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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Wednesday July 29, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 121)

CNN: Fight Subpoena; Clift Believes Clinton; "Idiots" Penetrate CNN

1) All the networks led with multiple pieces on the Lewinsky immunity deal. CNN's Greta Van Susteren urged Clinton to avoid Starr's "improper" perjury trap and declared that Lewinsky "has absolutely no credibility."

2) Just days ago Eleanor Clift predicted Starr would indict Lewinsky. Clift also proclaimed she believes Clinton "told the truth."

3) CNN's Bernard Shaw lashed out at "idiots who penetrated" CNN's phone system after CNN put a Howard Stern call on during live Capitol shooting coverage. But who is the real idiot?

4) Letterman's "Top Ten Questions Ken Starr Plans to Ask Monica Lewinsky."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Every network led Tuesday night with multiple stories on the immunity deal for Monica Lewinsky. CNN also aired a 10pm ET special and the deal was the topic on Nightline which reported that the "talking points" were drafted by Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, not the White House.

     With seven minutes on the Starr investigation, the CBS Evening News allocated the least time to it. ABC and NBC gave it eight minutes and CNN over half the airtime of its hour-long 8pm ET The World Today. All the shows provided the same basic facts on the meaning of "transactional immunity," how Lewinsky's admission of a sexual relationship contradicts Clinton's claim, how Lewinsky denies Clinton asked her to lie and how Starr is looking at the return of the gifts to Betty Currie, which were subpoenaed by lawyers for Paula Jones, as evidence of obstruction of justice.

     But beyond those basics, each network delivered a unique revelation or emphasis. ABC claimed Clinton suggested to Lewinsky how she might "describe their relationship if ever asked;" CBS reported that Lewinsky will "provide physical evidence" of her relationship; CNN acknowledged that Clinton aides like Paul Begala and Lanny Davis, whom the media cite as experts, "know little or nothing about his relationship" with Lewinsky; FNC relayed how Lewinsky has promised to recount all her conversations with Clinton cronies like Vernon Jordan; and NBC disclosed that Lewinsky will turn over phone answering machine tapes with messages from Clinton.

     Some highlights from the Tuesday, July 28, evening shows:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight (8 minutes on Monicagate)
     Jackie Judd disclosed that "those legal sources say Lewinsky also told prosecutors Mr. Clinton never instructed her directly to lie to conceal the affair, but that he did pose hypothetical examples about how she could describe their relationship if ever asked. The question is whether those alleged suggestions could be interpreted as obstruction of justice...."
     From the White House, Sam Donaldson led into Mike McCurry's claim that Clinton is "pleased things are working out" for Lewinsky by asserting: "It might be hard to believe that the President would be happy that Monica Lewinsky has made a deal with Kenneth Starr, but that is exactly what's being said here."

     -- CBS Evening News (7 minutes)
     From Washington, Dan Rather intoned: "Good evening from our nation's capital. The Clinton presidency has moved into a new and potentially more dangerous phase. Special prosecutor Ken Starr has agreed to give Monica Lewinsky immunity from prosecution. In exchange, Lewinsky has agreed to testify for Starr in his effort to build a criminal case against the President. And Lewinsky will tell at least one story under oath that now conflicts with the story the President told under oath."
     Scott Pelley began: "CBS News has learned that Monica Lewinsky is now giving critical, new evidence to prosecutors centering on gifts that she received from Mr. Clinton. In her immunity deal today she agreed to provide not just testimony, but also physical evidence of her alleged relationship with the President." Pelley never really defined the "physical evidence."
     Kristin Jeannette Myers explained the meaning of transactional immunity and Bill Plante reviewed Starr's case so far, highlighting the most relevant in the parade of 70 witnesses.

     -- CNN's The World Today. (first 24 minutes, plus two more stories later)
     First, Wolf Blitzer ran down the deal, White House reaction and Starr's plan to submit a report now that he won't prosecute Lewinsky.
 gretavancap.jpg (26825 bytes)    Second, CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren offered more of her defense attorney advice to Clinton, declaring that since it's "improper for a prosecutor to set a perjury trap" as Starr has supposedly done, Clinton should not voluntarily testify. Instead, she urged him to make a fight over the constitutional issue of whether he can be subpoenaed. One of co-anchor Jim Moret's questions: "Greta, deal with this now as an attorney, not dealing with the political aspects. Wolf Blitzer suggests it could come down to a he said, she said conflict. In your view isn't that good given the fact that Monica Lewinsky has, in effect, admitted she's lied in the past?" Van Susteren agreed: "She has absolutely no credibility."
     Third, John King explored grumbling among political aides and advisers Harold Ickes, Paul Begala and Lanny Davis about the "keep mum" policy enforced by lawyer David Kendall. King acknowledged:  "Six months after Monica Lewinsky became a household name, most of the people who speak for the President still know little or nothing about his relationship with the former White House intern."
     Then why are they constantly showcased in news stories if they don't really know anything?

     After an ad break, Brooks Jackson ran through some scenarios on the impact of what Lewinsky might say followed by co-anchor Joie Chen interviewing Jim Barnes of National Journal and Jay Branegan of Time magazine.
     Later in the show, Candy Crowley profiled the lawyers Lewinsky hired nine weeks ago and Eileen O'Connor explored how the White House may spin its away out whatever Lewinsky says.

     -- FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report. David Shuster disclosed: "According to investigation sources Lewinsky has agreed to recount to the grand jury all of her conversations with Mr. Clinton's friends and aides about her subpoena in the Jones lawsuit."
     Wendell Goler looked at how Kendall went to court to request a delay in Clinton's testimony and how the White House may appeal the Lindsey ruling, worried that Starr may subpoena White House counsel Ruff.
     Later, a Fox Files report by Steve Centanni reviewed the history of the case and then Gil Davis, Boyden Gray and Eleanor Clift discussed the day's developments.

     -- NBC Nightly News (8 minutes)
     Like Rather, anchor Brian Williams traveled to DC. He opened the newscast: "Good evening from Washington, the scene of much drama all day long, much of it involving a young woman from California, a former intern at the White House, and an independent counsel bent on breaking his case against the President wide open. Ken Starr has his star witness tonight. Monica Lewinsky has made a deal, full immunity, no strings, just an agreement to tell the truth, the whole truth, no matter who she takes with her in the process. We will soon know her version of it when all eyes will then turn to the White House where the damage control specialists are already hard at work on it tonight."
     Lisa Myers disclosed: "A source outside Starr's office says as part of the deal Lewinsky will give Starr tapes from her telephone answering machine, allegedly of phone messages from the President."
     Myers also relayed: "Lewinsky still insists the President never told her outright to lie about their relationship. But NBC News has learned that she now has told prosecutors key details about conversations, that combined with testimony from others, could be damaging to the President and could help Starr build an obstruction of justice case." Specifically, how Clinton told her that the Jones lawyers could not subpoena the gifts if she no longer possessed them.

     Pete Williams defined transactional immunity before Claire Shipman checked in from the White House. Like Donaldson, she played McCurry's assertion that Clinton is "pleased that things are working out for her." Finally, Williams turned to Tim Russert who suggested polls will determine Clinton's decision on whether to talk:
     "If the President wanted to testify, he could. They want to hear Monica Lewinsky's testimony first. Then they want to gauge public reaction. If a month from now 80 percent of the country believes Monica Lewinsky's version of the facts, but 60 percent still think Bill Clinton's doing a good job as President, that will very much shape the President's response to this..."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Eleanor Clift, prognosticator. MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught three interesting comments from Newsweek's Eleanor Clift on last weekend's McLaughlin Group. She predicted Starr would indict Lewinsky (oops), conceded that she believes Clinton's crafty statements about his relationship with Lewinsky and insisted the public opposes how Starr has "persecuted" the case.

     -- "And the fact that he is going after the President before Monica Lewinksy tells me that Ken Starr is pretty desperate here. He doesn't have his main quarry, who is Miss Lewinsky, and he may have to, he may have to indict her. And let's see how that plays in the country."

     -- Clift: "If he told the truth the first time he should stick with it. If he's got adjustments to make now's the time."
     John McLaughlin: "So you think, you think that he will leave things the way they are because it is your feeling that he told the truth right?"
     Clift: "My feeling is that he told the truth and I know on this set there is an entire presumption of guilt. Read the words carefully. What did he admit to? Read the words carefully. What did he admit to?"

     -- "At worse this is lying about sex and the American people approach this with a great deal of common sense and they don't want it to see persecuted to the extent it's being persecuted."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) CNN was fooled by an obvious prankster, prompting Bernard Shaw to lash out at the "idiot," but maybe the real idiots were those who put him on the air.

     Every time there's major breaking news event involving a tragedy or live action video, from the OJ chase to the Diana car crash to the TWA crash, a fan of syndicated radio host Howard Stern always manages to get onto CNN and/or MSNBC (onto ABC in the OJ chase) with a fake phone call. They make it onto the air since the cable networks never bother with any basics of call screening. It happened again last Friday during CNN's live coverage of the Capitol shooting. As recounted on the "Captain Janks" Web page, the Stern fan reported:
     "I called CNN's assignment desk in Washington, DC and told a producer that I was the spokesperson for 'Washington Memorial Hospital,' the place where the gunman had been rushed in critical condition, and that I was authorized to report that he had died of multiple gunshot wounds. The producer asked me if I would be willing to go on the air with Bernard Shaw and report it live. 'Of course.' I replied, trying not to sound too excited."
     "After a screening process by the producers that included the phone number of the 'hospital', (which I had gotten earlier), the correct spelling of my name (Michael Bowen), and the wording of my report, I was transferred to Atlanta, GA where the on-air phone line is sent through. Within seconds, I on the air with Bernard, and plugged in to the world."

     As any resident of the Washington area knows, there is no such thing as Washington Memorial Hospital. But that didn't deter CNN. So, at 5:29pm ET on July 24 CNN viewers heard a live report from the fake caller, rehabilitated to be from GW Hospital though the on-screen graphic read "Washington Hospital Center."
     Bernard Shaw: "Michael Bowen is a spokesman for George Washington University Hospital. He is live on the telephone now. Mr. Bowen, what can you tell us?"
     "Bowen": "The gunman, whose name will be withheld, has died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest at 4:52 p.m. Reports said that he was angry that his radio was broken. He couldn't listen to Howard Stern."
     Shaw: "Oh my goodness. We were just victims of a hoax. My sincerest apology to you our viewers. Sometimes during live coverage, we have idiots who penetrate telephone systems and our system was just penetrated. That was not a spokesman from George Washington University Hospital...That was a hoax. All I can do is put my palms up and apologize to you. If there was a way to prevent it, believe me, you would not experience what we just experienced. Well, that was awful, and I hope that person -- well, I shouldn't say that, that wouldn't be polite, would it?"

     It's a lot funnier when you actually see Shaw's "oh my goodness" followed by his overheated pontificating. To hear the call via RealAudio, go to http://www.captainjanks.com

     "Idiots who penetrate telephone systems?" Quite a skill to "penetrate" the CNN phone system. He placed a call. Who is the real idiot, the caller or the CNN producers who put it through without any effort at verification of a guy claiming to be from a hospital that doesn't exist?

     A suggestion for CNN: This happens every time there is live coverage of a tragedy. Be aware of its likelihood and prepare some verification questions. Or at least check caller ID (In this instance the call came from Pennsylvania). They could have asked for the address of the hospital, the name of the nearest Metro stop or the name of the college President. Incorrect answers should be obvious to a DC resident, like a CNN Washington bureau producer or assignment editor.

     Then CNN staffers won't look like the idiots.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) From the July 28 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Questions Ken Starr Plans to Ask Monica Lewinsky." Copyright 1998 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. "Can I try on that absolutely darling little beret?"
9. "Is it all right if my son Ringo asks a few questions?"
8. "In a past life, did you sleep with President Kennedy?"
7. "Was your security clearance at level 36C -- uh, I mean, level C?"
6. "Is that hair gel?"
5. "Could you have a talk with my intern?"
4. "In the course of your encounters, did the President ever yell, 'Yee Hah!'?"
3. "Are you mad at me for ruining your entire adult life?"
2. "Is it true he asked you if you would like to 'go down in history'?"
1. "Did you inhale?"

     And from the cbs.com Web page, my favorites of the Top Ten Extras, "the extra jokes that didn't quite make it into the Top Ten" as aired on the show:

-- "So what other world leaders have you nailed?"
-- "If they were alive, who would you rather nail: Calvin Coolidge or Martin Van Buren?"
-- "Would you describe his thighs as 'pasty-white' or 'fish-belly white'?"
-- "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as long as it helps nail Clinton's ass?"
-- "Could your hair be any bigger?"
-- "Someday a woman will be President. Will that change your lifestyle choice?"
-- "At any time, did the President have improper relations with your beret?"
-- "Could you demonstrate exactly what you did to the President?"
-- "Are you familiar with the expression, 'You haven't done it until you've done it with a Special Prosecutor'?"

     Reminder: The latest editions of Notable Quotables and MediaWatch are now up on the MRC home page. -- Brent Baker

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