plante on the CBS Evening News and John Palmer on NBC Nightly News filed from Little Rock with a rundown of how Clinton was greeted by a supportive crowd at a fundraiser, and though he played some golf he could not help but notice the Secret Service controversy as he was accompanied by a different agent. Mike Von Fremd passed on the same basic facts on ABC's World News Tonight/Saturday, but also noted that agents may not have heard as much as Starr hopes because of earpieces. Then, in direct contradiction of Bakaly's statement, relayed: "The White House fears that Ken Starr wants to know what Cockell overheard during this limousine ride, when the President was with his attorney immediately after giving his deposition in the Paula Jones case."

     -- Sunday, July 19. The strike approval at GM's Saturn division topped ABC, while the tidal wave led CBS and NBC. A golf-shortened CBS Evening News did not mention a Clinton scandal. On ABC's World News Tonight/Sunday Mike Von Fremd summarized how the lawyers for Secret Service officers and agents "went on the offensive" on the Sunday shows. Von Fremd also ran a clip of Trent Lott blasting the Secret Service for fighting the subpoenas, suggesting they may be hiding something.
     John Palmer noted that Clinton went to church and a barbecue before departing Little Rock. In his NBC Nightly News piece Palmer also showed Lott's soundbite before concluding by highlighting how the upcoming Newsweek reports that Starr is interested in asking Cockell if Clinton talked by phone to Monica Lewinsky during his December 1997 visit to Bosnia.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Every judge who has encountered the case so far has dismissed the claim of protection function privilege. It seems that every journalist, however, finds it not only quite reasonable but portrays any other view as dangerous. The latest example: On Saturday's Today, the morning after Chief Justice Rehnquist's decision, co-host Jack Ford hit Major Garret of U.S. News and Democratic consultant Peter Fenn with questions the Secret Service lawyers would appreciate.

     While Ford did ask Fenn about the argument that the evidence trail took Ken Starr to the officers so he must question them, his other questions came from an anti-Starr point of view. Here are his other three somewhat convoluted inquiries made during the July 18 interview:
     -- "Peter, should we be concerned to whatever kind of precedent is being established here, not just for this President but for the institution of the presidency?"
     -- "Major, when Peter mentions that you had uniformity here in terms of the Secret Service agents saying this was a bad idea -- you even had President Bush who is certainly no particular political fan of President Clinton saying that was the case -- why then shouldn't we be concerned that we've given up here something that is so important because of this fight that's going on?"
     -- "Major, let me follow up on Peter's point. Often times we resolve these kinds of disputes by doing some type of societal balancing here. How about this argument that says, 'you know what, in the great cosmic scheme of things we're giving up this very important tradition of confidentiality in order to allow Kenneth Starr to investigate whether somebody might not have told the truth about a sexual liaison'?"


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) The liberal tag team of the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt and Time magazine's Margaret Carlson spent Saturday night disparaging Ken Starr and dismissing Appeals Court Judge Laurence Silberman's opinion as irrelevant since he's a "right-wing hit man" and "a righty."

     On Saturday's Capital Gang on CNN Hunt issued the usual attack on Starr, declaring: "He's inept...He's totally incompetent."

     Novak then suggested that he "thought that was a terrific opinion by Judge Lawrence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals where he said that the Justice Department has become the personal lawyer for the President. They're not representing the United States because the independent counsel, which Judge Silberman said was unconstitutional, has precluded the Attorney General and when the President of the United States on Friday said what about this decision? He said we'll consider the source, the source, I think, is one of the really distinguished appellate judges in the country."
     That prompted this volley:
     Hunt: "He's one of the political hit men, Bob. He's one of the right-wing hit men on the judiciary."
     Margaret Carlson: "He's so conflicted, he should have recused himself."
     Novak: "Well, for a left-wing journalist he's pretty bad. I admit that."
     Hunt: "And also, you want to say no distinguished, I'll give you one, Walter Dellinger (sp?), the former distinguished solicitor general."
     Novak: "He's a lefty. He's a lefty."
     Hunt: "When you said no legal person you're citing a right-wing hit man on the bench and saying that he's a distinguished jurist."
     Novak: "Well, he's a very distinguished jurist."
     Hunt: "Because he's a good source for you."
     Carlson: "Because he's a righty. Your guy is a righty...."


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) Tim Russert's perception versus reality. Near the end of Sunday's Meet the Press of July 19 moderator Tim Russert asked guests William Safire and Doris Kearns Goodwin about a report released Wednesday by a commission which concluded a long-range missile attack on the U.S. could occur within five years.

     Safire was impressed by Russert's decision to raise the topic, exalting: "This is an amazing moment on television. We're talking about the most important thing that happened in the past week." After Safire went on to contend that most people don't realize our vulnerability and assume the U.S. has a missile defense system, Russert jumped in: "Let the good times roll and the people are building second additions and these kind of stories don't seem to concern the American people."

     Goodwin offered a comment and then Safire inquired of Russert: "Why isn't this covered more on television? Is it dull?"
     Russert replied: "And the newspapers as well. I mean it's not been on the front page of anything, but it should be and that's why we brought it up this morning."

     "Not been on the front page of anything"? How about the front pages of the newspapers in Russert's hometown, Washington, DC? Let's take a look. Above the fold on the front page of the July 16 Washington Times: "No-Warning Attack on U.S. Said Possible in Five Years." Well, maybe we can't expect Russert to read the Washington Times, it being considered a right-wing newspaper. Certainly he would not have missed something on the front page of the Washington Post. But he did. Not above the fold, but still on the front page, a July 16 headline announced: "Iran, N. Korea Missile Gains Spur Warning."

     No wonder the networks don't pick up many major newspaper scoops about scandal developments. Their Washington bureau chiefs don't notice them even when they are on the front page. -- Brent Baker

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