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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday February 13, 2001 (Vol. Six; No. 25)

Printer Friendly Version

Clinton Cocaine Clemency Clipped; Hillary Furniture Excuse Skipped; Morning Hawks; Reagan "a Failure" on the Economy

1) CBS and NBC led Monday night and ABC aired a story on developments on the Rich probe front as well as Bill Clinton's decision, as Tom Brokaw put it, to move "up town. Way up town. To the heart of Harlem." Only NBC mentioned Hillary's comments on how government furniture ended up in her house.

2) Clinton's decision to commute the sentence of a cocaine trafficker "has sparked disbelief and outrage from nearly everyone involved in his case," the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. So far, not a word about it on CBS or NBC.

3) The Chairman of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter apologized late last week for paying Bill Clinton $100,000 to speak at a company conference, but his mea culpa has generated only scattered network coverage.

4) President Bush's decision to hold off on a major increase in Defense spending until after a review of strategy turned ABC's Charles Gibson and CBS's Bryant Gumbel into hawks as both demanded Condoleeza Rice explain Bush's "broken campaign promise."

5) "On the economy," Time's Margaret Carlson insisted, Reagan "was a failure." Al Hunt: "We spent 12 years trying to undo the effects of the '81 tax act." But otherwise, "he did wonderful things, nonetheless, and we remember him fondly on his 90th birthday."

6) Letterman's "Top Ten Least Popular News Anchor Sign-Off Lines."



Now that he's out of office, the networks have latched onto a non-Monica Lewinsky scandal involving Bill Clinton. Both CBS and NBC led Monday night with the latest developments related to his office space and congressional investigators moving to give immunity to Denise Rich. Only NBC's Lisa Myers, however, picked up on how Hillary Clinton commented publicly on why furniture which belonged to the government ended up in the Clinton house in Chappaqua.

    ABC's World News Tonight, which led with how NASA successfully landed a probe on an asteroid, ran a piece by Jackie Judd who concentrated on how Bill Clinton has decided to put his office in a cheaper building in Harlem. She also briefly noted how Attorney General John Ashcroft seemed favorable toward granting immunity to Denise Rich and that the House Government Reform Committee will subpoena Clinton library donor records.

    Dan Rather opened the February 12 CBS Evening News: "Former President Bill Clinton is under fire on several fronts tonight. Congress is stepping up its investigation of his pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. At issue is whether the pardon was bought. A House committee will issue subpoenas tomorrow for financial records from Rich's former wife Denise and from the Clinton presidential library. The Chairman of a Senate panel raised the possibility, as he sees it, of a second Clinton impeachment. And tonight, after a public outcry, the former President reportedly is scrapping plans to rent premium office space in mid-town Manhattan and is now considering some less expensive space."

    At the top of the NBC Nightly News Tom Brokaw announced: "Bill Clinton, who's been under steady attack for the high rent at the mid-town Manhattan high rise he wanted for office space is moving. Moving up town. Way up town. To the heart of Harlem, New York's historic black neighborhood. And the President's decision to move here, to this building, is expected to boost an area that's been undergoing an economic revival. Clinton's change of plans came as congressional critics were threatening hearings on the financial arrangements for the original office space."

    Unlike ABC and CBS, in the subsequent, after running through the latest on the Rich probe, report NBC's Lisa Myers brought up a development on the furniture front: "In more damage control today, Senator Hillary Clinton blames a bookkeeping error for the fact that 16 pieces of White House furniture, all government property, were sent to the Clinton's New York home, then had to be returned."
    Senator Hillary Clinton: "We thought we were doing the right thing, they thought they were doing the right thing and apparently there were some cataloging errors made seven or eight years ago. They're sorting those out and, you know, it's all going to be all, you know, worked out."

    Yes, now that she's been caught. All very innocent. We all make mistakes.


While the broadcast networks have focused on the Marc Rich pardon, CBS and NBC have avoided that on the same day Clinton gave clemency to cocaine trafficker Carlos Vignali, a move which the Los Angeles Times put on its front page on Sunday.

    ABC's World News Tonight on Sunday picked up on outrage over the decision to release Vignali before the halfway mark in his sentence, but not a word about it aired Sunday night on NBC nor on ABC, CBS or NBC Monday morning or evening. CNN didn't touch it Sunday night on CNN Tonight. (Golf bumped the Sunday CBS Evening News in the eastern and central time zones.) A full story about the clemency, and how Vignali's father contributed $160,000 to Democratic politicians in California, aired Monday night on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume.

    On Sunday's World News Tonight ABC's Josh Gerstein related how "prosecutors opposed Vignali's release and so does U.S. District Court Judge David Doty who tried and sentenced the man. A surprised Doty told ABC News, Vignali 'was a central player' in the drug ring and he 'did nothing positive' before or during his jail term."

    "Drug Kingpin's Release Adds to Clemency Uproar," declared the February 11 headline over the front page story in the Los Angeles Times. The subhead: "An outcry ensued when Clinton honored the longshot request of a cocaine dealer. His father's political donations increased sharply after the 1994 conviction."

    An excerpt of the story by Washington bureau reporters Richard A. Serrano and Stephen Braun:

In the waning days of his presidency, Bill Clinton promised to use his clemency powers to help low-level drug offenders languishing in prison. When Carlos Vignali walked out of prison on Jan. 20 and returned home to his family in Los Angeles, he appeared to fit the broad outlines of that profile.

But the 30-year-old Vignali, who had served six years of a 15-year sentence for federal narcotics violations, fit another profile entirely. No small-time offender, he was the central player in a cocaine ring that stretched from California to Minnesota.

Far from disadvantaged, he owned a $240,000 condominium in Encino and made his way as the son of affluent Los Angeles entrepreneur Horacio Vignali. The doting father became a large-scale political donor in the years after his son's arrest, donating more than $160,000 to state and federal officeholders -- including Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis -- as he pressed for his son's freedom.

The grateful father called the sudden commutation of his son's sentence by Clinton "a Hail Mary and a miracle." The improbability that such a criminal would be granted presidential clemency, as well as the younger Vignali's claim that he alone steered a pardon application that caught the president's attention and won his approval, has sparked disbelief and outrage from nearly everyone involved in his case.

"It's not plausible; it makes no sense at all," said Margaret Love, the pardon attorney who oversaw all Justice Department reviews of presidential clemency applications from 1990 to 1997. "Somebody had to help him. There is no way that case could have possibly succeeded in the Department of Justice."...

As criminal justice authorities in Minnesota learned of Vignali's sudden freedom, they reacted with the same indignation that has greeted several other beneficiaries of the 140 pardons and 36 commutations Clinton granted in his last hours as President.

The Vignali case also illustrates the secrecy that enshrouds the clemency process. A federal prosecutor who had urged Justice Department superiors to reject clemency for Vignali demanded an official explanation -- only to be denied information from his own department. The judge who sentenced Vignali is openly aghast at the decision, which was made without his knowledge. And they all -- from defense attorneys to street detectives to former pardon attorney Love -- scoffed that Vignali could have walked free without the intervention of politically connected helpers.

Key details of the case remain a mystery. Did political officials and other authoritative figures appeal for Vignali's freedom to the President or high-ranking Justice Department officials? What action, if any, did the Justice Department recommend to the White House?

Vignali could not be reached for comment. But his father strongly denied that he or anyone else in the family asked politicians to press their case with Clinton. "I didn't write him a letter, I didn't do anything," Horacio Vignali said. "But I thank God, and I thank the President every day."

For now, the Vignali case is a curious tale of how an inmate buried deep in the federal penal system won presidential help while others in more desperate straits remained behind.

"Go figure," said an exasperated Craig Cascarano, the lawyer for one of Vignali's 30 co-defendants, many of them poor and black. "How is it that Carlos Vignali is out eating a nice dinner while my client is still in prison eating bologna sandwiches?"

    END Excerpt

    To read the entire story, go to:


Driven by numerous complaints from clients, the Chairman of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter apologized late last week for paying Bill Clinton $100,000 to speak at a company conference in Florida on February 5. But his mea culpa has generated only scattered network coverage.

    On Sunday morning Tim Russert raised it on Meet the Press and the comments were noted on Fox News Sunday. Charles Gibson brought it up this morning on Good Morning America.

    Of the broadcast network evening shows, CBS has yet to touch it. ABC's Josh Gerstein included it in a larger story on ABC's World News Tonight/Sunday as he relayed how the invitation to Clinton "prompted some Clinton critics to cut their ties with the firm." Gerstein quoted from an e-mail sent by company Chairman Morgan Purcell, who called the invitation "a mistake" as the company "should have thought twice...in light of Mr. Clinton's actions in leaving the White House."

    Monday night on the NBC Nightly News, in her story recited in #1 above, Lisa Myers raised the Morgan Stanley CEO's e-mail and recited this excerpt: "I fully understand why you are upset...We clearly made a mistake."


Media hawks? President George Bush's decision to hold off on a major increase in Defense Department spending until after a review of strategy, though he's going ahead with pay increases and improving housing, turned ABC's Charles Gibson and CBS's Bryant Gumbel into hawks Monday morning as both demanded NSC adviser Condoleeza Rice explain Bush's "broken campaign promise."

    Both interviews began with questions about the submarine accident off Hawaii. Good Morning America co-host Gibson then switched to Bush's military proposals, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson observed: "Let me turn to the President's emphasis on the military this week. During the campaign he said he would end eight years of neglect -- those were his words -- in the military, and he talked about eroded military equipment and morale. Now he says he won't increase defense spending at least for a year. Is that a broken campaign promise?"

    Gibson followed up: "If the problem was so apparent to him in the campaign, so obvious and so immediate, why do you need to study to review all of it?"

    He pressed again: "So when Dick Cheney said, 'Help is on the way,' during the campaign, the next phrase was, 'Help on the way, but maybe it won't be for a year or two'?"

    Gibson argued: "Well, the Clinton budget had already included a 3.9 percent pay raise for the military. This pay raise that President Bush is now suggesting only bumps that up to 4.6 percent. There are members of Congress who say there are immediate needs, $30, $40 billion, maybe even more, for materiel. That's on hold?"

    Bryant Gumbel was less argumentative on The Early Show, MRC analyst Brian Boyd noted. Gumbel asked Rice: "Let's turn our attention to the President's initiatives this week. He's turning his attention to the military and focusing attention there, to your mind what does he want to accomplish, what are the priorities this week?"

    He followed up: "Let's talk about some of those developments, first of all the pay raise. As a candidate George Bush criticized the Clinton administration for supposedly allowing the military to be weakened by defense cuts, lack of investment, but now as President with the exception of that pay raise he's not looking at increasing spending for defense, why not?"


Ronald Reagan doesn't deserve too much credit for ending the Cold War and his economic policies were a failure, two media liberals contended on CNN's Capital Gang, but Al Hunt and Margaret Carlson grudgingly conceded his "steadfastness" and "optimism" left a positive legacy.

    On Saturday's Capital Gang, in a segment prompted by Ronald Reagan's 90th birthday, Wall Street Journal Executive Washington Editor Al Hunt countered positive comments from conservative panelists Kate O'Beirne and Bob Novak:
    "I think he does deserve some credit for ending the Cold War, but so does Harry Truman and George Marshall and Dean Atcheson, the architects of containment back 50-some years ago. And I would certainly disagree with them on the economic claims. We spent 12 years trying to undo the effects of the '81 tax act....But I also think there is an extraordinary legacy. I really do. I'll tell you what I think it is. I think Ronald Reagan came in office at time when people were saying our system doesn't work. You can't govern in America. There's no confidence. We were really -- it was with the hostages. It was a feeling -- there was malaise or whatever. And Ronald Reagan, with his courage of his convictions, his steadfastness, his incredible optimism, proved they were wrong, proved the system worked and I think that was an extraordinary legacy."

    Margaret Carlson of Time magazine conceded Reagan's optimism was effective, but she denounced his policies: "Reagan does show what a sunny, optimistic nature can do for you and what communicating does for a President. It's more important than almost anything else when you think about it. On the economy, he was a failure and didn't do what he said he would do. I mean, government spending didn't go down. The government work force didn't go down. And deficits went way, way up. And the tax cuts were only on marginal rates on the rich. But he did wonderful things, nonetheless and we remember him fondly on his 90th birthday."

    During his presidency reporters denigrated his policies and his demeanor, complaining that his communication skills fooled people into supporting his awful policies. Now they only denounce his policies. Maybe on his 100th birthday they'll come around on his policies, but that's probably too much to expect.


From the February 9 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Least Popular News Anchor Sign-Off Lines." Copyright 2001 by Worldwide Pants, Inc. These were all presented in taped segments read by anchors at CBS affiliates.

10. "For Kelly Bostic, this is Joe Dawes wishing you a miserably unfulfilling evening" -- Joe Dawes and Kelly Rostic from KOLR in Springfield, MO
9. "Thanks for watching and peace out, homeys" -- Jerry Anderson from WTOL in Toledo, OH
8. "Let's take a few moments to notice just how handsome I am" -- Tim Cable from WJHL in Johnson City, TN
7. "That ought to hold you little bastards" -- Amy Turledge from KDLH in Duluth, MN
6. "Good night from all of us. And a special good night to all of our viewers who are doing it right now" -- John Mercer and Wendy Wyness from KTVN in Reno, NV
5. "I'm Mike Stafford, and I make a boatload more money than you" -- Mike Stafford from KSWT in Yuma, AZ
4. "If I had a pet monkey, I'd name him after you" -- Matt Mulcahy and Maureen Green from WTVH in Syracuse, NY
3. "Good night from all of us. David Letterman is next, so for God's sake change the channel now" -- Jade Moon from KGMB in Honolulu, HI
2. "Thank God we're at the end -- I've got to take a wicked leak" -- Matt Schmidt and Angie Quigley from KHQA in Quincy, IL
1. "By the way, honey, if you're watching tonight, I'm sleeping with your sister" -- Don Shriver from WSEE in Erie, PA

    Tonight on the Late Show: "Stupid Pet Tricks."  -- Brent Baker

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