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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Thursday September 17, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 151)

Hyde Hit Topped ABC; NBC: Starr Gone Too Far?; Starr's "Sexual McCarthyism"

1) The Salon hit on Henry Hyde led ABC's World News Tonight. CBS, CNN and FNC all mentioned it, but not NBC. Dan Rather repeatedly insisted Clinton's testimony was "secret."

2) Tom Brokaw asked: "Did Ken Starr go too far and reveal a lot more than Americans needed or wanted to know?" NBC's answer: Yes.

3) The media focus on scandal, Geraldo Rivera complained, caused "humiliation" for Clinton in front of a foreign leader. "Does the Starr report herald the beginning of the era of sexual McCarthyism?"

4) Letterman's "Top Ten Alternatives To Impeachment." Plus: Letterman annoys the Clintons.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) The Salon online magazine hit on Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde led ABC's World News Tonight. CBS anchor Dan Rather read a short item on the charge Hyde had an affair in the 1960s, CNN gave it a couple of sentences in a larger story, FNC raised it three times in questions to reporters and analysts but NBC didn't touch it. NBC Nightly News did, however, feature a slanted In Depth piece on whether Ken Starr "went too far" in his report. NBC's answer: Yes. (See item #2)

     CBS, CNN, FNC and NBC all led with Clinton's press conference with the President of the Czech Republic. CBS and CNN emphasized how Clinton refused to dispute the specifics of the narrative about Lewinsky. NBC first stressed Clinton's refusal to resign. All the networks raised the controversy over release of the video of Clinton's testimony, with CBS, CNN and FNC running full stories, but only FNC political analyst Cal Thomas turned Democratic arguments against them, pointing out they released the testimony video of Reagan and misleadingly edited video of Gingrich for an ad. Dan Rather repeatedly insisted that the video of Clinton's testimony is "widely" considered "secret."

     Here are some highlights from the Wednesday, September 16 evening shows:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight allocated the least time of any network Wednesday to the scandal-front. Peter Jennings opened:
     "Good evening. Yes it did get nastier in Washington today. The House Judiciary Committee presses on with its debate about releasing the videotapes of Mr. Clinton's grand jury testimony. Mr. Clinton declines another opportunity to say whether he lied about Monica Lewinsky. We'll hear the President in a moment, but we're going to start on Capitol Hill because a widely respected politician, at the very center of any impeachment process, has had his past questioned today."

     Reporter Linda Douglass then explained that Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde had warned that things might get rough, with the White House possibly disseminating derogatory information about committee members as part of a "scorched earth" policy. He warned that he'd consider such intimidation to be obstruction of justice. Douglass got to the news of the day:
     "But even before he wrote that memo, Hyde had learned that the President's allies might be spreading a story about him. Two reporters have told ABC News that a senior White House official has peddled a story to them that Hyde once had a girlfriend. Another reporter said the official was offering stories of sexual escapades by Republican House members."
     Over video of the Salon Web page on which viewers could see the headline "This hypocrite broke up my family," Douglass explained: "Today Salon magazine, an Internet publication often sympathetic to the White House, broke the story that 30 years ago Hyde had an extramarital affair. The magazine insisted the story did not come from the White House."
     Douglass read Hyde's admission of a long-ago indiscretion and Hyde's charge that "the only purpose for this being dredged up now is an obvious attempt to intimidate me, and it won't work."
     Douglass ended by giving credibility to White House denials: "Tonight the White House put out a statement saying that they will have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior. The statement went on to say that if the White House finds out who the official is that person will be fired."

     No mention by ABC or the other networks about the FBI files and how they may have provided the White House with some good leads on Republican dirt. ABC also failed to point out the difference in relevance between an affair with a contemporary and carrying on with a subordinate in the office and then lying about it in a court procedure.

     Next, Jennings talked with Cokie Roberts about the video, more Democrats saying it would be better if Clinton resigned and how polls taken by Congressmen and Senators show less support for Clinton among "likely voters" than media polls find among the general population.

     ABC's third and final item: Jennings played a couple of clips from the press conference of Clinton evading a question about the Starr report's accuracy and whether he lied.

     -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather began by laying out the events of the day:
     "Good evening. President Clinton sought this afternoon to reassert his leadership of the nation's agenda. The President did so at his first news conference since Ken Starr's accusations of sex and crimes were made public. The President also did so as the Republican majority in the House prepared to release what was widely thought to be the President's secret videotaped testimony to the Ken Starr grand jury. That release may occur before the week is out."

     Scott Pelley hit Clinton hard: "Dan, at the press conference today the President did not dispute the devastating testimony of Monica Lewinsky."
     Pelley ran some clips of Clinton responding to questions about resignation and lying. "When asked again if he lied under oath, Mr. Clinton sidestepped." Pelley showed him recalling the "essential truth" he discussed at the prayer breakfast and how he does not want to get "mired in details."

     After his report, Rather harped on the video release: "Scott, how is it that the President's, what was supposed to be secret grand jury testimony, can be made public?" Pelley explained that Starr got court permission to give it to Congress and they are not bound by rules of secrecy. Pelley did not tell viewers that the session was videotaped because Clinton refused to go to the grand jury and then insisted on appearing on a day they were out of session, so it had to be taped so the grand jurors who couldn't come in could see it later.

     Next, Bob Schieffer looked at the fight over the tape on the Hill, running soundbites from those on both sides, including Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee who referred to a "Salem witch hunt." Schieffer concluded: "Democrats are hoping against hope that somehow it might backfire on the Republicans and they can be painted as purveyors of smut. So far, Republicans seem willing to take the risk."

     Rather followed up by highlighting how a new CBS poll determined 70 percent oppose the release of the Clinton video. Even Republicans do, by 58 to 41 percent.

     In what I'd guess is a reference to ABC, in the 7pm ET feed of the Evening News Rather read this item about Henry Hyde:
     "Some news organizations are running hard with the following story tonight. The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican Henry Hyde, issued a statement tonight acknowledging, quote, 'youthful indiscretions,' unquote. Hyde was responding to a published report, quote 'linking him' unquote to a woman who is not his wife. Hyde, in his statement said, this was dredged up now in an effort to intimidate him but that it won't interfere with his committee work."

     Finally, reporter Wyatt Andrews explored how congressional Democrats are vainly trying to focus public attention on issues like HMO reform and a patient's bill of rights.

     -- CNN's The World Today went first to Wolf Blitzer who emphasized how Clinton in his press conference "repeatedly refused to rebut Ken Starr's allegations." Blitzer contrasted Clinton's sharp "never" reply in February when asked if he would resign to his meandering response Wednesday about feeling pain and how he's working on the things he should.

     "Under siege is an understatement," declared John King in a piece on the White House staff and how they'd like to drop the "legally accurate" defense but are concerned about later indictment.

     From Capitol Hill Candy Crowley worked in this brief mention of Hyde in her piece on how he's refereeing the arguments over the video release. In the midst of that, Crowley asserted, "news of a Hyde affair more than 30 years ago hit the Internet. He called it a youthful indiscretion. The only purpose for this being dredged up now, he said in a written statement, is an obvious attempt to intimidate me and it won't work."

     Jonathan Karl explained that there would be no video if Clinton had testified in person and raised the issue of Reagan's testimony, but said it was different because that was at a criminal trial for John Poindexter, not before a grand jury. Charles Zewe checked in with a piece on how George W. Bush is having second thoughts about a presidential bid because Clinton has "sullied" the system.

     -- FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report. Jim Angle handled the press conference story. Afterward, co-anchor John Scott asked him about the affair charge against Hyde. Next, Carl Cameron stressed how Clinton is "resigned" to the video release and that more Democrats, specifically Jim Moran and Gene Taylor, are suggesting resignation.

     After an ad break, Scott interviewed Republican Rep. of Florida Mark Foley and asked him about Hyde. David Shuster recounted how the Starr report shows Lewinsky thought Clinton in love with her, Julie Kirtz looked at the split amongst religious leaders on Clinton and, finally, Juan Williams and Cal Thomas assessed the press conference and the decision to release the video. Cal Thomas argued:
     "The Democrats released Ronald Reagan's testimony in the Iran/Contra affair after he left office and when he was apparently in he early stages of Alzheimers disease and could not legitimately remember a lot of thing that happened during his presidency. I remember when the Democrats, talk about campaign commercials, when they used clips of a Newt Gingrich speech and clipped it in a way that made him appear to be against Medicare and exploited that in congressional races all over the country, saying Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich don't want you to have your Medicare. He's going to starve people, throw old people out of nursing homes. So, the chickens have come home to roost for this guy. They can't be fooling around with videotape of Republicans and then oppose its release for Democrats."

     -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw's opening, before the theme music, tease: "President Clinton insisting again tonight he can lead the country....A new NBC poll suggesting many Americans have doubts. In Depth: What many people are asking. Did Ken Starr go too far?"

     Up first David Bloom, who asserted: "Tom, asked point blank whether he lied under oath, the President refused to answer. It was at that point that he urged Americans not to get mired in all the details, but it's a critical question. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that a majority of Americans now believe that if the President lied under oath to the grand jury impeachment proceedings should go on."
     Bloom added: "In a dramatic turnabout from last month, fully 60 percent of those surveyed now believe the President has obstructed justice." That's up from 38 percent. Though his job approval stands at 66 percent and 61 percent oppose resignation, Bloom relayed that 73 percent tag his moral values as "very poor."

     Next, Lisa Myers explored how an obstacle to a plea bargain with Congress is that Starr is still investigating and would prosecute if Clinton left office. Myers explained that Starr is still looking into many matters, such as intimidation of Kathleen Willey, use of Pentagon files to impugn Linda Tripp and the silencing of Web Hubbell, so there may be more trouble ahead for Clinton staffers.


nbcquestioncap.jpg (16602 bytes)cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) "In Depth: What many people are asking. Did Ken Starr go too far?" Tom Brokaw asked at the top of Wednesday's NBC Nightly News. Leading into the first ad break on the September 16 show he delivered this plug: "Did the Ken Starr report to Congress go over the top? Still ahead tonight NBC News In Depth. Were all those graphic and intimate details about the President's Oval Office affair really necessary?"

     And, just before the next ad break Brokaw struck again: "When we come back, NBC News In Depth tonight. Did Ken Starr go too far and reveal a lot more than Americans needed or wanted to know?"

     Finally, after the three plugs NBC got to the hit piece. First, Brokaw highlighted how when asked "how much confidence do you have that Starr's report is fair and impartial," the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found just 36 percent said a "great deal" or "quite a bit," while 62 percent replied "some" or "very little." NBC did its part to reenforce that view with a full screen graphic: "The Nightly Question: Did Ken Starr go too far?"

     Pete Williams began the story: "As the nation studies the complete Starr report now in bookstores as an instant paperback, many Americans, even Clinton opponents, accuse Starr himself of going overboard, going too far in the level of detail..." After a couple of examples from the report, Williams charged:
     "It's not just an argument made by President Clinton's lawyers. The former top White House lawyer for Richard Nixon, whose testimony helped bring that President down, calls it unnecessary detail."
     NBC played a soundbite from John Dean who is a regular Starr-basher on the weeknight cable shows, before Williams acknowledged that Starr defends the details "as the underlying facts needed to judge whether the President lied." He let GWU law professor Jonathan Turley explain how Clinton brought it on himself. But that was it for pro-Starr comments.

     Williams continued his list of Starr's transgressions: "But some defense lawyers say the Starr report really is about sex, not cover-ups."
     Alan Dershowitz of Harvard alleged: "Historically, whenever we've gone after people sexually, sexual McCarthyism, we always say it's not about the sex."
     Williams added: "Another question: Did Starr go too far in pursuing the Lewinsky affair in the first place. Is a sexual affair worth impeachment? Many constitutional scholars say no, that it's a punishment meant for a much graver offense against the nation."
     Following a clip of Professor Cass Sunstein from the University of Chicago Law School, Williams insisted: "And other scholars say Starr failed to spell out clearly in his report why the President's actions make a case for impeachment and simply dumped it all on Congress."
     Professor Bruce Ackerman of the Yale Law School agreed. Williams then concluded with the view of Starr's enemies:
     "With the Clinton presidency now in serious trouble, Ken Starr's critics say he went too far in recounting the small details and not far enough in explaining how they could add up to impeachment."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Bill Clinton never faces the press except when he's with a foreign leader, but Geraldo Rivera still considered the scandal questions out of bounds. And he worried about "sexual McCarthyism."

     River opened Wednesday's Upfront Tonight on CNBC: "How can he stay focused on the nation's business when the press remains focused on him?"
     Rivera sympathized with Clinton's plight: "Imagine the frustration, the humiliation of standing beside another world leader when all the press really wants to ask is about your sex scandal?"

     Plugging the same Pete Williams hit on Starr as ran on NBC Nightly News, Rivera warned: "And does the Starr report herald the beginning of the era of sexual McCarthyism? Why the gory detail, and who gets hit next? We'll give you the latest."

     Rivera read a short item on Salon's Hyde hit, but did not suggest that might reflect "sexual McCarthyism."

     And from the Freudian slip department, introducing a story on overwhelming support for Clinton among blacks, Rivera noted that one out of step black paper called for Clinton to resign. Setting up that point, he stated: "More than 100 newspaper editorials across our country are calling for President Nixon to resign...."
     President Nixon?


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) From the September 16 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Alternatives To Impeachment." Copyright 1998 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. Must take 63 swings to the head from Mark McGwire.
9. All of Clinton's interns must now be former "Golden Girls."
8. Arrange for him to be President of France, where they're into that stuff.
7. The place: San Quentin. The cell mate: Hillary.
6. Must deliver next State of the Union speech while wearing "the dress."
5. Every day from 9am to 10am, ordinary citizens may come to the White House and sass him.
4. At public appearances, "Hail to the Chief" replaced by cheesy porn movie music.
3. Must issue formal apology to Ted Kennedy for giving philandering politicians everywhere a bad name.
2. See Bobbitt, John Wayne
1. No "Xena" for two weeks.

     And from the Late Show Web page, some of "the extra jokes that didn't quite make it into the Top Ten."

-- One out of every six cans of soda he opens has been shaken up.
-- One night in a broom closet with Madeline Albright.
-- Force him to smoke cigar that has "been with" Richard Simmons.
-- Whenever he eats a Big Mac, it must have a scarlet "A" drawn onto it with ketchup.
-- Instead of Air Force One, now must fly Kiwi Airlines.
-- Fix his presidential TV so it only gets CBS.
-- Has to take another Martha's Vineyard vacation with Hillary.
-- Must sit in giant dunking booth until every American has had a chance to knock his fat ass into the water.
-- Must spend one year living in a small studio apartment with Richard Simmons.

     The Clintons avoid Letterman's Clinton jokes according to an anecdote highlighted by Time's Margaret Carlson. She opened a piece on Hillary in the September 21 issue:
     "It was nearing midnight in the solarium, the informal room on the third floor of the White House. The Mexican food had been cleared away, and a few dinner guests were hanging out waiting for the President to come back from taking a phone call. Just as he was returning, the First Lady noticed out of the corner of her eye that the TV was on, tuned to the David Letterman show. Casually, she leaned over, picked up the remote control and switched the set off before the President could hear a barrage of scandal jokes."

     CyberAlert delivers what the Clintons can't handle.   -- Brent Baker

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