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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| Thursday March 30, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 54) |

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Seconds for Clinton's "Criminal Violation"; Ruling Buried at Press Conference

1) A federal judge's finding that Bill Clinton violated the Privacy Act, in releasing Kathleen Willey's letters, generated just seconds on all networks but FNC. Capturing more time: An adjustable stadium, baseball's opening day, melting ice in Alaska, how easily mattresses burn, a finger-length test for lesbianism.

2) FNC's Brit Hume noticed "we were ten questions into this news conference when he was finally asked about the federal judge's finding" that Clinton "had committed a criminal violation." CBS's Mark Knoller asked Clinton for his advice for Tony Blair and how he would take care of a new baby in the White House.


ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NBC allocated a mere 18 to 29 seconds each Wednesday night to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth's finding that President Clinton violated the Privacy Act: "The release of the Willey letters was a criminal violation of the Privacy Act," Lamberth declared. Network by network time given to the ruling:
    -- ABC's World News Tonight: 19 seconds
    -- CBS Evening News: 29 seconds
    -- CNN's The World Today: 28 seconds
    -- MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams: 23 seconds
    -- NBC Nightly News: 18 seconds.
    -- FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume and Fox Report both delivered multiple minute stories.

    Without pointing out the irony, in reports on Elian Gonzalez, ABC, CNN and NBC/MSNBC played portions of Clinton's insistence at the press conference that the Miami relatives should follow the law. ABC viewers heard: "But I still believe in the rule of law here, we all have to, whatever the law is, whatever the decision is ultimately made, the rest of us ought to obey it." A story run NBC and MSNBC showed Clinton declaring: "They should observe the rule of law."

    Instead of examining the Willey case and what led to the judge's ruling, ABC dedicated nearly five minutes to how new investors are driving the "volatility" of the stock market and the dangers of buying on margin; CNN spent over two minutes summarizing a study which claimed the length of a woman's index finger is a good indicator of whether she is a lesbian; CBS allocated almost three minutes to melting ice in Alaska as a sign of global warming; MSNBC replayed a ten-minute Dateline story on flammable mattresses; and NBC devoted its "In Depth" segment, which consumed more than five minutes, to the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to take paternity leave followed by a look at a study on how moms and dads in the U.S. are spending more time with their kids.

    Here's a rundown of how the networks handled the Willey ruling and how much time each gave to other stories, many less than pressing. All but MSNBC led with one or more reports on the tornado damage to downtown Fort Worth, Texas. Below is a look at the March 29 evening shows on the broadcast networks and then the cable networks.

    -- ABC's World News Tonight opened with two minutes on the tornado followed by 1:55 on an MIT study on how two-thirds of the time commercial passenger plane pilots fly through storms. Jackie Judd got 1:40 to update the Elian Gonzalez case. She noted:
    "At his news conference President Clinton struggled to appear even-handed, but ultimately reminded the family of its responsibility."
    Clinton: "But I still believe in the rule of law here, we all have to, whatever the law is, whatever the decision is ultimately made, the rest of us ought to obey it."
    Judd then concluded: "Justice Department officials said tonight they considered the Mayor's comments inflammatory, not helpful during this critical period."

    Next, 1:40 on the Uganda doomsday cult deaths and 22 seconds on the Supreme Court ruling that Erie, Pennsylvania may ban fully nude dancing. Then, anchor Peter Jennings arrived at the judge's ruling, taking 19 seconds to relay:
    "A federal judge has ruled that President Clinton criminally violated the privacy of Kathleen Willey, who accused him of groping her in the Oval Office. The ruling concerns the White House's release of some friendly letters Miss Willey wrote the President. The judge said that Mr. Clinton knew he was subject to a law called the Privacy Act, but he chose to violate its provisions."

    Jennings then went to John Cochran for a barely minute-long summary of other issues Clinton commented on during his press conference. After an ad break ABC dedicated 4:55 to "A Closer Look" by John Martin at how "volatility" in the stock market is being fueled by the explosion of information now available online and on cable TV which has caused new investors to buy and sell often. For the second piece in the package Kevin Newman highlighted the dangers of buying on margin. The first ever overseas opening day for baseball, in Japan, earned a 2:35 story.

    Finally, Jennings took 38 seconds, twice the time he dedicated to the judge's finding, to showing animation of a planned stadium in Japan in which the walls and seats move to allow for crowds of from 5,000 to 40,000.

    -- CBS Evening News began with 4:15 on the tornado followed by 2:02 on Elian Gonzalez, but CBS's story didn't play a Clinton soundbite. Anchor Dan Rather then took 29 seconds to read this item:
    "President Clinton says he disagrees with a federal judge's ruling today that he, the President, violated the privacy of former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey, a misdemeanor. In a 60 Minutes interview in 1998 [video of her with Ed Bradley] Willey claimed the President made unwanted sexual advances. In an effort to refute that White House aides released friendly letters Willey wrote after the alleged incident. The President said today he'd released the letters quote, 'reluctantly' but he said it was the only way to refute the woman's accusations."

    Next, John Roberts got two minutes to review other issues raised during Clinton's press conference, mainly gas prices. Roberts stressed how despite the higher gas prices, sales of "gas-guzzling SUVs" are expected to surpass cars this year. He showed himself posing this question to Clinton at the press conference: "Have you done enough, both practically and psychologically, to promote the idea of weaning this country off of fossil fuels?" Clinton began his reply: "Well, maybe not, but I've done a lot more than the Congress has...."

    The show next gave two minutes to a piece on the Supreme Court hearing a case about prayer at school sports events, followed by 2:45 for Bob McNamara to warn of the "big ice melt" in Alaska which proves global warming. He ominously concluded: "It comes slowly, but Spring is returning to Alaska and with it the hope of many here that the Earth's warming is just a cycle of climate and not a catastrophe yet to come."

    CBS's 2:45 "American Dream" segment focused on a 72-year-old woman whose son she had given up for adoption 45 years ago, because she was not married at the time, managed to find her. Rather finished up with 40 seconds on baseball's opening day in Japan.

    -- NBC Nightly News led with 5:05 on the tornado before anchor Tom Brokaw introduced a story on Clinton's press conference:
    "At the White House today President Clinton met with the press. With less than a year to go in his term, he has a lot on his agenda, but two problems, soaring gas prices and that old sex scandal, took up much of the question and answer time."

    Bob Kur ran through Clinton's comment on OPEC oil production, how he put pressure on the oil companies to cut prices and urged the public see gas prices as a "wake up call" on buying SUVs. Kur continued, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Then he challenged Congress to move quickly on a Medicare prescription drug benefit, a patients' bill of rights, an increase in the minimum wage, and he hit Congress on stalled gun control."
    Clinton: "It appears the opponents of reform have run out of arguments, so now they're just trying to run out the clock."

    Now we get to NBC's 18 seconds on the Willey ruling, though the 18-second measurement does not include Brokaw's introductory reference to "that old sex scandal." Kur stated: "The President was forced to confront a new twist in an old legal battle. A federal judge ruling today that Mr. Clinton violated the Privacy Act by releasing letters from Kathleen Willey, who accused him of making an unwanted sexual advance in the White House."
    Clinton: "Obviously we don't agree with the ruling."

    Kur quickly moved on to Clinton reminiscing about spending time in India with daughter Chelsea.

    Brokaw soon arrived at what NBC really considered the big news of the day: "NBC News In Depth tonight, the new fatherhood and just how much time should a new dad take off from his job? This has become a very hot issue in Britain where Prime Minister Tony Blair is about to become a father again at the age of 46. Blair and his wife Cherie are a high-powered couple. They make a lot of money. As Prime Minister Blair earns $175,000 a year. His wife, a lawyer, is believed to take home three times that much. So when the baby comes, do both halves of this power couple stay home?"
    Two subsequent stories, first on the British situation and second on the trend in the U.S. where a study found despite working outside the home moms and dads are spending more time with their kids, consumed 5:25.

    Later in the program NBC got to Elian Gonzalez. In her story Andrea Mitchell observed: "The President today tried to defuse the tension."
    Clinton at his press conference: "I don't think they should be singled out. I don't think there should be any extra pressure put on them. But on the other hand, I think that who -- they should observe the rule of law."
    Instead of pointing out any contradiction with his own behavior, Mitchell zoomed ahead to her interview with the INS Commissioner: "In an exclusive interview the woman in charge of enforcing the custody decision says the burden is on the Miami relatives to obey."

    Nightly News ended with a 2:40 profile of Wenda Mallard, Executive Vice President of Double Click.

    -- MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams began with Fidel Castro's announcement, which came after the East Coast feeds of the broadcast shows, that he will send Elian's father to the U.S. The show replayed Mitchell's piece as quoted above from NBC Nightly News.

    After lengthy interviews about OPEC/gas prices and the New York Senate race, MSNBC allocated 9:50 to a replay of a piece titled, "The Burning Bed," a segment from Dateline NBC by Lea Thompson on how federal regulators have yet to ban mattresses made of polyurethane foam which easily ignites, emitting poisonous gasses. Yet, most inmates in prisons get flame retardant mattresses because local governments want to prevent prison fires.

    About 58 minutes into the show substitute anchor Forrest Sawyer finally got to Judge Lamberth's ruling, but not with an actual story. Sawyer took 23 seconds in the "Tomorrow's Headlines" segment to summarize a Washington Post story on the decision.

    -- CNN's The World Today. Following tornado news and multiple pieces on Elian, anchor Jim Moret played this soundbite from Clinton's press conference:
    "I would just hope that the law would be followed by everyone, including them. I think that there is a legal process here. I have done my best to avoid politicizing it. And I think that the appropriate authorities should -- in this case, the judges -- will make a decision. And when that is done, I think that the people on all sides should accept the rule of the court."

    A bit later John King provided an overview of the press conference in a piece similar to what ran earlier on Inside Politics. King summarized Clinton's comments on OPEC and U.S. energy policy before adding: "Then 22 questions, a chance to discuss relations with China, Russia under new President Vladimir Putin, and to offer advice to father to be Tony Blair, the British Prime Minster whose wife wants him to take time off for paternity leave."
    Clinton: "I don't want to get in the middle of that."

    King proceeded to take 28 seconds to relay how Clinton reacted to the court finding: "There were ghosts of the past as the President tried to shape his future and his legacy. Mr. Clinton took issue with a new ruling by a federal judge who says the President violated the Privacy Act when he released letters from former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey during the Monica Lewinsky investigation. Willey had accused the President of making unwanted sexual advances."
    Clinton: "It was the only way I knew to refute allegations that were made against me that were untrue. And I think they plainly did that. And I would not have done it otherwise."

    Minutes later CNN's Don Knapp highlighted the latest evidence of a biological cause for sexual preference, taking over two minutes to pass along a U.C.-Berkeley professor's theory about a link between sexual orientation and the length of a woman's index finger relative to her ring finger.

    -- FNC. The 7pm ET Fox Report gave anchor Shepard Smith and reporter Jim Angle 2:25 to report and discuss the court ruling and Clinton's reaction. The 6pm ET/9pm PT Special Report with Brit Hume led with Brian Wilson examining the Lamberth ruling. He uniquely quoted the Judge: "The President had the requisite intent for committing a criminal violation of the Privacy Act." Wilson also uniquely explained how the ruling was spurred by a Judicial Watch civil lawsuit.

    Wilson went on to discuss with Hume how a White House computer contractor revealed there is a disk containing e-mail written by Monica Lewinsky and how Congressman Dan Burton has said he will make a criminal referral to the Justice Department over statements his committee heard last week about the e-mail scandal.

    In the second half of the program Hume relayed a short item about Hillary Clinton's role in the release of Willey's letters: "The Justice Department has said in court filings that White House aide Sidney Blumenthal discussed the Willey letters with Mrs. Clinton at the time Willey made her allegations and that Mrs. Clinton agreed with Blumenthal that the letters should be released."


Judge Lamberth's finding was announced in the morning, in plenty of time for Bill Clinton's press conference which began at 2:08pm ET, but did not come up until CNN's John King posed the tenth question and he set Clinton up nicely to dismiss the judge's credibility by asking Clinton if he agreed "with the take of one of your legal advisers earlier today who called this judge, quote, 'a loose cannon'?"

    The low priority given the development by the White House press corps surprised FNC's Brit Hume, who immediately after the press conference scolded his colleagues. At 3:15pm ET he told anchor Shepard Smith:
    "I think this most extraordinary thing about this news conference, Shep, and it was one of the more extraordinary ones I've ever seen, were the questions. We were ten questions into this news conference when he was finally asked about the federal judge's finding today in Washington that the President had committed a criminal violation of the Privacy Act. It is not every day that a judge makes such a finding, and it, we talked, we heard all about the President's views on Elian Gonzalez, certainly that's in the news. We had questions on the Middle East. We had the President's opinion solicited in the second question in the news conference about police shootings in New York. And then it was ten questions in before we got around to this extraordinary thing that happened today with the federal judge making this finding. Now the President said he didn't agree with it, which is what one would expect him to say, and obviously there's more on this chapter to play out. But quite a remarkable performance by those asking the questions it seemed to me."

    On target analysis, but Hume, who is Washington Managing Editor for Fox News, did not point out that one of his staffers had a chance before CNN's King to ask about the Willey ruling. The eighth question went to Jim Angle who used his time to pose the second question of the press conference on the Gonzalez situation.

    Part of the reason for the delay in getting to the ruling may have been that Clinton initially called upon less-known reporters with particular interests and avoided the network stars, but even when he did go to the big name correspondents they asked about other matters and failed to follow up on CNN reporter John King's inquiry about the Lamberth decision. CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, for instance, queried Clinton about "any thoughts or advice for your friend" Tony Blair about taking paternity leave and "what would you do in that situation?"

    Here's a rundown in numbered sequence of the questions posed at the March 29 press conference shown live by CNN, FNC and MSNBC, along with some of Clinton's most noteworthy replies:

    -- Q1) Helen Thomas on Assad and Middle East peace.
    -- Q2) Sonya Ross, AP: "Mr. President, three unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police in New York City in the past 13 months. Do you believe that the New York Police Department has a racial problem? And does that department require Justice Department oversight?"
    -- Q3) Randall Mikkelsen, Reuters: Is it wise to get as close to Russia's Putin as you had to Yeltsin?

    -- Q4) Ellen Ratner, Talk Radio News: "The Internet commission is meeting on electronic commerce, and they are giving some proposals. What are your thoughts about what proposals you think they should come out with? And also, what about the states as electronic commerce becomes more and more available on the net and may take revenue from the states?"
    -- Q5) Bob Deans, Cox Newspapers: "Mr. President, are you prepared to deploy American advisers, monitors or troops on the Golan Heights to secure an Israeli-Syrian peace accord?"

    -- Q6) John Cochran, ABC News: "A possible confrontation is looming between the relatives and Elian Gonzalez and federal authorities. As a last resort, would you permit federal authorities or some kind of federal agents to go in there to forcibly take the boy, so that he could be sent back to Cuba?"
    This question prompted Clinton's first comments about respect for the law: "I would just hope that the law would be followed by everyone, including them. I think that there is a legal process here. I have done my best to avoid politicizing it. And I think that the appropriate authorities should -- in this case, the judges -- will make a decision. And when that is done, I think that the people on all sides should accept the rule of the court."
    Pressed by Cochran about sending in the U.S. Marshals, Clinton added: "Well, that -- it's no more an option there than it is for anyone else who doesn't -- who says, I don't like the way the courts decide. I don't think they should be singled out. I don't think there should be any extra pressure put on them. But on the other hand, I think that who -- they should observe the rule of law, just like if they prevail in court, the others should accept it. I have done my best not to overly politicize this. And I don't think we should. There is a legal process here, we ought to let it play out."

    -- Q7) Unidentified male reporter: Getting nominees for the Federal Reserve Board confirmed.
    -- Q8) Jim Angle, Fox News: "Mr. President, the mayor of Miami, back on the Elian Gonzalez case, the mayor of Miami said today that he would withhold any assistance from the city, including police, if federal authorities decide to return Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, and that if there were any violence in the streets he would hold you and Attorney General Reno personally responsible for that. That seems to sound like an invitation for the community to block federal authorities and an assurance to them that the Miami police will stand aside."
    Clinton urged the law be obeyed: "Well, I like the mayor very much, but I still believe in the rule of law here. We all have to, whatever the law is, whatever the decision is ultimately made, the rest of us ought to obey it."

    -- Q9) Bill Plante, CBS News: "Mr. President, Charlton Heston is on the college speaking circuit. And he said last night: It amazes me that the president is so stubborn when it comes to guns. And he notes that there are already 22,000 gun laws on the books, by his count, which he says that the administration does not enforce. Could you do more to enforce existing gun laws? And how do you feel about the attack that the NRA has mounted on you and your administration?"

    -- Q10) John King, CNN: "Mr. President, a federal judge, with whom you have disagreed in the past, today said it was his opinion that you had committed a criminal violation of the Privacy Act by releasing those Kathleen Willey letters during the independent counsel investigation. What do you think of that ruling? And do you agree with the take of one of your legal advisers earlier today who called this judge, quote, 'a loose cannon?'"
    Clinton: "Well, he does seem to have somehow acquired a significant percentage of the cases involving the White House. That's an interesting story. But anyway, you know, obviously, we don't agree with the ruling. And I can say that when the decision was made to release those letters, I didn't even have any conversations with anybody about the Privacy Act. I never thought about it, never thought about whether it applied or not. And decided to do it reluctantly only because it was the only way I knew to refute allegations that were made against me that were untrue. And I think they plainly did that. And I would not have done it otherwise...."

    -- Q11) Larry McQuillan, USA Today: Sign a gas tax cut?
    -- Q12) Mark Knoller, CBS News: "Mr. President, I wonder if you've got any thoughts or advice for your friend, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the dilemma that he faces on whether he should take parental leave, as his wife has suggested, when their next child is born? And if you don't want to share your advice with us, what would you do in that situation?"
    -- Q13) Mara Liasson, NPR: Gore's opposition to Clinton's trade stance with China.
    -- Q14) Susan Feeney, Dallas Morning News: "Sir, could you comment on the Vice President's plan for a $7 billion democracy endowment to pay for congressional and perhaps presidential campaigns?"
    -- Q15) John Harris, The Washington Post: Still think Chinese President Jiang's leadership deserves the "praise you gave it" two years ago?

    -- Q16) Mark Smith, AP Radio: "Mr. President, I'd like to return to campaign finance reform, if I could. Vice President Gore, in announcing his proposal, called himself an 'imperfect messenger' on that subject. Isn't that acknowledge, sir, of something you and he have long denied, that there was an attempt to bend, if not break, the spirit, if not the letter, of campaign finance laws during your reelection campaign."
    Clinton bizarrely maintained: "....look at the difference in the way we reacted in 1996 and the way the other party reacted to allegations of illegal foreign money, for example. What did we do? We spent $4 million, that we had to go out and raise, to put all these records on computer disks, to give it all to the Justice Department to make sure that everything is there. There was no slow-walking, no stonewalling, no nothing.
    "I was outraged when I found out that the system for checking the backgrounds of contributors and things like that had been dismantled without my knowledge or approval....I was as appalled as the next person when I found out that we had taken funds -- that people had given us money that wasn't legal....And so I think what he meant is that he had been involved in one incident which he felt was unfortunate, and we raised soft money, and we'd done it aggressively, because we don't believe in unilateral disarmament...."

    -- Q17) George Condon, Copley News Service: Could you ever support Taiwanese independence?
    -- Q18) Thomas Hargrove, Scripps-Howard: "Although not unprecedented in history, it's unusual for a President's child to have such an important limelight as Chelsea had during your state visit to the Asian subcontinent. With the First Lady fully engaged in New York, will we be seeing more of Chelsea? Did she express an interest to make more state visits with you, sir? How do you think she did?"
    -- Q19) unidentified male reporter: "Mr. President, it was reported today that the White House had a computer disk with Monica Lewinsky's e-mails. Sir, what do you think about the notion that it wasn't turned over sooner? And how would you assess your administration's overall handling of e-mail problems at the White House?"
    -- Q20) Francine Keiffer, Christian Science Monitor: Violence glorified in movies still?
    -- Q21) Bob Kur, NBC News: More danger for U.S. troops in Kosovo?
    -- Q22) John Roberts, CBS News: "Mr. President, tomorrow on the Hill, Republicans will accuse you of a failed energy policy when we look at America's continued dependence on foreign oil. Even a member of the Democratic Senate says that not enough has been done, that we have grown complacent. And when you look at the popularity of sport utility vehicles in this country, sir, have you done enough, both practically and psychologically, to promote the idea of weaning this country off of fossil fuels?"

    ++ Get a flavor of the press corps' interests. Late Thursday morning MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post a RealPlayer clip of CBS News reporter Mark Knoller asking advice for Blair and Clinton's response about how "I envy him very much" and "I wouldn't have the same burdens if we were having a baby. I could spend a lot of time with the baby and still work." Go to: http://www.mrc.org

    Knoller is primarily a radio reporter who appears on TV usually only on the Saturday Early Show, so if you recognize his name and can place his voice here's a chance to see what he looks like. -- Brent Baker


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