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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday October 5, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 163)

"More Ammunition" for the VRWC; Tripp as the "Conniving Villain"

1) Time's Margaret Carlson regrets that Monica Lewinsky didn't Bobbittize Bill Clinton.

2) "More ammunition" for Hillary's "vast right-wing conspiracy" charge found by ABC's Mike von Fremd. ABC's John Cochran argued that even Republicans know they are "using the scandal as a smokescreen to hide the slow pace of legislative action."

3) Friday night all the networks featured the attack on Starr and Tripp by new Clinton counsel Greg Craig. ABC's Jeffrey Toobin claimed Tripp "comes off as a conniving and...not a likable person."

4) White House steward Bayani Nelvis really did have to "clean up" after Clinton's trysts, just as a withdrawn newspaper story said.

5) Remember when Sidney Blumenthal blasted Ken Starr for asking about media contacts? Nightline discovered Starr did no such thing.

6) Wistful memories of 1974 bipartisanship? A reality check from the Washington Post: "Bipartisanship Eluded Hill in Watergate."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Most Cutting Comment of the Weekend, shall we say. Here's the "Outrage of the Week" from Time magazine's Margaret Carlson on CNN's Capital Gang on Saturday night:
     "Secret Service agents labeled Monica a stalker but couldn't do anything about it except make her wait at the gate in the Washington heat. Agent Steve Pape said that by the time she got in one day, 'It looked like she'd gone a couple of rounds with Muhammad Ali.' Pape said he wasn't worried about a bomb from Monica, but something more painful. 'It would be something along the lines of Lorena Bobbitt if she was going to hurt him,' Pape testified. 'And that I couldn't stop.' Well, it would have solved a very big problem."

     How does she know how "big" a problem?


vonfremdcap.jpg (15922 bytes)cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Sunday night ABC News highlighted a New York Times story which reporter Mike von Fremd insisted "has given even more ammunition to the First Lady's claims that all of this is part of 'a vast right-wing conspiracy.'" Minutes later ABC worried about how even Republicans are upset that the scandal has distracted from liberal agenda items, such as campaign finance reform.

     But first, what the other networks delivered. The Sunday morning shows were fairly quiet, interrupted only by wacky outbursts by Ross Perot who appeared on both NBC's Meet the Press and CNN's Late Edition. Sunday night football displaced the CBS Evening News in the East. Both ABC and NBC led with Gerald Ford's suggestion in a New York Times op-ed that Clinton be rebuked in the well of the House. The stories on both networks highlighted how Republicans oppose the idea while Democrats favor it. NBC Nightly News followed with a report previewing Monday's Judiciary Committee hearing.

     Opening with Ford's idea, anchor Carole Simpson noted on ABC's World News Tonight: "Although he is a Republican, it is the Democrats who are cheering his suggestion." Reporter Mike von Fremd began: "With the prospect of impeachment hearings hanging over Washington, President Clinton's advisers today welcomed a proposal from a former Republican President to spare the country the painful process..." Von Fremd proceeded to read excerpts from Ford's piece and soundbites from John Conyers and Trent Lott.

     Jumping from the op-ed page to the front page, von Fremd then asserted:
     "Starr says he first asked for permission to investigate the Lewinsky matter after learning about it from Linda Tripp. But the New York Times today reports that one of Starr's lawyers was actually tipped off earlier by an attorney with ties to Paula Jones's legal team. The Times says those lawyers are all members of a conservative legal organization called the Federalist Society that also found an attorney for Linda Tripp. This has given even more ammunition to the First Lady's claims that all of this is part of 'a vast right-wing conspiracy.'
     "This evening the White House released a statement questioning whether Starr was complete and accurate in disclosing information to the Attorney General when he sought permission to expand the investigation into the Lewinsky matter. The White House statement ends with a paraphrase borrowed from the Watergate era, asking 'what did the independent counsel know and when did it know it?'"

     Hillary's claim had "ammunition"? I thought it had long ago been discredited. I guess not by reporters, especially one who would consider this kind of guilt by association to be evidence.

     Next, Tim O'Brien previewed the Monday hearings before John Cochran announced:
     "President Clinton claims Republicans are using the scandal as a smokescreen to hide the slow pace of legislative action. Well he would say that, wouldn't he? But surprisingly some Republicans agree."
     Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut: "The Starr report has effectively shut down the Congress."
     Cochran's lead example, a bill promoted by liberals: "No one seemed to notice when the Senate killed campaign finance reform. The vote came during the three day period last month when the Starr report was delivered to Congress and then made public."
     Shays, who has regulation of campaign speech as a pet cause, complained: "I would say that if you don't want legislation to pass this is the year to be in Congress because you can kill legislation and if you're voting against what the public wants the public isn't really going to be aware that you did that."
     Cochran offered three more examples of what the public has lost, the first two of which are liberal causes: "Since the Lewinsky scandal became public in January congressional initiatives have slowed to a crawl. First tobacco legislation went no where. Then a move to reform managed health care bogged down. Now there's a stalemate over what to do with the budget surplus -- use some of it for tax cuts or keep all of it in reserve to protect Social Security...."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) While both CNN's The World Today and FNC's Fox Report led with and devoted half their hour-long shows Friday night to the document release, the broadcast networks held themselves to two reports each and led with other news. ABC went first with a rise in the unemployment rate. Clinton's plan for an emergency fund to bail out ailing nations topped CBS and NBC.

     Friday night coverage illustrated the imbalanced picture viewers get because the independent counsel is restricted in what he can say and the networks don't feel any obligation to find others to counter the White House spin. CBS and CNN ran full reports on the attack on Starr and Tripp by new White House special counsel Greg Craig and the other networks all featured his allegations. On CBS Bill Plante noted that "the President's defenders...accused the independent counsel of deliberately holding back evidence favoring the President." NBC's Tom Brokaw declared: "The latest documents provide a little something for everyone, including a new claim from the White House that Ken Starr is only out to get the President."

     ABC's John Cochran highlighted how the White House calls Linda Tripp a "villain," an assessment ABC's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin endorsed, charging: "The story of Linda Tripp's betrayal is really very unappealing and she comes off as a conniving and really not a likable person"

     Contrary to the official Clinton staff line that nobody knew anything about the relationship, NBC Gwen Ifill reported that "the Lewinsky relationship was an open secret on the White House grounds."

     Here are some highlights from the Friday night, October 2, evening shows:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight. After Betsy Stark looked at unemployment and Sam Donaldson at Clinton's international monetary plan, anchor Peter Jennings announced:
     "In Washington today it was one part evidence and one part soap opera. The House Judiciary Committee released nearly 5,000 pages of documents turned over to it by the independent counsel Kenneth Starr, most anticipated were the transcripts of the phone conversations between Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky. It is the saga of their relationship."

     John Cochran went directly to impugning Tripp, beginning his piece: "Transcripts released today shed new light on Linda Tripp who has insisted she was a reluctant player in all of this."
     Tripp, in July: "I never, ever asked to be placed in this position."
     Cochran: "But during one of the phone conversations Tripp taped she encourages Monica Lewinsky to insist that the White House find her a good job. Tripp says, 'one way or another they can get you a job.'"
     Jumping ahead to the wired conversation at the hotel, Cochran emphasized Tripp as the instigator: "During the conversation Tripp returns time and again to Jordan, apparently trying to elicit information about his role."
     After reading some tape excerpts, Cochran continued: "Both Lewinsky and Tripp expressed fear for their lives, apparently from retribution by unnamed agents of the President. But today the only action from the White House came from a lawyer accusing Tripp of manipulating Lewinsky."
     Gregory Craig: "It is Linda Tripp who in the tape recordings she made can be head actively engaging Ms. Lewinsky in discussions about how both could avoid testifying about Ms. Lewinsky's relationship with the President."
     Cochran concluded: "The White House is now looking for villains to divert attention from the President's misdeeds, and it believes it has found a villain: Linda Tripp."

     Made a villain with the help of ABC News.

     Jackie Judd checked the Currie and Jordan testimony for evidence of obstruction of  justice, concluding: "From the day the Starr report went to Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans have battled over the real strength of the obstruction of justice charges against the President. The testimony of Currie and Jordan released today gives each side some more points to work with."

     Jennings then asked Jeffrey Toobin if he saw anything new in all the documents. ABC's legal analyst shot back: "Well there is a lot of new detail, especially as you said for people who regard this as a soap opera. The story of Linda Tripp's betrayal is really very unappealing and she comes off as a conniving and really not a likable person. But in terms of the evidence, what really matters in terms of impeachment, it seems to me we're very much where we were and I don't think partisans on either side will gain much ground here."

     -- CBS Evening News. Bob Schieffer provided an overview of the Tripp tapes, including how "Lewinsky, at Tripp's urging, said she had told the President's people she wouldn't cover up the affair unless she got something in return." Schieffer noted that both said they feared retribution before he concluded with this assessment:
     "Reading these transcripts you get the picture of a young woman under great pressure and torn about what to do. When she learns that Tripp may reveal the affair she urges her to keep it secret and says that if she will she will give her her share of a condominium that she owns in Australia. At other times the conversation turns downright wacky. Lewinsky is worried that her phone may be tapped and asks Tripp 'do you hear clicks on the line?' But Tripp reassures her, 'oh that's just my gum.'"

     Next, Bill Plante checked in from the White House where "the President's defenders counterattacked aggressively. Today they accused the independent counsel of deliberately holding back evidence favoring the President."
     Following a clip of Greg Craig, Plante gave even more time to Clinton's spin: "The President's lawyers sent the Judiciary Committee a 30-page brief arguing that the committee must define what an impeachable offense is before it votes to authorize an inquiry, that the conduct described in the Starr report does not constitute an impeachable offense and that impeachment is justified only for offenses against the state and not private wrongs."

     -- CNN's The World Today opened with an overview from David Ensor on how the release "contains evidence both the President's critics and his defenders will be using in the coming days, though much of it is hardly definitive."

     Next, from Capitol Hill Bob Franken outlined the clash between Democrats and Republicans over the scope of the hearings. Then Wolf Blitzer checked in: "The White House quickly went on the offensive again attacking Ken Starr's allegations as one-sided, salacious and not grounds for impeachment...." John King followed with a report on Clinton's fundraising in Ohio and Philadelphia.

     CNN then delivered a series of reports on what the documents showed: Brooks Jackson on the Tripp tapes, Candy Crowley on how the tapes reveal much "girl talk" about hair, shopping, clothes and sex, Eileen O'Connor reviewed Betty Currie's testimony and Charles Bierbauer summarized the testimony from Vernon Jordan. Finally, co-anchor Joie Chen introduced a series of soundbites from women tired of the whole matter:
     "For some the first response to the latest release can be summed up in just two words: enough already. A Seattle radio station, for example, has declared itself a Monica-free zone. And at a nail salon in Dallas, the reaction is much the same."

     -- FNC's Fox Report. Co-anchor Jane Skinner, referring to the documents, declared: "Included are transcripts of Linda Tripp's taped conversations with Monica Lewinsky and they don't put the President in a very favorable light."
     David Shuster, as part of his overall review of the latest evidence, explained Clinton's efforts to frustrate the investigation. Carl Cameron previewed what will happen at Monday's committee hearing before Jim Angle focused on the anti-Starr and anti-Tripp comments from Greg Craig at the White House. FNC finished off the first half hour with a roundtable of Juan Williams, Dick Morris, Heather Nauert and Arianna Huffington.

     -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw opened: "Good evening. Tonight the two major concerns at the Bill Clinton White House, the contrasting concerns of his presidency. Today the President and his Treasury Secretary disclosed a major effort to provide emergency relief for failing economies in Asia and elsewhere. At the same time his political and legal teams were dealing with the latest load of documents from the Ken Starr investigation. We'll begin tonight with the high anxieties in the world of high finance..."

     After David Bloom dealt with Clinton's proposal of an emergency line of credit to poor nations, Brokaw intoned: "And as we'll hear in these two reports, the latest documents provide a little something for everyone, including a new claim from the White House that Ken Starr is only out to get the President."

     Lisa Myers began by focusing on how Lewinsky and her mother feared White House retaliation. In a taped talk Lewinsky, Myers reported, urges Tripp to lie and "warns she could lose her government job is she crosses the President, even coaches her on the fine art of lying under oath, quote 'I might have but I don't remember. That's the phrase my lawyer told me.'"
     Myers led into a Craig soundbite by observing that "the White House charged that Starr's report failed to include critical facts about Tripp." Myers, unlike ABC's Cochran, concluded by trying to give the other side: "Still, even without Tripp's prompting Lewinsky often refers to the President as 'the creep,' calls him quote, 'the biggest little liar I ever met,' but says she can't get him out of her heart."

     Up next, Gwen Ifill uniquely stressed: "The new evidence reveals a President intent on keeping secrets, from his wife, his White House advisers, his closest friends. But the details also show the Lewinsky relationship was an open secret on the White House grounds, where one Secret Service agent testified he bet another officer on how fast the President would beat a path to the Oval Office to see the woman he described as quote, 'the President's mistress.' But the President's closest advisers purposely looked the other way. In his grand jury testimony, Washington super-lawyer Vernon Jordan says he quote 'didn't want Monica Lewinsky to tell me anything about her relationship with the President,' but he said he agrees with the President that sexual relations means sexual intercourse only...."


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Earlier this year Clintonites and media purists complained about how the Internet had allowed some newspapers to post unsupported allegations they had to withdraw hours later. Well, it turns out that one of those stories was really accurate. Here's a paragraph I came across in an October 3 Washington Post story by Robert Suro about what Secret Service agents told the grand jury:
     "In other Secret Service testimony released yesterday, two officers said that Bayani Nelvis, a White House steward, told them of his unhappiness at having to 'clean up' after Clinton's trysts with Lewinsky, picking up tissues and towels soiled with lipstick and other substances. The Wall Street Journal, in a story that was widely discredited by the White House and quickly withdrawn by the newspaper, reported early this year Nelvis himself had testified about the clean-up."


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) Remember when Sidney Blumenthal stepped outside the courthouse and blasted Ken Starr for improperly focusing on Blumenthal's contacts with reporters and what he said about Starr's staff? It quickly became a common point of attack for Starr haters. Well, by reading the grand jury transcripts Nightline discovered Blumenthal's statement outside does not quite match what happened inside.

     Pointing out Blumenthal's lack of cooperation, on the October 2 Nightline David Marash asserted that Blumenthal "visited with his lawyer outside the grand jury room more often than a classroom of first graders going to the bathroom. And after his first day's testimony was done, Blumenthal and his lawyer William McDaniel said this to the news media and the world:"
     McDaniel outside courthouse: "Mr. Blumenthal was hauled down here today in a blatant attempt to intimidate him from searching out and speaking the truth about Mr. Starr and his prosecutors."
     Blumenthal: "Today, I was forced to answer questions about my conversations, as part of my job, with, and I wrote this down, the New York Times, CNN, CBS, Time magazine, U.S. News, the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Observer and there may have been a few others, I don't remember right now. Ken Starr's prosecutors demanded to know what I had told reporters and what reporters had told me about Ken Starr's prosecutors."

     Marash then read from the transcript: "A look at the grand jury transcript shows prosecutors pressing Blumenthal not about his contacts with the media, but with the President, the First Lady and other top White House politicos and about the messages that they wanted Blumenthal to spin into the media."
     Prosecutor: "Has the White House produced any document like a talking points document relating or referring to the Monica Lewinsky matter?"
     Blumenthal: "I've seen talking points from the Democratic National Committee."
     Prosecutor: "And you received this from the DNC?"
     Blumenthal: "Yes."
     Prosecutor: "Did you distribute it to anyone outside the White House?"
     Blumenthal: "If reporters called me or I spoke with reporters I would tell them to call the DNC to get those talking points, and those included news organizations ranging from CNN, CBS, ABC, New York Times, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, New York Observer, Los Angeles Times."

     Marash bluntly concluded: "So if Blumenthal was telling the truth on the courthouse steps, he is indeed a remarkable man, capable of quote, 'writing down,' notes on his own testimony even as he gave it."


cyberno6.jpg (1848 bytes) Great media institutions think alike: me and the Washington Post. In the October 1 CyberAlert I observed that in watching the History Channel replay of the House Watergate hearings, "So far I haven't seen the often recalled 'bipartisanship' of the era. The majority party wins and the minority party loses every vote. Just like now, but the parties are reversed."

     Friday's Washington Post backed me up, carrying a piece by reporters Guy Gugliotta and George Lardner Jr. headlined "Bipartisanship Eluded Hill in Watergate." Here's an excerpt:

It was different during Watergate. House members used to get along. And when it came time in 1974 to decide whether to throw President Richard M. Nixon out of office, they resolved their differences in a spirit of lofty bipartisanship.

It is a nice story, and both Republicans and Democrats are constantly retelling it as they prepare to open an impeachment inquiry into President Clinton's activities. But it is revisionist history, as any glance backward quickly shows. It turns out that the current and past impeachment proceedings are not so different when it comes to unseemly grappling between a greedy majority trying to seem generous and a wheedling minority demanding its "rights."

The difference is that the majority and the minority have switched places, so when both sides make the same arguments that their opponents made in 1974, it begins to sound more like situational ethics than high-minded statesmanship.

Thus the Judiciary Committee's ranking minority member, John Conyers Jr.(D-Mich.), complained yesterday that the Republicans were planning an impeachment inquiry that had no time limit and an unlimited scope. "This cannot be a never-ending fishing expedition," he said, that commits the country "to a process that could last months or years -- who knows?"

Rep. Robert McClory (R-Ill.) made the same plea at a Jan. 31, 1974, meeting, offering an amendment requiring the Judiciary Committee to finish in three months. "Uppermost in the minds of the American people, [is] to get this subject resolved one way or another," he said. Conyers, already a subcommittee chairman at the time, voted with the Democratic majority to kill the amendment....

END Excerpt

     Remember this when today's Judiciary Committee hearing evokes wistful memories from reporters about the bipartisanship of the Watergate days.  -- Brent Baker

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