Wag the Dog?; Lewinsky Buried; Rock Crushed; Starr: Face of Nazi & a Persecutor
1) Dan Rather recalled charges
that Reagan bombed Libya in order to boost his 1986 presidential
re-election bid. 1986?
2) Wag the Dog scenario
considered by all the networks as CBS questioned the lack of
"bipartisan patriotism." On ABC George Stephanopoulos insisted
Clinton refused to apologize "because he was afraid of projecting
weakness" to the terrorists.
3) Lewinsky ignored by CNN,
but the rest squeezed her in. ABC: Clinton may have "forgotten"
their sex and Lewinsky said Clinton "fondled" her. NBC: sex
"involved unusual practices."
4) NBC's Matt Lauer wondered
if people can better identify with Clinton now that he's "more of a
real person to real people."
5) NBC's Today removed the
Chris Rock interview, in which he threatened Ken Starr, from the West
Coast feed citing his vulgarity.
6) MSNBC's Keith Olbermann
managed to say that Ken Starr reminds him of a Nazi's face and is more
of a "persecutor" than a prosecutor, all in one question.
>>> Latest MediaWatch now up
on the MRC home page, thanks to MRC Research Associate Kristina Sewell and
MRC Web Manager Sean Henry. The August 24 edition features a page one
story titled "First Lady Painted as Hero Instead of Complicit in
Deceit;" a Review by Tim Graham listing over a dozen examples of
media figures since January defending Clinton's denials, titled "A
Chronology of Embarrassing Errors;" and articles on Geraldo Rivera
and comments from CNN's former military analyst Perry Smith. Plus,
Newsbites, including "Book the Liars Again" by Clay Waters on
how seven months of relaying false information didn't dissuade the
networks from treating Ann Lewis, Lanny Davis and James Carville as
credible sources and "Shills for Shays" by Jessica Anderson on
ABC's one-sided promotion of liberal, pro-regulation campaign finance
Correction: The summary at
the top of item #1 in the August 20 CyberAlert stated that "NBC's
Lisa Myers disclosed Clinton wore in China sunglasses bought by Lewinsky."
As the subsequent quote from Myers accurately stated, he wore them in
Reagan worried about his own re-election when he decided to bomb Libya in
1986? Yes, according to Dan Rather's presidential election year
calendar. MRC news analyst Clay Waters alerted me to Rather's
recollection announced at about 2:43pm ET Thursday just after CBS showed
Defense Secretary William Cohen's briefing on the U.S. strikes against
there's an argument over whether Reagan's 1986 bombing in Libya
suppressed terrorism or led to more terrorism, such as the downing of Pan
Am 103. Rather contended:
"So that argument has gone back and forth.
The reason for mentioning it is what President Clinton has done today,
ordered today, is similar, is similar to what President Reagan did in
1986. Some may want to note that 1986 was a presidential election year and
of course 1998 is a U.S. congressional election year. But Secretary of
Defense Cohen, in answer, in response to a question at that live news
conference a short while ago came back very hard on the suggestion of a
question that this was somehow related to events other than striking back
at terrorists for the reasons of the bombings in east Africa."
Of course, in 1986
Reagan was well into the second year of his second term having been
re-elected in 1984.
President Clinton's decision to launch a bombing strike at terrorists
consumed the entirety of CNN's 8pm ET news show and nearly all of the
ABC, CBS, FNC and NBC newscasts Thursday night, thus nearly eliminating
Monica Lewinsky news. CNN skipped Lewinsky's second appearance before
the grand jury while the other networks managed to squeeze in a story near
the end of their shows. For more on Lewinsky coverage, see item #3.
Every network went
through the details of what happened before getting to suggestions Clinton
may have been motivated by trying to distract attention from his Lewinsky
troubles, but every network did raise the "Wag the Dog"
scenario. ABC gave it a few sentences in a larger story while the other
networks allocated an entire story to the theme. Every network but ABC
featured a soundbite from Senator Dan Coats, who most enthusiastically
jumped on Clinton. CBS questioned the lack of "bipartisan
patriotism" and CNN recalled how a similar charge about diversion was
made against Reagan after the Grenada invasion.
On ABC George
Stephanopoulos insisted Clinton refused to apologize Monday night
"because he was afraid of projecting weakness" to the
terrorists. Peter Arnett is back: CNN played at about 8:15pm ET a 13
minute profile of Bin Laden by Arnett, which first aired on Impact in May
1997, the precursor show to NewsStand.
Here's how each
network handled the "diversion" idea on Thursday night, August
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Filling in for Sam
Donaldson at the White House, John Cochran relayed in a portion of a
"As the President was returning to
Washington for a national security briefing, some of his aides worried
that his critics would suspect he created an international crisis to
divert attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was uncomfortably
similar to a recent movie, Wag the Dog, which portrayed a scandal-plagued
President starting a war to regain his popularity. Defense Secretary Cohen
said this is not a movie."
Roberts reported most leaders in Congress were supportive, including Newt
Gingrich, but she noted a few have raised questions. Roberts did not show
Stephanopoulos then told anchor Forrest Sawyer that Clinton "left his
political advisers completely out of this," contending:
"Yesterday White House advisers were saying that one of the reasons
the President was wary of a giving a more fulsome, elaborate apology
Monday night was because he was afraid of projecting weakness in the face
of potential hot spots around the world and now we know why."
believes that? Instead, Clinton's now ridiculed.
-- CBS Evening News. Anthony Mason explained that
most congressional Republicans back Clinton, including Newt Gingrich and
Jesse Helms, "but not everyone in Congress was ready to rally
'round the flag."
U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton: "I would be
surprised, very surprised, if the President's action is not supported by
Mason: "But in fact several in Congress
openly questioned the President's motives today. Republican Senator Dan
Coats questioned whether the Lewinsky crisis might have played a role in
Mr. Clinton's decision."
Senator Dan Coats: "I think we fear that we
may have a President that is desperately seeking to hold onto his job in
the face of a firestorm of criticism and calls for him to step down."
Mason: "In Washington it's called the Wag
the Dog scenario, after the movie...."
Mason outlined the movie plot, ran a soundbite
from Senator Arlen Specter echoing Coats' concerns and a comment from
Senator John McCain backing the President.
Mason picked up: "Traditionally that's the
kind of bipartisan patriotism that greets this kind of crisis. But the
skepticism expressed today is apparently the price President Clinton will
have to pay for the Lewinsky scandal."
-- CNN The World Today at 8pm ET. In his top of
the show piece Wolf Blitzer ran the soundbite from Dan Coats, adding:
"White House officials reacted angrily to that kind of talk."
The show ended
with a story from Charles Feldman in Los Angeles on how most on Capitol
Hill back Clinton, but not Dan Coats. After showing Secretary Cohen being
asked about the Wag the Dog scenario, Feldman conveyed: "While not a
scientific poll by any means, most of the people we talked to in Los
Angeles also questioned the President's credibility."
Viewers saw a clip from a woman in LA before
Feldman concluded by recalling Reagan:
"This is not the first time a sitting
President has been accused by some of manipulating world events to
distract from another problem. President Reagan's critics charged him
with invading Grenada in 1983 in order to divert attention away from the
deadly bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed more than
-- FNC's Fox Report at 7pm ET. From
Winston-Salem, North Carolina Carl Cameron checked in with congressional
reaction, noting support from Gingrich and Senator Lott, and then running
supportive soundbites from Senators Hatch and Robb. FNC viewers then saw a
clip of Coats, followed by a pro-Clinton bite from Senator Lauch
Faircloth. Cameron observed that "other Republicans are saying
comments such as Mr. Coats made are indeed irresponsible."
FNC also featured
a full story on the Wag the Dog scenario, "questions about life
-- NBC Nightly News. Halfway into the broadcast
anchor Brian Williams intoned:
"NBC News In Depth tonight. Within minutes
of the attack today some in Washington were openly questioning the timing
of it. Here we had an American President, his second term threatened by
scandal, ordering military strikes overseas, which effectively move his
troubles right out of the spotlight. It had some invoking the title of a
recent movie in which just that happens, Wag the Dog. It's a work of
fiction, but that same plot today had a real feel."
handled the story that included a soundbite from Coats, but which Williams
concluded by emphasizing public support for Clinton.
Monica Lewinsky appeared before the grand jury for a second time on
Thursday and contradicted the President, a point made in stories squeezed
into the ABC and NBC newscasts. ABC and FNC revealed that Lewinsky said
Clinton "fondled" her and NBC relayed her claim that their sex
included "unusual practices." CBS emphasized how Clinton will
fight a subpoena. CNN skipped it all, devoting all of The World Today to
the anti-terrorist strike.
The stories on Lewinsky's appearance were the
only non-bombing news on ABC or NBC. CBS also gave a few seconds to noting
that Janet Reno may brief Senators on her analysis of the need for an
independent counsel for fundraising, though she's far from making a
-- ABC's World
News Tonight. In a piece that lasted barely a minute, Linda Douglass,
filling in for Jackie Judd, informed viewers: "According to legal
sources, Monica Lewinsky's testimony today directly contradicted the
President's on two key points. First on the question of Mr. Clinton's
gifts to Lewinsky, which he later returned to his secretary Betty Currie,
sources say the President testified that they talked about the gifts
before they had been subpoenaed in the Paula Jones case. But Lewinsky
testified today that the discussion came after the subpoena arrived, which
could amount to obstruction of justice."
continued: "And though Mr. Clinton admitted to sex with Lewinsky, he
denied it fit the description presented him in the Paula Jones case which
would involve his fondling her, but today, say sources, Lewinsky testified
he did fondle her. A source close to the President said it is possible
quote, 'that in the heat of battle something could have occurred between
them and Mr. Clinton has forgotten.'"
Sex to Clinton is
a "battle" and he forgot?
-- CBS Evening
News. Citing "what we've been told by sources in a position to
know," Bob Schieffer reported that Clinton will answer no more
questions voluntarily and will fight any subpoena. On Monday Clinton
deferred detailed answers, "that was one reason Miss Lewinsky, who
was described as hurt and angry about the President's Monday night
speech, was called back to the grand jury today. And, we're told, her
description of events continues to differ from the President's."
Schieffer offered on details.
-- FNC's Fox
Report. David Shuster announced: "According to sources familiar with
the investigation, Lewinsky's testimony flatly contradicted what the
President told the grand jury on Monday. Lewinsky described encounters,
said a friend, where Mr. Clinton allegedly fondled parts of her body. In
addition, Lewinsky again recounted discussions with Mr. Clinton about how
to cover up the relationship."
Shuster concluded: "No matter what Mr.
Clinton is trying to confront overseas, his legal problems associated with
Monica Lewinsky have gotten worse."
Nightly News. Lisa Myers revealed: "NBC News has learned that
Lewinsky today contradicted key parts of the President's testimony and
provided graphic details of sexual encounters with the President that
suggest he did not tell the full truth to the grand jury Monday."
Prosecutors, she reported, played the video of
Clinton's testimony and questioned Lewinsky about it. Myers explained:
"Sources say one key conflict: Clinton's claim that encounters were
limited to a specific kind of sex and that under the definition of sex as
he understood it he did not commit perjury when he denied sexual relations
in January. Sources familiar with Lewinsky's account say she contradicts
that, claims the sex was mutual, involves unusual practices and included
the President touching her in very intimate ways that amount to sex by any
another contradiction about the gifts, which is important to obstruction
of justice charges, Myers concluded: "As for Lewinsky, friends say
she's feeling hurt and betrayed. Legal sources tell NBC News that
Lewinsky told prosecutors the President led her to believe that they might
somehow have a future together after he leaves the presidency."
Lying for seven months and embarrassing his political allies who put their
reputations on the line for him should make Clinton a more sympathetic
figure the average person can now better relate to. So contended Today
co-host Matt Lauer Thursday morning in an exchange I was alerted to by
Steve Allen, Washington correspondent for World Net Daily (www.worldnetdaily.com).
MRC analyst Mark
Drake transcribed the relevant portion of the August 20 interview with
family therapist Pat Love and syndicated columnist Jacquelyn Mitchard.
suggested: "What about the possibility the President's apology has
narrowed the gap, so to speak? That's he's now more of a real person
to real people living in this country, as opposed to being this political
wondered: "If he is seen as more of a real person, isn't there a
possibility, Jacqueline, that people are saying: 'Hey, if a friend of
mine, if the guy who lived down the street from me did this, I would
forgive him. So why shouldn't I forgive the President of the United
Mitchard disagreed: "You're assuming that
people would say if the guy who lives down the street did it I would
forgive him and that's not what I'm hearing. I think a lot of people
are saying forget whether his presidency is canceled, we're wondering
whether his wife should have him knee capped."
Lauer: "On that note, what about his wife?
What about Chelsea? What role are they playing in the American people's
perception of what should happen next?"
NBC's Today removed the interview with comedian/actor Chris Rock from
the PT/MT feed of the August 19 show, so 30 percent of Americans never had
a chance to see his diatribe against Ken Starr and for Bill Clinton quoted
in the August 20 CyberAlert.
At one point Rock
declared: "If President Clinton would pardon me I would whip
Starr's ass right now. I will get a crew from Brooklyn and we will stomp
him like, like, we're Savion Glover. We'll stomp him like it's
bringing da noise. Who else? Stephanopoulos. He gave this guy a job! You
can't dis people that gave you jobs, man. He put my man on, he's
talking, he needs to get stomped. Somebody need to whip his ass. Anybody.
If I give you a job, if I give you a job, you know."
A Today press rep
explained that Rock's "Language today was inappropriate for morning
TV, especially for the many children who are off from school and watching
at that hour."
But, judging by
the use of language in NBC's sit-coms documented in studies by the
MRC's Parents Television Council (www.parentstv.org), perfectly
appropriate for the family hour.
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann said Ken Starr reminds him of Heinrich Himmler
and is more of a persecutor than a prosecutor. All in one question. The
August 20 CyberAlert recounted Olbermann's August 19 clarification of a
question he posed on August 18, but at the time I didn't have the text
of his original question. So here's his question as posed on the August
18 Big Show with Keith Olbermann, as located and transcribed by MRC
analyst Paul Smith, followed by his apology the next night.
Olbermann to Jim
Warren, Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, August 18:
"Can Ken Starr ignore the apparent breadth
of the sympathetic response to the President's speech? I mean, facially,
it finally dawned on me that the person Ken Starr has reminded me of
facially all this time was Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses. If he
now pursues the President of the United States, who, however flawed his
apology was, came out and invoked God, family, his daughter, a political
conspiracy and everything but the kitchen sink, would not there be some
sort of comparison to a persecutor as opposed to a prosecutor for Mr.
The next night,
August 19, Olbermann told his viewers:
"For months since I have looked at videotape
of Kenneth Starr's face I have thought he looks like somebody famous
from history, but who? Not long ago it dawned on me and yesterday, in a
question to one of my guests, I mentioned it, that facially Ken Starr
reminded me of Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses, the infamous Nazi.
We got a number of calls from people who were offended by that remark, who
thought I was comparing Starr to Himmler and insulting Starr or who
thought I was comparing Starr to Himmler and demeaning the terrible
importance of the Holocaust. And to those people who were offended I
sincerely and humbly apologize. I meant only what I said. Facially, the
two men look vaguely alike. But I am primarily of German descent, so I
carry with me an inherited shame and guilt about this. So despite the
innocence of the intent of my remark there, I should have been much more
sensitive about invoking that name in this context and for having not been
so I am very sorry."
Notice that he's
not sorry for denigrating Starr's professionalism by denouncing him, in
Geraldo-like fashion, as a "persecutor." -- Brent Baker
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