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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday January 18, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 9) 
Discrediting Judge Nixon Comparison; Hyde: "Rabid" Conservative to "Statesman"

1) ABC raised the case of Judge Walter Nixon, who was impeached for perjury, but Tim O'Brien discredited the GOP's comparison by giving more time and arguments to those who disagree.

2) Tim Russert pressed both George Mitchell and John Kerry about their vote to impeach Judge Walter Nixon for perjury.

3) Assessing the House case, Cokie Roberts was less generous than either Sam Donaldson or even George Stephanopoulos. And Bob Schieffer announced his opposition to removing Clinton.

4) ABC couldn't agree whether Senators "sat in rapt attention" or were "tired," NBC refused to tag Tom Daschle as "partisan" when he rejected a GOP overture and demanded if it's "fair of Henry Hyde to bring in the honor of those who gave their lives" in battle.

5) To MSNBC Times Square reflects the thinking of America. Henry Hyde used to be considered "a rabid" conservative, but he's become more of a "statesman" as he's "almost a moderate Republican."

6) ABC uniquely worried that "Congressman Bill McCollum delivered the most graphic language yet heard in the Senate." Check out the two words ABC considered so "graphic."

7) Geraldo Rivera excitedly jumped on a survey showing college students don't consider oral sex to mean they had sex.



cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Judge Nixon's impeachment finally raised, but only to be undermined. The House managers on Saturday referred to how the Senate had impeached federal judges for perjury, including Judge Walter Nixon in 1989. The broadcast networks all ignored the point Saturday night as did NBC Nightly News on Sunday night as well. (NFL football pre-empted CBS in the east on Sunday.)

obrien0118.jpg (10581 bytes)     But on Sunday's World News Tonight, ABC reporter Tim O'Brien took it up only to discredit the comparison. ABC opened on January 17 with a story by Mike Von Fremd on Clinton preparing for the State of the Union and the debate over calling witnesses. He began: "President left church this morning with the First Lady on one hand and his Bible in the other..."

     O'Brien then started his story on the judge comparison by noting that Clinton defenders contend that lying about sex is not sufficient for removal even if all the charges are true. He then got to the GOP point: "But Republican House managers pointed out this week that a number of federal judges, most recently Walter Nixon in Mississippi, had been removed from office for committing perjury. Republican Senators argued today the standards for removing Presidents should be no different than for removing judges."
     O'Brien played a clip of Phil Gramm on This Week saying there's only one standard for all federal officials.
     O'Brien then launched his counter-argument, with two soundbites and two additional points made by himself: "But former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who had voted in favor of removing Judge Nixon, says removing a President is far different from removing a federal judge."
     Mitchell on Meet the Press said that judges are not elected by people and elections are sacred.
     O'Brien: "Article III of the Constitution says federal judges shall 'hold their offices during good behavior.' There is no such requirement in the Constitution for Presidents."
     Lanny Davis, outside ABC News: "Judges are appointed for life. Nobody votes for a judge. If a judge is a drunk you want to get rid of him and he can't be gotten rid of in an election. He's got to be gotten rid of through impeachment."
     O'Brien concluded: "Presidents, on the other hand, can be voted out of office and may not serve more than two full terms. In a preview of what is certain to come this week, the President's defenders were arguing today that not only does the Constitution require different standards for removing Presidents than for removing judges, but also that there are different levels of perjury and that no one has ever been removed from office for lying about sex."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) The Judge Nixon comparison has yet to make it onto NBC Nightly News, but Tim Russert did raise it twice on Sunday's Meet the Press. On the January 17 show he pressed guests from both parties with the tough questions their opposites would want asked. To Republican Congressman Bill McCollum, for instance, he demanded:
     "As you know, many suggest that this is just politics, that the Republicans have one standard for a Democratic President as opposed to a Republican President. I refer you back to July of 1987 when Oliver North had obstructed Congress and you called him an American hero."

     But Russert challenged two Democrats about impeaching a judge for perjury. To former Senator George Mitchell:
     "In 1989 Judge Nixon was impeached by the Senate. You voted to impeach for making false statements under oath. Do you believe there should be a lower standard for the removal of a President than there is for a federal judge?"

     To Senator John Kerry in a subsequent segment:
     "Senator Kerry, you voted to remove Judge Nixon, impeach Judge Nixon, take him from the federal bench for making false statements under oath. Based on what you know about Bill Clinton, and what he has testified in the Paula Jones deposition and the grand jury. A question that has been playing in my mind all day since yesterday when I first heard it, if Bill Clinton was a federal judge, would you vote to remove him from the bench, based on what you know?"


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Sam Donaldson and George Stephanopoulos to the right of Cokie Roberts? And Bob Schieffer announced his opposition to removing Clinton. Two more item from the Sunday morning shows:

     -- An exchange from the roundtable segment of ABC's This Week in which not only is Sam Donaldson more impressed with the arguments of the House managers than is Cokie Roberts, but so is George Stephanopoulos.

     Cokie Roberts, talking about Judge Nixon: "The question of good behavior does make a difference to me. The idea that the judges behavior in matters that do not have to do with their official duties are more evidence of, or more reason to remove than for a President. There are other ways to remove a President. In this case he can't run again. So he's not going to be there anyway. And I do think that that argument is an argument to be made."
     Sam Donaldson: "What about the argument that no man's above the law argument?"
     Roberts: "That is still not a question of saying that he should be removed from office. Prosecuted, fine."
     Donaldson, referring those prosecuted for perjury: "Then we should let all these people out of jail."
     Roberts: "No, he should be prosecuted, that's fine."
     George Stephanopoulos: "Cokie, I agree with you on the question of judges and I think the White House will probably site Gerald Ford who in the impeachment of William Douglass said that there's a big difference, but that does fall apart on obstruction. It's much harder to argue that obstruction in the case of a President is not an impeachable offense."

     -- Bob Schieffer concluded Sunday's Face the Nation by revealing the House managers did not convince him:
     "Finally, last week the House prosecutors laid out the case for removing the President. They made a compelling argument. Still, their argument did not quite do it for me. As despicable as the President's behavior was, I am not yet convinced it poses a threat to the Constitution and to me that is the only reason we should even consider overturning the results of an election."

     Schieffer proceeded to recall how Lindsey Graham "reminded us" that whether Clinton is removed or not the country will survive and the constitutional system will work, leading Schieffer to conclude his remarks: "Bill Clinton set a bad example and will answer to history for it. But it is not his survival as President that matters the most. It is the survival of the Constitution."

     Then why is Schieffer so interested in his survival?


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Saturday night two ABC reporters couldn't agree whether Senators "sat in rapt attention" or were "tired" and "frustrated," only NBC highlighted an uncooperative, partisan reaction by Tom Daschle to a proposal from Trent Lott, but NBC refused to tag Daschle as "partisan," and Brian Williams demanded to know "was it fair of Henry Hyde to bring in the honor of those who gave their lives" in battle.

     -- On the January 16 World News Tonight Linda Douglass summarized the last day of the House case. At one point she relayed: "Most Senators sat in rapt attention as the managers focused for the first time on their conviction that Mr. Clinton must be removed from office."

     After Douglass finished, anchor Aaron Brown asked ABC News legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who spent the day in the Senate gallery, if any minds had been moved. Toobin answered: "Not really. I was watching the Senators and they looked like they were faithfully reflection the views of their constituents. They were tired, they were frustrated, they wanted out. Paul Wellstone has a bad back. Fritz Hollings was wearing Blues Brothers sunglasses because he doesn't like the light on his eyes. They want to get out but no one has a clear route at this point."

     -- Gwen Ifill handled the summary of the day for NBC Nightly News. Unlike ABC and CBS on Saturday night, she did mention Tom Daschle's rejection of an overture from Trent Lott:
     Ifill: "The issue of whether witnesses should be called, up to and including the President, has split Democrats from Republicans."
     Henry Hyde: "We've heard from some Senators who were against witnesses who are now leaning toward witnesses."
     Ifill: "In an exchange of letters Democratic leader Tom Daschle rejected Republican Leader Trent Lott's proposal to work together on witness issues. And lawmakers predicted rough days ahead."

     Note the lack of the word "partisan" being applied to Daschle, as it surely would if Lott had rejected a Daschle idea.

     -- Immediately after Ifill, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams interviewed Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democratic Senator Max Cleland. In a question to Cleland he suggested Hyde was out of line: "Senator Cleland, was it fair of Henry Hyde to bring in the honor of those who gave their lives in Vietnam for United States, in Normandy for the United States, and somehow tangentially tie them into this Clinton case?"


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) To MSNBC Times Square reflects the thinking of America and Henry Hyde used to be considered "as a rabid a conservative you could find" but he's become more of a "statesman" as he's now considered by many to be "almost a moderate Republican." Here are two items I caught during MSNBC's Saturday, January 16 coverage.

     -- At 1:43pm ET during the lunch break, MSNBC anchor Brian Williams announced: "We are going to fit a break in here and when we come back we're going to take up the question, once again, do Americans really care about this? What better place to ask about that than the crossroads of America, Times Square in New York."

     After the break, from Times Square Lisa Kim checked in: "We've been out here pretty much all morning and will be this afternoon. People are not really paying attention to the trial. A lot of people are telling me that they're just sick and tired of this coverage, that they want this whole deal to end very shortly."

     Kim turned to "Bill and Robin" supposedly in from Atlanta. Bill offered: "I think it's been a Republican witch hunt from the beginning..." Robin agreed.

     -- At 2:53pm ET, immediately after Hyde finished, Williams allowed that Hyde might be an okay guy now that he's considered relatively moderate:
     "You just heard a very emotional summation, a wrap-up of the arguments, by Henry Hyde, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the man who is a former Democrat, the legislator from the state of Illinois, who was once believed, before the current political climate changed in the country, to be as a rabid a conservative you could find on Capitol Hill, rapidly being referred to more and more in statesman-like terms as a, almost a moderate Republican, although his views certainly are on the right side of center."


cyberno6.gif (1129 bytes) All the networks led Friday night with multiple stories on the second day of the case presented by the House managers. ABC uniquely and strangely led by claiming Republicans delved into "the most graphic language yet heard on the Senate floor."

     Jackie Judd began her January 15 World News Tonight report:
     "Republicans got off the high road that they took yesterday, at least for a few moments. Congressman Bill McCollum delivered the most graphic language yet heard in the Senate when he said even accepting Mr. Clinton's narrow definition of sex the President still committed perjury by denying he had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky."
     Bill McCollum on the Senate floor: "But they asked him about touching certain parts of the body that are defined in the definition that you've had repeated many times public and otherwise, and two of those body parts he acknowledges, the breasts and genitalia, were in fact part of the definition."

     "Breasts" and "genitalia." Cover your eyes! How "graphic." I'm sure far more graphic language has been uttered many times by Senators in the chamber. But the true measure of Judd's over-sensitivity: neither CBS or NBC mentioned anything about Republicans getting graphic.


cyberno7.gif (1643 bytes) The American Medical Association's decision to fire the editor of its journal for running a politically timely survey on how most college students don't believe oral sex means you've had sex, was picked up by every network Friday night. Geraldo Rivera, naturally, jumped on it as proof that Monica Lewinsky's affidavit and Bill Clinton's statements were truthful.

     On ABC's World News Tonight Peter Jennings told viewers the survey "found that 60 percent agreed with Mr. Clinton that oral sex is not really sex." NBC gave the news half a story while the CBS Evening News devoted a whole piece to it. Elizabeth Kaledin explained that the 1991 poll of 599 college students determined that 59 percent did not consider oral sex to mean they had sex. Kaledin emphasized that the study author, Dr. June Reinisch, "maintains it's good science." Concluded Kaledin: "While some see the firing of Dr. [George] Lundberg [the editor] as a threat to editorial freedom, others are more concerned that it means the far-reaching implications of an impeachment trial are now touching the medical community."

     Later, CNBC's Rivera Live opened with Geraldo talking with the study author, Dr. June Reinisch, Director Emerita of the Kinsey Institute. Reinisch insisted: "These students were in vast majority moderate to conservative in their political views. We asked them, 78.5 percent said they were moderate to conservative and of those who were registered to vote, and the majority were registered to vote, the majority two-to-one were Republicans."

     An excited Rivera asked Marcia Clark, his usual Friday fill-in who was on as a guest as Rivera decided events warranted an unusual five day work week for him: "Marcia, it does have legal significance does it not, at least in so far as the encouraging, the filing of Monica Lewinsky's allegedly false affidavit, if she didn't believe they had sex then the affidavit wasn't false."

     As to the accuracy and relevance of what a bunch of college students thought eight years ago, Washington Times reporter Joyce Howard Price noted on Friday and Saturday that an October ABC News poll found 81 percent of Americans considered oral sex to constitute sexual relations.

     Indeed, a fifth of these college students have a pretty narrow definition of sex. Reinisch told Rivera that 19 percent did not believe "penile-anal intercourse" represented sex.

     Now that's graphic.  -- Brent Baker


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