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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday September 29, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 160)

Middle East Summit Motives Skipped; Nickelodeon: Lying Legally OK

1) ABC, CBS and CNN focused on the Middle East peace talks at the White House, but ignored Clinton's ulterior motives. FNC and NBC explored how Clinton trumped up a summit so he'd look presidential.

2) "Enough Already" declares the headline over the Newsweek cover story. The subhead: "In the real world," outside Washington, "people want the Monica Madness to end." So does Newsweek's Evan Thomas.

3) For Nickelodeon's Clinton special Linda Ellerbee joined up with a Team Clinton lawyer to tell the kids that Clinton did not commit perjury, the Starr probe was propelled by Clinton's enemies and it violates his "zone of privacy." Some kids had better sense.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Dan Rather opened the CBS Evening News, decked out in full rain gear with hood, from Pascagoula, Mississippi. The other networks anchors stayed home, but they too opened with a hurricane update. On the political front, Monday Henry Hyde held a press conference and Clinton met with Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat at the White House. All but ABC, which skipped Hyde, mentioned both.

     NBC and FNC emphasized questions about whether events really warranted such a high-profile Middle East summit and if it was really little more than a staged event to show Clinton being presidential. ABC and CBS noted that the summit shifted attention from Monicagate, but neither raised doubts about the legitimacy of the meeting. CNN's Wolf Blitzer didn't even consider any ulterior motives, delivering a full report just on the details of the Middle East peace process.

     Here are some highlights from the Monday, September 28 evening shows:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight. Introducing a piece from Sam Donaldson at the White House Peter Jennings treated the summit as a straight news story and did not raise any doubts about Clinton's motivations:
     "At the White House today President Clinton met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Once again the United States is trying to break a deadlock in the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis over land for peace."
     "Another of those dramatic scenes in high diplomacy," Donaldson announced over video of Arafat and Donaldson walking into the Oval Office "to announce progress toward peace."
     Donaldson explained Netanyahu's willingness to give up more land before letting Secretary of State Madeleine Albright answer a question about why the meeting with the President? The peace process needs a President's imprimatur, she replied.

     Wrapping up, Donaldson acknowledged Clinton's political benefit: "You know some people, Peter, may think that the Middle East peace process is a dull issue, but it is important. Certainly for the President just now it provides a welcome change of subject."

     -- CBS Evening News. A dry Bob Schieffer anchored from New York, after Rather handled the hurricane news, and noted that Hyde said hearings begin Monday on whether to start an impeachment inquiry. Viewers then saw a clip of Hyde explaining that the only question is do the allegations merit further investigation.

     Schieffer then introduced a report from Scott Pelley: "At the White House today officials were happy to keep the focus on other matters as the President met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. They are trying to get Middle East peace talks going again and in the White House view it didn't go badly today."

     -- CNN's The World Today. Wolf Blitzer ran through the details of the summit meeting and the four key issues both sides are working to resolve. After not even hinting at any political motivations by Clinton, Blitzer concluded by painting Clinton as quite earnest in propelling another summit in a few weeks: "U.S. officials say Albright is expected to chair most of the meetings in mid-October, but President Clinton is setting aside time to participate in many of them. They say he's determined not to let the Israelis and Palestinians leave without a deal."

     Bob Franken checked in from Capitol Hill, running a clip of Hyde and explaining that documents, including testimony from Currie and Jordan and transcripts of the Tripp tapes, will be released Thursday. To satisfy Democrats Hyde, Franken added, will have a subcommittee hold a hearing to examine what is an impeachable offense. From the White House John King explained that the new Clinton public face is back to business, as demonstrated by the summit, while operatives lobby Democrats to oppose impeachment hearings.

     -- FNC Fox Report. Carl Cameron began with Hyde's denial of partisanship: "House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde lashed out at Democratic critics who accuse him of marching toward impeachment unfairly." Cameron uniquely noted that Hyde will give subpoena power to John Conyers before mentioning the special subcommittee look at what offenses are impeachable. Cameron concluded: "Senior Democratic leadership sources say now the one thing the President and congressional Democrats do not want to talk about is the facts."

     David Shuster checked in on the Paula Jones talks and found the attorneys have not discussed settlement since last week.

     Later in the show Jim Angle provided story on the summit and raised the diversionary aspect: "....But the talks did not appear to have reached a critical turning point, which is usually the prerequisite for the President to step in. That prompted some diplomats to quietly wonder whether Mr. Clinton's interest was motivated in part by a desire to be seen as a statesman instead of a President facing impeachment. Asked what required the President's involvement now, Secretary of State Albright struggled to find a reason."
     Albright: "It was very important I think for both the leaders to understand the extent to which we are all, and the President particularly, wants to see a resolution to this."

     -- NBC Nightly News. Leading into David Bloom's summit story Tom Brokaw, unlike the ABC and CBS anchors, stressed the theatrics: "There is progress to report, and a good bit of stagecraft as well."
     Bloom explained that the meeting was "significant, but it's also clear the White House was only too happy today to see the President talking about something other than Monica Lewinsky."
     Bloom later added: "But Mr. Clinton's direct involvement in today's talks was unusual, given that no breakthrough is imminent. This afternoon Secretary of State Albright was pressed to explain the President's role."
     Following a soundbite of Albright Bloom uniquely offered the GOP take: "But some Republicans are skeptical, saying Mr. Clinton, facing possible impeachment proceedings, is merely trying to look presidential."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) "Enough Already" declares the headline over the cover story in the latest Newsweek. The subhead for the October 5 piece by Howard Fineman pleads: "In the real world, people want the Monica Madness to end. In Washington, the terrain is trickier. Democrats wish it would all go away; Republicans want to get Clinton but worry about coming off as sexual witch hunters. Is there any way out of this mess?"

     That "real world" beyond the Beltway to which Newsweek attributes the disgust with Monicagate may just be a bit closer to home, like inside the magazine's Washington bureau. On Inside Washington over the weekend, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed, Washington-based Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas displayed his disappointment with Starr's inquiry:
     "Again, I don't think it's so much what Clinton did as the overkill aspect of this. My, when I was watching the tape, in the first couple of minutes, you could just see the prosecutors were going to go overboard on what is a sad, tawdry little thing, that just doesn't deserve the massive machinery of the Constitution to resolve it."


weingartcap.jpg (22267 bytes)cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Nickelodeon managed to squeeze plenty of Clinton defending and liberal preaching into its half-hour "Nick News Special Edition: The Clinton Crisis" aired at 9pm ET Monday night. Produced by Linda Ellerbee's Lucky Duck Productions, the network veteran co-hosted it with NBC's Katie Couric who didn't really say too much. CyberAlert normally does not deal with kids shows, but given the publicity generated by Couric's involvement and the scandal subject matter I think it's worth reviewing what the Viacom-owned cable network told kids and parents about the scandal.

     The guest expert: lawyer Reid Weingarten, whom Ellerbee simply described as "a well-respected Washington lawyer who at different times has both prosecuted and defended public officials accused of crimes." Democrats affiliated with Clinton that is, but Ellerbee didn't say that. Weingarten represented former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and I know is currently serving a prominent donor in the fundraising scandal, though I'm not sure which one. His allegiances soon became clear.

     For these Nick News shows about ten kids sit around on big pink furniture and share their feelings with Ellerbee. In this edition the kids often showed more commonsense than the three adults.

     Ellerbee's first question: "Do you think the media has overplayed this story?"

     After asking if they talked about the scandal in school and with their parents, Ellerbee inquired: "Do you think this should have been put on the Internet, the entire Starr report?" The response: a chorus of no's.

     Couric then suggested that if the President lies in court that may go beyond the personal to the public's interest, prompting Ellerbee to ask if anyone knows what perjury is? Thereupon, the impressionable children of America were treated to this exchange:
     Boy Kid: "Perjury is when you lie under oath."
     Girl Kid: "Bill Clinton did do perjury."
     Weingarten: "Well that's not yet been determined. Clinton's explanation is 'when I testified in my mind I believed I was telling the truth.' And if that's true, if you believe that or if a jury one day believes it or if Congress believes it, that he believed that he was attempting to tell the truth, even if the information turns out to be incorrect, he's not committed perjury. You need two things. You need a deliberate lie under oath and what you're lying about has to be directly connected to what's being investigated."

     "Attempting to tell the truth, even if the information turns out to be incorrect" and your lie doesn't count if it does not have legal relevance. What a high standard to set for the next generation.

     A bit later Ellerbee asked Weingarten to explain how and why an independent counsel is named. She then forwarded another liberal argument: "While all of this has to do with the law, it also has to do with politics. And there are some people who will tell you that what's been going on here is the President's political enemies have been looking for ways to embarrass him."
     The kids responded by saying Clinton probably did do all he's accused of doing.

     Ellerbee wondered if it's hard to trust someone after they've lied. One kid demanded: "If he can lie, why can't we?" And another asserted that Clinton's a role model to kids so he should not lie.

     All this condemnation of Clinton was too much for Weingarten, who tried to dissuade the youths of their moral certainty of how lying is wrong by basically saying it's okay if it's in your "zone of privacy." Weingarten insisted: "I think one thing we can't lose sight of is that one of the principle things about this country that's special, is that we are everybody, including the President, has the right to privacy. I think the question here is whether or not anything Bill Clinton did within the zone of privacy affected his ability to lead this country."

     One step ahead of the Clintonista, the kids countered that if his personal problems worry him too much then he won't be able to properly handle his job duties.

     Asked if they might follow Clinton's lead and lie, several kids said they would not and wouldn't want to get in trouble. Thinking like Clinton, Ellerbee jumped in: "What if you weren't going to be caught, though?" A girl replied that lying will "haunt you forever."

     This actually pleased Weingarten, who found the high ideals of the kids quite promising.

     But the kids wouldn't make Bob Barr proud. Ellerbee wondered:
"Is there anybody sitting here who thinks that Bill Clinton ought to be thrown out of office by the process of impeachment? Raise your hand." None went up.

     Couric finally got a chance to expound a bit as the show ended. What will be Clinton's legacy in 30 years, asked Ellerbee.
     Couric answered by reiterating Weingarten's insistence that the personal and public be separated:
     "Bill Clinton will be considered to be a decent President who accomplished some things but that he committed reckless indiscretion that showed that like many of us he's a flawed individual, who made a mistake. And then I think you'll see that there are two distinct sides of Bill Clinton: the public and the private and once again people can debate about whether one really has to do with the other."

     Yes, that's Nickelodeon's lesson to America's kids: Clinton's just like everybody else and it's wrong to condemn his lies because they occurred in his "private zone." I wonder how many kids can get away with that reasoning with their parents when they are caught lying. Gee, mom, I'm just a flawed kid who lies like everybody else and my room is protected by a "zone of privacy."  -- Brent Baker

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