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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday February 9, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 24)
More Trial Would "Terrify People"; Hitchens: "A Male Linda Tripp"

1) Cokie Roberts admitted she was perplexed by GOP opposition to censure, declaring continued debate "depressing." NBC avoided any clips of the House managers while NBC's Lisa Myers looked at how the trial has hurt Republican support, even in Hyde's district.

2) CNN relayed White House blame shifting. Chris Black highlighted the charge that Christopher Hitchens is "a male Linda Tripp" as she zeroed in on how Hitchens violated journalist ethics.

3) In Monday afternoon coverage Peter Jennings worried that the idea the Senate trial may continue could "terrify people" and Jeffrey Toobin assured viewers "this national nightmare is over."

4) 60 Minutes contended that in defending General Motors Ken Starr had "a much different view of perjury and obstructing justice."

5) Since some confused "niggardly" for a racial slur, ABC's Aaron Brown offered a solution: "throw it out of the language."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) "It wasn't so much the defense on the defensive today, it was just the defense and the prosecution over again," a bored Peter Jennings sighed in opening the Monday World News Tonight after both sides finished their closing arguments. Cokie Roberts soon admitted she was perplexed as to why Republicans would oppose censure, declaring it would be "depressing" if Senators were still debating the idea in March.

     ABC and CBS led with King Hussein's funeral while NBC, CNN and FNC went first with the Senate trial. Contrasting Clinton's trip to Jordan as his trial continued, Tom Brokaw contended: "Once again the two worlds of this President could not be more distinctive or disconnected." All but NBC showed clips from both managers and White House counsel Charles Ruff. NBC's Gwen Ifill played only a soundbite from Ruff. Only CNN's Bob Franken picked up on complaints from managers that Senators were not paying attention and NBC's Lisa Myers looked at how the trial has hurt Republicans, featuring two women in Henry Hyde's district who castigated him.

     Here are some highlights from the Monday, February 8 evening shows:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight began with highlights from both sides from Linda Douglass. Then anchor Peter Jennings talked to Cokie Roberts who expressed bafflement over why Republicans would not support censure: "I don't understand how the Republicans are going to explain the politics of this if the Democrats come back and say let's censure him and some Republicans, as Senator Phil Gramm is saying 'no, let's filibuster that. Censure is not good enough.' How they explain that at home I don't know but the fact that we might still be going through it in March is pretty depressing."

     Conservatives are on both sides of censure, but those opposed might argue that there is no sense politically in giving Democrats cover to condemn Clinton when they refused to follow the rule of law and vote to remove him if they really think he did the things listed in the various censure proposals.

     Next, Jennings reported: "Law enforcement sources tell ABC News today that the Justice Department has informed independent counsel Ken Starr it is going to start investigating his office. One thing to be investigated are complaints about the night that Monica Lewinsky was detained by Mr. Starr's prosecutors."

     "Night"? How about an afternoon she spent window shopping in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, including time browsing in Crate&Barrel.

     (On Monday's Upfront Tonight Geraldo Rivera told viewers the Justice Department would look at "whether his henchmen denied Monica access to her lawyers.")

     -- CBS Evening News. Bob Schieffer reviewed the floor action and explained how Henry Hyde asked for witnesses to explore the possible perjury of Sidney Blumenthal before Dan Rather highlighted a CBS News poll which found the public as confused as Senator Byrd: 55 percent think Clinton is guilty of the impeachment articles but should not be removed from office.

     -- CNN produced a 10pm ET Trial of the President special, but at 10pm PT re-ran Sunday's NewsStand: CNN & Time. On the 8pm ET The World Today reporter Charles Bierbauer provided an overview of the arguments made by both sides. Bob Franken told anchor Jim Moret that the managers are frustrated, explaining:
     "The House managers, in fact, were quite candid about the fact that they believe the deck was stacked against them and that in one case they even complained the Senators weren't being fair, talking under their breath while the trial was going on."

     Next, Wolf Blitzer checked in from a very confident White House.

     -- FNC's Fox Report. Rita Cosby handled the review of the Senate floor presentations, Carl Cameron looked at how the managers want to call witnesses to probe the Blumenthal/Hitchens conflict and Jim Angle updated viewers on the status of censure talks.

     -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw opened by linking the two big events of the day:
     "Good evening. Bill Clinton, the President, leading a delegation of former President's to the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein. And Bill Clinton, the defendant, the closing arguments today in the Senate trial. Once again the two worlds of this President could not be more distinctive or disconnected..."

     Gwen Ifill played a clip of Ruff but not of any Republican managers on the floor before noting their interest in further probing Blumenthal and reciting some of the proposed censure language.

     Lisa Myers then examined the political damage to Republicans caused by the impeachment process, beginning with the backlash in Pasadena against James Rogan. (She did play a clip from the floor of Rogan.) Noting that pollsters presented a "gloomy picture" to House Republicans at retreat over the weekend, Myers illustrated: "The erosion can be found even in overwhelmingly Republican districts, like Henry Hyde's outside Chicago."
     Woman: "The impeachment hearings have changed my opinion of Henry Hyde and I certainly don't approve of his actions and I don't think I'd vote for him again."
     Another woman: "It's as if he's heading kind of a Republican vendetta against Clinton."
     Myers allowed Hyde to hope public opinion will change and explained that the GOP has been advised to unite behind an agenda and stop their infighting. She concluded:
     "A highly successful Republican strategist complains that his party has allowed its dislike of Bill Clinton to overcome its political judgment. But he predicts only a few Republicans in close races will pay the price. Voters have short memories, he says, or so Republicans hope."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Christopher Hitchens, another Linda Tripp? Three Blumenthal items: Eleanor Clift dismissed his contradiction with Hitchens as a "sideshow," Geraldo joked that maybe he and Starr will soon share a jail cell and CNN reporter Chris Black highlighted how Blumenthal's lawyer disparaged Hitchens as "a male Linda Tripp" as Black zeroed in on how Hitchens has supposedly violated journalist ethics by telling on Blumenthal.

     -- Eleanor Clift on the February 8 Fox Report: "I think the Sidney Blumenthal story is a sideshow to a sideshow to a sideshow. It doesn't change any minds and I agree with the heckler in the gallery last week who said, 'God almighty, take the vote and get it over with.'"

     -- Geraldo Rivera on CNBC's Upfront Tonight: "Ken Starr's in his own hot water now. He's been notified by the Justice Department that they're investigating his handling of Monica Lewinsky among other things so maybe he and Sid Blumenthal will share a holding pen in the DC jail."

     -- Former Boston Globe reporter Chris Black, now CNN's #3 at the White House behind Wolf Blitzer and John King, provided a full story on Blumenthal for Monday's The World Today. (CNN earlier showcased Hitchens, interviewing him live from 6:40pm when the Senate adjourned to almost the top of the hour.)

     Black began by explaining how Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair filed an affidavit contradicting Sidney Blumenthal's insistence that he never passed on Clinton's description of Lewinsky as a "stalker." After a soundbite from Hitchens Black explained that Blumenthal's defenders claim he only said he never attributed the "stalker" assessment to Clinton, an assertion Hitchens corroborated.

     Black continued: "Blumenthal's lawyer, William McDaniel, calls the perjury charge ludicrous and says that Hitchens has become a male Linda Tripp, betraying his friend. Hitchens' allegation has also raised ethical questions in journalism circles."
     Floyd Abrams, identified as a "First Amendment attorney," intoned: "There's a general understanding when people have lunch together, who are friends, almost Linda Tripp-like with Monica, that they're not about to go and tell other people, at least in the form of a legal affidavit or something."
     Black: "Justice Department officials say they have not received any formal request for an investigation but officials are reviewing news accounts to determine whether any inquiry is warranted. The Blumenthal flap is not expected to delay the end of the impeachment trial. But a friendship has ended even though Hitchens told CNN that he would risk jail rather than testify against his friend."

     Remember what Abrams was doing last June and July before Black signed aboard CNN? He was the lawyer CNN hired to investigate and write a report on the Tailwind story.


jennings0209.jpg (12200 bytes)cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Of the broadcast networks, only ABC offered any live coverage Monday afternoon. ABC came on at 1pm ET and showed about 20 minutes of Republicans Sensenbrenner and Cannon. After some soap opera time, ABC News returned to the air at 2:35pm ET and showed Charles Ruff until just before 3pm ET.

     A conservatively-biased network news team would have opened coverage by pointing out how a short-circuited trial, in which the House managers were "denied a chance" to put on their case, was about to come to an end. An analyst would ruminate about the embarrassing legacy the Senators would have to defend when people in the future ask why they were afraid of exposing all the evidence.

     But in the real world ABC opened the 1pm ET news special with Peter Jennings worrying that the idea the Senate trial may continue could "terrify people," legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin assuring viewers "this national nightmare is over" and Jennings highlighting a poll showing 81 percent of the people are "sick" of the trial.

     A couple of minutes past 1pm, before the managers began their presentations, ABC viewers heard this exchange:
     Jeffrey Toobin: "I don't think there are going to be any surprises, any new information. But the interesting point to keep in mind is that this may not be the final chapter. Kenneth Starr is still investigating. He is weighing whether to indict President Clinton on these facts so it is worth keeping in mind whether an actual jury, not a Senate jury, may yet hear the same evidence."
     Peter Jennings: "But just so that you don't terrify people altogether Jeffrey, this is going to be the last of the Senate impeachment trial this week as far as we know."
     Toobin: "That's right. This national nightmare is over. We'll see if there's another one."
     Peter Jennings: "The latest ABC News poll will come as absolutely no surprise to anybody. We find that 81 percent of the people in the country are sick of it altogether, reflected a little bit perhaps in that man who stood up in the public gallery of Senate the other day and said 'oh for God's sake,' you know, 'vote for it and get it over with.' And we've perhaps all become a little too cynical about something that is of enormous magnitude. 18 percent of the people in the country are still interested in it..."

     Indeed, Jennings cynically opened the February 4 World News Tonight by claiming the heckler reflected "the voice of the people."

     (A RealPlayer clip of this exchange will be posted on the MRC home page Tuesday morning: http://www.mrc.org)


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Ken Starr just as guilty as Bill Clinton. Charles Ruff defended Exxon in the Valdez oil spill clean up case and he has worked for tobacco companies, two ogres for liberals. But working for GM is even worse in the eyes of 60 Minutes, at least if you're Ken Starr. Sunday night, February 7, the CBS show made Starr its hook for a piece on trial lawyers going after GM for its supposedly explosion-vulnerable gas tanks. Correspondent Steve Kroft asserted that Starr, just like Clinton, obstructed justice and suborned perjury.

     The background: Lawyer Kendall Few uncovered a memo written by GM engineer Edward Ivey that Few claims went to Ivey's superiors. The memo calculated the costs of repairing the problem versus litigation costs for expected lawsuits. GM failed to produce the document for trials and Ivey claimed he didn't recall it and never circulated it, assertions Few considers false. Or something like that, the case is complicated. Anyway, after the requisite emotional recollections of parents who lost a son to a fire in a GM car, Kroft got to Starr's complicity in this segment transcribed by MRC analyst Brian Boyd:
     Kroft: "And Few says one of the GM attorneys who helped conceal the alleged perjury was none other than independent counsel and former General Motors lawyer Kenneth Starr who argued successfully before the United States Court of Appeals that the conversations between Ed Ivey and GM lawyers were protected by the attorney-client privilege and should remain secret. Few says Starr, a former federal judge, knew that the documents he was arguing to keep out of evidence showed that Edward Ivey had lied numerous times under oath and that Starr had an ethical and a legal obligation to inform the court."

     Few asserted: "I wrote him four letters, I asked him to please take the document in his hand, look at it and tell me whether or not Mr. Ivey's complete and total amnesia, had been acquired before or after that interview. I told him some judge some day, is going to read this and I invite you and General Motors to come clean about it now."
     Kroft expanded on the attack on Starr, claiming hypocrisy: "Few said it's obvious Starr has a much different view of perjury and obstructing justice while defending General Motors, than he does while prosecuting the President. Last March, Kendall Few asked the United States Attorney for the district of South Carolina to convene a federal grand jury to investigate Kenneth Starr's actions on behalf of General Motors. The Justice Department concluded that there was insufficient evidence for a criminal investigation, and referred the case to its Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates alleged ethical violations by federal officials."

     60 Minutes arrived on the story 11 months after CNN. As detailed in the March 9, 1998 CyberAlert, on the March 4 The World Today CNN's Ed Garsten asserted: "In 1994, Kenneth Starr and his law firm, Kirkland and Ellis, represented General Motors in a suit brought by victims of a fuel tank fire. Now, a South Carolina lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in another case against GM, charges Starr knew one of the key witnesses perjured himself and helped hide the documents that could prove it. Now, he's asked for a Justice Department investigation...."


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) Catching up on an old item, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson caught an incredible question from Good Morning America/Sunday co-host Aaron Brown about the controversy over the District of Columbia employee who used the word "niggardly," which means stingy. He's since been re-hired by the new Mayor for another position, but had resigned amidst the anger generated by people who didn't know what the word meant, assumed the worst and avoided learning the truth so took it as a racial insult.

     Interviewing Alvin Poussaint of the Harvard Medical School on January 31, Brown suggested: "Should we just, are we at the point where the solution here, like it or not, is we should just take the word and throw it out of the language because it's just going to cause too much trouble?"

     While we're at it let's dump any word dumb people might confuse for a vulgarity or slur, such as duck, puck, muck, hit, mike, bike, donkey and shell, to name a few.

     One term that will soon be "thrown out," at least out of your television listings: "Good Morning America/Sunday." ABC has canceled the low-rated show as of February 28. -- Brent Baker


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