Nets Refrain from Sex; How's Hillary "Coping?"; Awed by Prayer Address
1) The broadcast networks
refrained from any details of the sexual episodes, though NBC came close,
allocating more time to the abuse of power and obstruction charges.
Network tone, anecdotes conveyed and subjects covered Friday night
detailed at length below.
2) NBC worried about how
Hillary is "coping with this personal betrayal" instead of how
she betrayed public. Ken Bode claimed she'll be surprised to learn the
sex occurred when she was away.
3) The networks were awed by
Clinton's prayer breakfast address, labeling it
"extraordinary," "remarkable" and
4) A final thought:
Correspondents realize Clinton lies about sex and cover-up, but they still
believe his contrition is genuine.
All the networks provided live coverage Friday morning of Clinton's
prayer breakfast address at about 9:40am ET and the broadcast networks
also spent much time in the afternoon with breaking news on the content of
Starr's then just-released report. In the evening, Starr's report was
the only subject covered on ABC's World News Tonight. The CBS Evening
News and NBC Nightly News squeezed in items about the Dow's rebound,
Russia's new Prime Minister and Tropical Storm Francis. FNC devoted its
entire 7pm ET Fox Report to the report and CNN ran hour-long specials at
8pm and 10pm ET.
All spent more
time running through Starr's abuse of power and obstruction charges than
on the sexual incidents and perjury recounted in the report. Since details
of the specific sexual incidents are what may most threaten Clinton's
public support by both proving he lied when denying sex and by upsetting
the masses of morally if not politically conservative people, below I'll
run through how each network treated the matter. (This is not to imply the
other matters are not necessarily more important legally, but to show how
network reluctance to offend viewers mean they were deprived of relevant
information they could have used to judge Clinton's denial of sexual
relations.) In short, the broadcast networks only offered vague references
that failed to convey the absurdity of Clinton's denial of sexual
relations. Only CBS's Bob Schieffer noted how Clinton had told Lewinsky
he'd had hundreds of affairs, but was trying to cut back, and only
NBC's Lisa Myers picked up on Clinton as a cad, raising Lewinsky's
complaint that he might not have even bothered to learn her name.
FNC offered an
edited with euphemisms version of one incident with a cigar. CNN read the
definition of sex used in the Jones deposition, but then made no more a
graphic citation from the report than to say it recounted "intimate
Pelley observed that "sex is only the foundation for the serious
legal allegations that follow," but only he detailed a specific
incident in which Clinton misused his power over the Secret Service to
ensure his affair with Lewinsky remained secret. Otherwise, the networks
all relayed the same basic impeachable charges from the Starr report and
followed with stories on the rebuttal from Clinton lawyer David Kendall.
Of the broadcast networks at least though, only NBC's David Bloom read a
quote from Kendall about how the report had nothing on real matters like
Whitewater or the travel office.
highlights, including the openings from the anchors to give you an idea of
the tone of the evening, from the Friday, September 11 evening shows. A
note of thanks to MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens who stayed late with
me Friday night to transcribe highlights from the evening shows.
-- ABC's World
News Tonight. Peter Jennings began:
"Good evening I'm Peter Jennings. There
has not been a day like it and it could only happen in the so called
information age. In front of television sets everywhere today the world
has been watching the President seemingly bare his soul about a sexual
affair that has tormented the country for all these months. And on
television, but mostly on the Internet, the world has had access to the
most intimate details of the President and Miss Lewinsky's behavior. And
today the independent counsel's report laid out almost a dozen reasons
why he, Mr. Starr, thinks Congress should consider impeaching the
President. Our broadcast tonight is about all this. Mr. Clinton's
presidency may hang in the balance this weekend."
Up first, Jackie
Judd ran through Starr's charges, mixing in at one point a vague
reference to the sexual incidents:
concludes there is substantial and credible information that the
President's lies about his relationship with Lewinsky were abundant and
calculating. As evidence the report includes explicit details about ten
sexual encounters Lewinsky said she had with Mr. Clinton. Including one in
the Oval Office bathroom and another that occurred while Mr. Clinton was
on the phone with a member of Congress. The details are necessary,
prosecutors write, to prove the President perjured himself in the Jones
case and again before Ken Starr's grand jury when Mr. Clinton denied
having sexual relations with Lewinsky whatever definition is used."
Judd added later:
"The report also claims that Mr. Clinton was not telling the truth
when he suggested in the Jones deposition that he was hardly involved in
helping Lewinsky find a job. According to the report when she got an offer
from Revlon, Vernon Jordan notified the President and Currie with the
news, 'Mission accomplished,' and the President said, 'Thank you
Jennings introduced Sam Donaldson's piece with the White House response
by highlighting how its legal emphasis conflicts with Clinton's earlier
comments: "When the President spoke at that prayer breakfast this
morning he said that legal language should not obscure the fact that
he'd done wrong but legal language and legal argument are at the very
heart of the President's defense strategy. In fact it began even before
Mr. Starr's report was made public to everyone."
The rest of the
show was taken up with a talk with ABC legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, a
minute and a half excerpt of Clinton's prayer breakfast address, a quick
roundtable with George Stephanopoulos, Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson and
Jackie Judd and a story on public reaction. "Mostly we heard
this," asserted Aaron Brown before this soundbite from one man:
"I think the reality of it is what he did was deceitful to his
family, was deceitful to the public. But did it cause us any real harm?
No. Not that I see." Not a lot of stories, but that's because the
first two pieces of the night by Judd and Donaldson lasted almost five
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather opened:
"Good evening. A defining day for the future
of President Clinton, special prosecutor Ken Starr, Congress and the
CBS started with
Bob Schieffer on Capitol Hill. Over video of the boxes with the report
being opened Schieffer suggested: "It had been advertised as steamy
and you could almost see the steam rising as the boxes came open. It was a
tawdry tale told by a young woman who had become emotionally involved with
an older, married man...."
Schieffer read from the Starr report as the words
also appeared on-screen: "She and the President had 10 sexual
encounters, 8 while she worked at the White House, 2 thereafter,"
noting "the physical relationship with the President included oral
sex, but not sexual intercourse."
CBS broached two episodes recounted, as Schieffer
reported: "There are also torrid passages. During one episode a cigar
was used as a sex toy. At another point they had sex while he chatted on
the phone with a Congressman..."
added this little anecdote from the report: "When he decided to end
the relationship, she says the President told her he had hundreds of
affairs in his early part of his marriage, but after he had turned 40 he
had tried to slow down."
At least he's
cutting back on something if not cigars.
Scott Pelley then
took more than four minutes to explain all 11 charges. Pelley set up his
piece: "Dan, sex is only the foundation for the serious legal
allegations that follow..."
And Pelley concluded by uniquely summarizing an
example of Clinton's abuse of power: "The report alleges Mr.
Clinton ordered the Secret Service to keep quiet about what it saw. The
report says that Monica Lewinsky came to a White House entry gate at one
point and was held there by the Secret Service while Mr. Clinton was in
the Oval Office with another woman. Miss Lewinsky apparently threw a fit.
Mr. Clinton, the report says, called the watch commander into the Oval
Office and told him to keep it quiet. The watch commander testified that
he went back to his men and said whatever happened here didn't happen.
You can keep your jobs as long as you keep it quiet. Yesterday Mr. Clinton
told Senate Democrats that there would be no surprises in today's
report. Tonight, some of those Democrats might just be wondering what Mr.
Clinton meant by that."
Next, Dan Rather
introduced Bill Plante's story on the Clinton legal teams's retort:
"President Clinton sought to counter the Starr report on two fronts:
public contrition and repentance for his conduct apologies, but also a
strong point by point rebuttal and legal defense."
After an ad break,
Rather announced that a CBS poll found 13 percent believe impeachment
hearings should be held, 21 percent think he should resign but 58 percent
said "the matter should be dropped." CBS also played a minute
and a half excerpt from the prayer breakfast (more on this in item #3) and
Gloria Borger and Donald Baer talked to Rather about what Clinton backers
want him to do: get back to real issues.
-- CNN special at 8pm ET went through each major
charge one-by-one by running a report on Starr's case, followed by Wolf
Blitzer with the Clinton response and comments from Greta Van Sustern and
Roger Cossack. Blitzer and co-anchor Judy Woodruff got no more specific on
sex than to refer to "intimate touching."
In the second half
of the show co-anchor Bernard Shaw warned that some viewers might find the
next story offensive. In it, Jonathan Karl examined the controversy over
the definition of sex. He read the definition Clinton reacted to in the
"A person engages in sexual relations when the person knowingly
engages in or causes contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast,
inner thigh or buttocks of any person."
that Clinton claims oral sex is not in that definition, but without
getting into any offensive detail concluded by noting that "Lewinsky
describes in graphic detail activity with the President that goes beyond
-- FNC's Fox Report at 7pm ET. I did not have
time to watch he whole show, so here's just how FNC handled the sex
matter. David Shuster read a cleaned up recollection of one incident, with
the portion between the 's displayed on screen:
"In order to prove Mr. Clinton was lying
about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, prosecutors provided graphic
and lurid details. The report says quote, 'According to Ms. Lewinsky,
she performed oral sex on the President on nine occasions. On all nine of
those occasions the President fondled and kissed her bare breasts. He
touched her...both through her underwear and directly...On one occasion
the President (used) a cigar (to stimulate her.)' On several occasions,
the report says that Monica Lewinsky was performing oral sex on Mr.
Clinton while he was talking on the phone with a member of Congress."
presidential time management. Why do one thing when you can accomplish two
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw's top of the
show, pre-theme music, tease:
"The White House crisis, the Starr report,
shocking, painful and now public. The prosecutor accuses the President of
lying under oath, witness tampering, obstructing justice and abusing his
power. Dates, times, places and graphic details about the President's
affair with Monica Lewinsky. Tonight the White House fights back while an
emotional President asks for forgiveness."
Clinton: "I don't think there is a fancy
way to say that I have sinned."
what next? Can Bill Clinton survive as President?"
Brokaw then opened
the broadcast: "Good evening. It is a night to remember and a night
to shudder. In the long history of the American presidency there's never
been anything like this. It was a day that began with a President near
tears saying, 'I have sinned.' It ends with the country reading
detailed charges of a President's sex acts Monica Lewinsky. Reading
detailed charges that he lied under oath, encouraged others to lie and
tampered with evidence. It is only the beginning of what promises to be a
long and contentious process that will determine whether Bill Clinton
stays in office. We begin tonight with the details of the Ken Starr
report. Here's NBC's Lisa Myers."
Lisa Myers ran
through the major charges of how he lied and obstructed justice in
conflict with his duty to enforce laws. Myers delivered the longest and
most detailed account of the broadcast networks of the sex and how it
counters Clinton's claim of no sexual relations:
"Specifically the President told a grand
jury that he never touched Lewinsky's breasts or other intimate parts of
her body and therefore had not perjured himself in his deposition in the
Jones case last January when he said he had not had sexual relations with
Lewinsky. Prosecutors cite at least 13 instances in which he touched her
in very intimate ways including one episode involving a cigar. In another
disclosure not likely to sit well with Congress, the report also charges
the President and Lewinsky were having sex while the President was on the
phone with three different members of Congress in November 1995."
Myers concluded by
passing along this tidbit:
"And the report paints an unflattering
portrait of the President as someone who instantly struck up a sexual
affair with a 22 year old. Lewinsky testified that weeks into their sexual
relationship the President still called her 'kiddo,' and she wasn't
sure he even knew her name."
After a 27 second
excerpt of Clinton's prayer breakfast address, what Brokaw called his
"most complete apology yet," David Bloom checked in with the
legal counterattack on how it's "personal, not impeachable."
Unlike ABC and CBS, Bloom concluded by highlighting this broadside from
"Finally tonight, in its 73 page rebuttal
the White House asks, 'Where's Whitewater?' White House lawyers
pointing out that there is no mention of that original land deal
controversy, nor the FBI files case, nor the scandal involving the Travel
Office, the original purposes, the White House says, of Ken Starr's
investigation. The President's report concludes and I quote,
'Starr's report has little intention other than to embarrass the
President and titillate the public by producing a document that is little
more than an unreliable one-sided account of sexual behavior.' Now Tom
the White House waits to see if the public sees it that way."
Next, Gwen Ifill
provided Capitol Hill reaction, Brokaw talked with Tim Russert, Pete
Williams compared Starr's charge of abuse of power with that which
occurred in Watergate and Jim Avila looked at public reaction. For the In
Depth segment, NBC provided a sympathetic peek at Hillary Clinton's
plight, as if she's a victim. See item #2.
Hillary Clinton became complicit in her husband's lies when she went on
the Today show in January to impugn Ken Starr and knowingly make a false
charge about a "vast right-wing conspiracy." She then spent
seven months attending meetings to develop strategies to use legal
maneuvers to block the truth from coming out. But instead of suggesting
she owes an apology to the public and conservatives, NBC continues to
portray her as an innocent victim instead of considering the likelihood
she's just playing the role polls say the public expects in any normal
Today, MRC analyst Mark Drake noticed, co-host Matt Lauer enthused:
"Extraordinary performance from the First Lady in the last couple of
days. Last night she introduced her husband. We saw it in the Mik [Miklaszewski]
piece but I think it bears watching again. Here's what she said with her
husband sitting right next to her."
Before an ad break
Friday night Tom Brokaw plugged the upcoming fawn: "What about
Hillary Rodham Clinton? Still ahead tonight NBC News In Depth, how's she
coping with this personal betrayal?...The First Lady, caught up in the
President's lies. Now where does she turn?"
Brokaw led into
the subsequent segment: "NBC News In Depth tonight. The First Lady:
betrayed, lied to, humiliated. Undoubtedly these must be the toughest days
of her life and her long relationship with President Bill Clinton. Now the
First Lady of the United States is struggling in full view of the public,
a very personal crisis. How does she handle it?"
played a clip of a minister at the prayer breakfast praising Hillary's
grace and courage. Mitchell picked up: "Enough grace and courage to
be her husband's chief cheerleader at a political event last
night." Following a soundbite of Hillary introducing Bill, Mitchell
worried: "How can she carry on now that the entire nation can learn
the sexual details? Friends and former aides who have been with the First
Up first, Mandy Grunwald. Then this from former
aide and former CBS flack Lisa Caputo: "I think it's beyond
painful. I think this is unprecedented and I think that this is clearly
somebody who's an intensely private person."
Mitchell continued: "Making it even harder,
the Starr report charges the President lied to his wife and
On PBS's Washington Week in Review Friday
night, moderator Ken Bode, a former NBC and CNN reporter, ended the show:
"You know I'm curious as to whether Mrs.
Clinton is going to read this report and what she's going to think when
she finds out that when she was in Greece, when she was in Prague, when
she was in Budapest, when she was in Bolivia, when she was in Denver and
when she was in Las Vegas. That's when Monica Lewinsky got the call to
come over to the White House. It's almost as if Mr. Clinton was saying
she's away and now we can play."
WHEN she finds
The networks bought it from Clinton too. The media were awed by
Clinton's Friday morning prayer breakfast address, failing to consider
the possibility it was more crass political maneuver forced by being
caught than reflection of genuine repentance.
extraordinary White House prayer breakfast this morning the President went
beyond his recent round of apologies. He went to acknowledging sin and
expressing remorse and repentance," declared Dan Rather on Friday's
CBS Evening News before a 90 second clip from the address.
In live coverage
at about 9:50am ET Rather had insisted: "The President of United
States has given a solemn apology."
Over on ABC in the
morning Peter Jennings recited Clinton's comments about how more than
sorrow is required, need repentance, and he has a broken spirit. Jennings
lauded his courage: "A unique circumstance to see the most powerful
man in the world saying what he did before all of us." Cokie Roberts
chimed in: "Quite an extraordinary speech."
Tom Brokaw asked
Tim Russert during live NBC News coverage, as caught and transcribed by
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens: "I don't think anybody will say,
except perhaps the most partisan adversary of the President, that what he
had to say was too little. The question is was it too late Tim?"
An impressed Russert replied: "Tom it's
ironic. On August 17th the President was given a draft saying many of the
things he said today. And he rejected it three weeks ago because he did
not want to be perceived as quote, 'weak.' Today the President of the
United States, the leader of the free world stood up in front of everyone
and said, 'I have sinned. I have a broken spirit.' It was
Brokaw then picked
up on Russert's term, asking David Bloom: "David, the White House
staff have any sense the President was going to make this remarkable
confession to the country today?"
NBC's special ended, MSNBC anchor Chris Jansing: marveled: "It was
an extraordinary speech from the President before religious leaders at the
White House." Anchor John Seigenthaler agreed: "A very humble
and contrite President Clinton this morning and the House is debating
whether or not to release the Ken Starr report."
dazzled: "John, mark this down. Friday, September 11th, 1998. You are
witnessing history, we all are. A President of the United States, a leader
of the free world, standing up and saying, 'I have sinned. I have a
broken spirit.' These are extraordinary words, extraordinary times and
the President finds it necessary to do that in order to save his
Over on MSNBC's
competitor, CNN, MRC news analyst Paul Smith observed Wolf Blitzer telling
viewers: "It was the most dramatic, the most emotional, the most
poignant speech he gave on this subject." Blitzer insisted that
beforehand "many of his closest advisers" said Clinton "was
about to speak from his heart this morning." Blitzer agreed,
describing it as "a poignant statement by the President begging the
country for forgiveness, saying he is going to do his best never again to
sin as he now says he clearly did sin."
A brief commentary on the media and Clinton: It's amazing how Washington
reporters now realize that they must parse Clinton's words carefully on
his Lewinsky relationship, but just assume he's being forthright and
genuine when apologizing.
The disclosures of
the past few months proves the assessments by conservatives in the Spring
of 1992 about Clinton's character and dishonesty were correct. Then and
since the media were largely complicit in Clinton's deceit by dismissing
evidence like that raised by Gennifer Flowers, disparaging evidence
brought forth by the American Spectator of misuse of authority to procure
women, and giving authenticity to Clinton's demagogic lies about school
lunch and Medicare cuts.
conclude that the media's tough line of the past few days on Clinton's
personal behavior and sex lines means they've really realized their
errors, remember how they are promoting the White House spin on Hillary as
innocent victim willing to forgive her husband, so therefore so should
everyone else, and accepting as genuine and meaningful Bill Clinton's
thought for the weekend. -- Brent Baker
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