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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
 Monday November 23, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 189) 


Dash "Independent"; Starr "Pulled a Clinton"; Starr: "Puritan" or a "Gorilla"

1) Instead of seeing a possible political dirty trick behind Sam Dash's maneuver, Dan Rather falsely anointed him "independent" as Tom Brokaw relished "a stunning new blow to Starr's reputation."

2) Nina Totenberg: Starr "pulled a Clinton" by not revealing in advance that Dash would bushwhack him. Evan Thomas: Democrats should have treated Starr as if he were Joe McCarthy. Eleanor Clift claimed that Republicans made the hearing a "circus."

3) Debra Dickerson of U.S. News labeled Sheila Jackson-Lee "Barbara Jordan-esque." To ABC's Kevin Newman, Starr is either "overly puritan" or a "ten-ton gorilla."

4) Starr got a half day bounce: Friday's Today and GMA actually pressed Clinton operatives about Hubbell's payoffs and why Kendall didn't challenge the evidence about Clinton's wrongdoing.

5) Letterman's "Top Ten Possible First Lines For Monica Lewinsky's Book."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) "The widely respected, independent Sam Dash..." Dan Rather preposterously declared of the long-time Democrat at the top of Friday's CBS Evening News. The sudden resignation of Starr's ethics adviser topped every evening show Friday night and ABC and NBC managed to note his Democratic affiliation. But not Rather, who spent much of the year tagging Starr as the "Republican special prosecutor." Minutes after labeling Dash "independent," Rather summarized a poll result: "Slightly fewer now say Starr is politically motivated to get the Clintons."

     Amazingly, after all the attention on Starr's political motivations and the vast right-wing conspiracy, CBS never considered the political motivation behind Dash's very public departure. ABC and NBC only vaguely hinted at a possible orchestrated political hit on Starr. None of the networks on Friday night asked why Dash would resign a day after Starr summarized his official referral to Congress which Dash had approved. In fact, as noted in the November 19 Washington Post, Dash pushed the misuse of executive privilege count which became the most controversial: "Dash argued the President's use of executive privilege was an 'unlawful' abuse of his office because his intent was to deceive the grand jury."

     While the networks focused on the setback for Starr, "a stunning new blow to Starr's reputation," as Tom Brokaw put it Friday night, only FNC's David Shuster picked up on this sentence from Dash's resignation letter: "My decision to leave has nothing to do with the many unfounded and misinformed attacks on your conduct."

     On Sunday, Charles Bakaley, Starr's communications aide, appeared on two shows. On NBC's Meet the Press Tim Russert made him defend Starr's answers to David Kendall about the OIC's conduct. But on Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume pressed Bakaley about the ethics of getting $400 an hour and then violating attorney-client privilege by publicly announcing your disagreement, as Dash did. Bottom line: Here's some unethical, or at least not very classy behavior, yet the networks portrayed Dash as a model of integrity, thus making his attack on Starr all the more damaging.

     Here's how the broadcast networks handled the Dash news on Friday night, November 20:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings opened:
     "Good evening. We're going to begin in Washington tonight where a single lawyer may have done the kind of damage to the independent counsel Kenneth Starr today that 16 Democratic Congressmen and the President's lawyer didn't quite manage to do yesterday. Mr. Starr's ethics adviser, Sam Dash, has resigned his position in protest. He accuses Mr. Starr of exceeding his authority when he appeared before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday as Mr. Dash put it, 'an aggressive advocate.' Mr. Dash has standing in the Washington establishment and today for Democrats in the Congress he was something of a savior."

     Jackie Judd summarized the Dash letter and ran soundbites from Starr and Dash before noting Dash's history: "Starr hired Dash shortly after being named independent counsel four years ago. In Dash he found a Democrat with impeccable credentials as an adviser on ethics who had made his name as chief counsel to the Senate Watergate committee."
     Three sentences from the end of her story Judd hinted at a bigger story of political pressure: "ABC News has learned that Dash has been under pressure for some time from Democrats supportive of the White House to drop Starr in a very public way. The timing of Dash's sudden resignation is a particular blow to Starr. Whatever ground he may have gained yesterday may well have been lost today."

     -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather began by intoning:
     "Good evening. A bombshell inside the Ken Starr camp today. The prosecutor's own chief ethics adviser quit in protest. The widely respected, independent Sam Dash said Starr quote, 'unlawfully went from fact presenter to impeachment advocate' in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee. Starr responded, 'it's a gentle disagreement with Sam.'"

     Scott Pelley ran clips from Starr and Dash but never gave Dash a Democratic label or raised the possibility Starr was the victim of a political dirty trick. Pelley did, however, unlike ABC and NBC, show a bit of the Kendall/Starr exchanges from Thursday night, observing: "But not once did Kendall mention the charges against the President."

     Next, Rather cited two CBS News poll results. First, that favorable opinion of Starr had risen from 18 to 26 percent while his unfavorable rating held at 48 percent. Second, "slightly fewer now say Starr is politically motivated to get the Clintons" as the percent who called him "partisan" fell from 62 to 60 percent and the number labeling him "impartial" grew from 30 to 34 percent.

     -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw started by making a case for Starr and the Republicans to go away:
     "Good evening. In poll after poll and in other ways the public says it does not want President Clinton impeached. That issue hurt the Republicans in the elections. Special prosecutor Ken Starr offered no new smoking guns in his long appearance before the Judiciary Committee. And then tonight a stunning new blow to Starr's reputation: his own ethics adviser has quit in protest. That has only accelerated the unraveling of the impeachment process."
     Lisa Myers began by asserting: "It is a tougher punch than any landed by Democrats during 12 grueling hours of testimony...."
     Unlike ABC and CBS, Myers portrayed Starr as a victim, relaying how he was "stunned" and "hurt" as well as how the White House knew in advance:
     "Privately, sources say, Starr is stunned, his prosecutors furious. Dash is just not any adviser. He has special status because of his role in the last impeachment crisis as Democratic counsel on the Senate Watergate committee. Dash previously had defended Starr against what he called unfair attacks. Compounding the hurt, Starr was caught by surprise when Dash resigned so soon and so dramatically, but the White House apparently was not. A lawyer involved in daily White House strategy calls began whispering to the press yesterday morning about a coming defection on Starr's team..."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Three items I caught on the weekend talk shows from Nina Totenberg, Evan Thomas and Eleanor Clift: Starr "pulled a Clinton" because he didn't reveal in advance that Dash would bushwhack him the next day; the Democrats did poorly because they didn't treat Starr as if he were Joe McCarthy and plead "Do you have no mercy, sir?"; and Republicans, not the uncooperative Democrats, made the hearing a circus as the Democrats reflect the proper diversity and Maxine Waters really nailed Starr good.

     -- Instead of examining Dash's ethics and timing, NPR's Nina Totenberg blamed Starr. On Inside Washington all the panelists opened by grading Starr's performance. Totenberg announced:
     "I would give him an A-minus in the sense that he didn't look like a hydra-headed monster and he kept his cool. Unfortunately, by the next day, it turned out he pulled a Clinton and he told the truth but not the whole truth."
     Later, she elaborated on her theory of what he should have done while testifying: "He had the perfect opportunity to say well we have an honest disagreement but he did what Clinton would have done. He didn't, he tried to, in the words of my colleague Mr. Krauthammer, sort of cover it up."

     Unlike Clinton's coverups, Starr's led every newscast hours later.

     -- The Democrats were "terrible" because they didn't impugn Starr as a McCarthyite. Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas declared on Inside Washington:
     "He looked fine. I thought the Democrats looked terrible, I mean this was the moment that called for a Joe Welch, like the guy in the Army McCarthy hearings who said 'have you no decency, sir.' The Democrats didn't have anybody like that. They sounded way too prosecutorial and I thought it looked silly."

     -- Sounding quite rational by comparison, on the McLaughlin Group Newsweek's Eleanor Clift argued:
     "What stood out to me were those 21 Republicans, with the exception of Mary Bono, all white men. The Democrats are a diverse group of people who are more representative of America and who represent the attitudes of most Americans looking at these  hearings. These hearings are a circus and the Republicans are going to have to...[cut off]"
     Pat Buchanan: "Maxine Waters made it a circus."
     Clift: "No she didn't. She pointed out that Ken Starr said a number of times 'I don't recall,' 'I have to search my memory.' And she pointed out when the President said that Ken Starr said he was lying."


newman1123.jpg (12746 bytes)cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Black people are rightly proud of the black Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, contended a U.S. News reporter on Friday's Good Morning America. Debra Dickerson called Sheila Jackson-Lee's interruptions "Barbara Jordan-esque." GMA co-host Kevin Newman followed up by telling P.J. O'Rourke that Starr was either "overly puritan" or a "ten-ton gorilla." Not a very diverse choice.

     Here's the exchange from the November 20 GMA caught by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:
     Newman: "Well, what did they see when they watched the hearings yesterday?"
     Debra Dickerson, U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor: "I think African-Americans saw two things: They saw Representative Conyers, Mel Watts, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Representative Waters, especially Sheila Jackson Lee came off very magisterial and very, kind of, Barbara Jordan-esque yesterday, and so African-Americans are really very proud of the way we're conducting ourselves, and we're feeling very, kind of, heady, the way we came out of the elections, having played such a pivotal role in Democratic successes. So on the margins of the national scandal, we see good things. And the other thing we saw yesterday was, kind of, the latest turn in what they call around the way 'the c-o-n-spiracy,' you know, the President's exoneration on Filegate and Travelgate that didn't get mentioned before, so that's the only new thing and the only real thing that's getting talked about."
     Newman: "All right, P.J. [O'Rourke], when you watched Kenneth Starr, I mean, he's, we didn't know much about him, I guess. Some people thought he was a person who was, sort of, overly Puritan. Other people thought he was like a ten-ton gorilla. What did you think of his performance and the public's impression of him?"


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) With the notable exception above from GMA, Starr's Thursday testimony prompted the morning show hosts on Friday to raise topics and press Democratic guests in a way not done in months in that timeslot.

     -- From the November 20 Today, some inquiries noticed by MRC analyst Mark Drake.
     Matt Lauer to White House special counsel Greg Craig:
     "Mr. Craig, in one hour of cross examination, David Kendall, the President's lawyer, did not once attack any of the allegations brought forth by Ken Starr. Why?"
     "So is what you are saying that there is no evidence that Mr. Kendall has that would contradict any of the findings of Ken Starr's report?"
     "Two weeks ago, Henry Hyde, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sent President Clinton eighty one questions that he would like answered in relation to the impeachment hearings. The president has not answered those questions. Why? What's taking so long?"

     Lauer to James Carville:
     "James, let's talk about time and questions, all right. Henry Hyde has offered President Clinton all the time he wants to come before this committee and tell his side of the story. He's also asked him to answer eighty one questions to help the impeachment hearings along. The President has declined...[Carville interrupts]"
     "Why shouldn't the President, James, take advantage of the invitation to appear before the Judiciary Committee?"
     "Well, wait a second. When you say no one cares about the evidence -- when you say no one cares about the evidence -- in that hour that you criticize as being too short, David Kendall had an opportunity to directly confront the evidence and choose not to. He confronted Ken Starr instead."

     -- Over on ABC's Good Morning America MRC analyst Jessica Anderson took down these queries about rarely discussed topics.
     Kevin Newman to Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Massachusetts): "But isn't it the President's conduct that is being questioned here? The President's conduct?...So then why wasn't there a single question from the Democrats on that issue yesterday?"

     Lisa McRee to former Clinton adviser Rahm Emanuel: "Starr also took the opportunity, Rahm, to bring up other issues that may not seem like the centerpiece of his investigation, for example the Webster Hubbell $550,000 paid for what, and he, of course, suggested it was hush money to keep him quiet about the real estate deal. Is that right?"
     "Rahm, can I ask you one question, though, 'cause there's this nagging question about Webb Hubbell. You worked for the President, can you answer that? Why was Webb Hubbell paid $550,000? How did he earn that money?"

     Well at least Ken Starr generated half a good news cycle out of his testimony with the morning shows on one day raising the substantive issues for a change -- before Dash's departure shifted the networks off topic again hours later.


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) From the November 20 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Possible First Lines For Monica Lewinsky's Book." Copyright 1998 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. "Even as a baby, my parents noticed I had an unusual attachment to my pacifier."
9. "'Give me all your hot, intern love,' said the big creep."
8. "It was a dark and windowless corridor."
7. "Dear Penthouse: I never thought I would be writing one of these letters..."
6. "I knew someday I'd go down in history."
5. "Like, I hate hate hate hate hate hate Linda Tripp."
4. "Does this font make me look fat?"
3. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times -- na, it was mostly bad."
2. "By the time you read this, I'll be on to my next President..."
1. "Me and my big mouth!"

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

-- "I guess it's true. More and more women ARE enjoying cigars...."
-- "Like, I totally can't believe I have 199 more pages to go..."
-- "'Oh, Bubba,' I moaned."
-- "I hope this book will have a lot of pictures, because I don't feel like typing all day."
-- "The President was sending me on a top secret mission underneath his desk."
-- "His office smelled like KFC."

     Another sign that, much more than Lewinsky, Linda Tripp has became an ogre in popular culture: The "Late Show Daily Poll"(http://marketing.cbs.com/lateshow/) over the weekend: "What was the most surprising element of the new Star Wars trailer?" The options:

-- "Seeing a two-sided light saber"
-- "The appearance of a young Darth Vader"
-- "Linda Tripp playing the role of Jabba the Hut."

     As of Sunday afternoon, 81 percent picked the last option.  --Brent Baker

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