Buried New Indictments, Babbitt Independent Counsel Probe
The Monica Story’s First Casualty
As the nightly network news shows focus on the Monica
Lewinsky story — or rather, the debate over whether Ken Starr is "out of
bounds or just tone deaf?" (as Tom Brokaw asked on February 16) — the
fundraising scandal has almost vanished.
The Justice Department’s task force achieved its first
two indictments and Attorney General Janet Reno named another
independent counsel for a cabinet official, but the networks aired
On January 28, a grand jury indicted Charlie Trie and
his associate, Antonio Pan, for funneling hundreds of thousands of
dollars in illegal foreign contributions into the Democratic National
Committee. That night, it drew 28 seconds from Peter Jennings on ABC,
and nothing on CBS or NBC. The next night, CBS gave it less than a
minute, and NBC aired 24 seconds. Of the three morning shows, only ABC’s
Good Morning America aired a brief item read by the anchor.
Bob Schieffer observed on the CBS Evening News:
"At the least, this is embarrassing for the President in that Trie was
one of his biggest fundraisers and their friendship goes back to when
then Governor Clinton ate in Trie’s Little Rock restaurant." Of course,
it’s not so embarrassing when it gets just seconds on the networks.
Trie surrendered on February 3 to federal authorities
after arriving from Asia at Washington Dulles Airport. That night, CBS
aired a full story by Phil Jones, but ABC pawned it off in 13 seconds,
and NBC disposed of it in 29 seconds. The ABC and NBC morning shows each
offered one brief read by the news anchor.
On February 11, Janet Reno recommended the appointment
of an independent counsel to probe Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s
inaccurate testimony to Congress about a rejected federal permit for a
Wisconsin Indian casino proposal (Tribes opposing the casino later
donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the DNC). Once again, the
network output could be measured in seconds: ABC 20, CBS 28, NBC 38. The
next morning, NBC had a brief, and ABC aired a full story by Linda
On February 18, the grand jury indicted Al Gore
fundraiser Maria Hsia over illegal fundraisers at the Hsi Lai Buddhist
temple in California, where Buddhist nuns were reimbursed for
contributions they made. CBS gave it 19 seconds, ABC and NBC nothing.
None of the morning shows touched it.
NBC’s Claire Shipman tapped the zeitgeist in a
laudatory February 2 Today show profile of Al Gore: "On the
bright side, Gore’s poll numbers are up and his role in last year’s
campaign finance scandal seems a bad dream. After all, who’s thinking
about Buddhist nuns when the issue is illicit sex in the White House?"
Who Set the Sex Precedent?
One line of complaint against Ken Starr focuses on his supposedly
improper interest in Clinton’s sex life. Last year when The
Washington Post revealed his questions about women who may have had
relationships with Clinton in an effort to learn with whom he may have
confided information, much of the media condemned Starr. NBC Today
co-host Matt Lauer opened a June 26 interview of Paula Jones adviser
Susan Carpenter-McMillan with this out of the White House playbook: "The
fact that this line of questioning from Whitewater investigators has
turned personal to the President’s, or then- Governor’s sex life, does
it show you that this investigation is desperate?"
But while George Bush drew media fire for going around
prosecutor Lawrence Walsh and pardoning six Iran-Contra figures, the
media ignored one now-relevant angle: Evans and Novak reported in
1992 that former Pentagon spokesman Henry Catto said James Brosnahan,
the attorney prosecuting ex-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for
Walsh, asked him whether Weinberger had an extramarital affair. Catto
believed Walsh wished to "denigrate Weinberger’s character" before a
jury, but the networks ignored this story of improper conduct.
Believe a Felon First. Last
October, Dateline NBC ran a two-part profile of convicted
Whitewater felon Susan McDougal that casually laid out how she and her
mother equated Ken Starr with the Gestapo. Dateline provided
McDougal with another opportunity on February 3 to air her gripes about
Starr. This time, she claimed Starr’s effort to get Lewinsky to tell
about sex with Clinton mimics alleged attempts to get her to lie about
sex with Clinton.
Stone Phillips let McDougal claim Clinton is just a
misunderstood flirt, someone who "loves people." Then Phillips gave
McDougal time to claim that Lewinsky is simply Starr’s latest attempt to
smear Clinton with a false sex tale: "A new turn? Maybe not. Susan
McDougal claims two years ago before she went to jail, another
Whitewater figure who had been meeting with Starr’s staff to cut a deal
for leniency paid her a visit." Susan claimed ex-husband and
co-conspirator Jim McDougal told her to get leniency by telling Starr
she had an affair with Clinton. Phillips let Starr’s office deny the
story, but added: "McDougal says the current investigation is about
prying into people’s sex lives. Reaching into the gutter." Phillips
never noted McDougal’s a convicted felon because a jury believed Starr,
instead of her, about who lied about Whitewater.
Jodi Cuts Flowers. Despite
being an alleged poster girl for media overcoverage in 1992, Gennifer
Flowers was never granted a network interview — until the January 25,
1998 Today show, after news reports suggested Bill Clinton told
Paula Jones’ lawyers he did have an affair with Flowers. Weekend anchor
Jodi Applegate picked a catfight with Flowers by insisting that her
audio tapes of phone calls with Clinton were doctored: "There were
experts who listened to your tapes of yourself and President Clinton who
said they had been edited at least somewhat. Given that all of these are
still only allegations against the President, why should people believe
you now, even still?"
Flowers replied: "Well in the first place he admits
that the relationship took place, so I mean the truth is out." Applegate
snapped: "According to The Washington Post." Flowers added: "But
let’s get something very straight once and for all. The tapes were never
altered or edited in any way. I have documents to verify that. And I’m
getting real tired of the James Carvilles and the Dee Dee Myers out
there continue to spin and lie and accuse me of that." Applegate kept
insisting an audio lab found gaps. Last year, she wasn’t so tough,
asking Tim Russert about the admission of a drug dealer to White House
fundraisers and the collection of a half-million dollars in phony jobs
for Clinton crony Webster Hubbell: "It may not look good, but is there
any proof that anything was done wrong?"
Lucianne’s Limited Life Story.
Literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, the much-maligned figure who urged
Linda Tripp to tape the potentially Clinton-crumbling phone calls with
Monica Lewinsky, was quickly pegged as a Republican operative. But was
that the whole story? On January 26, Dan Rather announced: "With facts,
accuracy and fairness always as our guideposts, we’re trying to dig deep
as part of our coverage of the White House under fire. As part of that,
we’ve taken a closer look for you at the link between the two people who
ignited this story: Linda Tripp, the former Bush and then Clinton White
House aide, who betrayed, by secretly taping, her friend Monica
Lewinsky. And Lucianne Goldberg, the one-time Nixon campaign dirty
trickster who got Tripp to do the taping. As CBS’s Wyatt Andrews
reports, the motive, at least some of it, may have been financial."
But two days earlier, The Washington Post
reported: "This is not the first time Goldberg has been involved in
presidential politics. She worked for Lyndon Johnson during the 1960
presidential campaign. ‘When you’re tall, thin, blond and have big
boobs, you can have any job you want,’ she told People magazine
in 1992. She later worked for President Kennedy’s speechwriting staff."
So much for Dan Rather’s "guideposts" of accuracy. CNN
also decided to selectively cite her resume. On the February 1 Impact,
Kathy Slobogin stressed only her "conservative track record," such as
working in "Nixon’s dirty tricks campaign."
Couldn’t Buy a Crystal Ball.
Bill Clinton’s media defenders were optimistic as President Clinton was
deposed January 17 in the Paula Jones case, but their predictions have
come back to haunt them. On CNBC’s Equal Time on January 15, six
days before Monicagate broke on January 21, Chicago Sun-Times
Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet claimed: "He has had so many bad days
and then the President bounces back. He’s at sixty-something percent in
approval ratings. And unless there’s some bombshell that leaks out of
this thing, it won’t. You know and I don’t see how this is going to have
any bigger effect on the bigger picture here.... It’s a bad day. And no
President has had to sit for a sworn deposition like this before but,
you know, look at what this guy has weathered so far."
Wall Street Journal
Executive Washington Editor Al Hunt sneered at the Jones case’s
presidential impact on CNN’s Capital Gang January 17, four days
before the deposition led to the Lewinsky eruption: "I don’t think it
portends much for Bill Clinton. I sort of disagree with Kate [O’Beirne]
on that. You know, I think they’re — instead of battling Clinton on the
substantive issues, there are some right-wing activists who keep
thinking this sleaze issue will be the magic wand for them. It hasn’t
worked before and it’s not going to work now. And the reason that the
American people don’t much believe Paula Jones and don’t much like Paula
Jones. She has become, I think, a pitiful pawn of some right-wing
Newspaper Editors Voted for Clinton
Editors Realize Liberal Slant
Newspaper editors realize the overwhelming majority of
their readers view their papers as liberal while over half of 167
editors surveyed across the country provided fuel for that assessment,
reporting they voted for Clinton. The January 17 Editor & Publisher
magazine relayed the results of a December poll of newspaper editors
conducted by the Technometrica Institute of Policy and Politics.
Asked how they think the public perceives newspapers,
89 percent said "liberal" compared to a measly 1.2 percent who responded
"conservative." Another 4.3 percent said moderate. Many editors were
willing to concede the slant, with more than three times as many
describing American dailies as liberal over conservative: 25.1 percent
to 7.8 percent with 62.9 percent tagging papers as moderate.
But E&P didn’t reveal the most illustrative
finding: how editors voted in the last two presidential elections.
Investor’s Business Daily reporter Matthew Robinson obtained the
full poll results which showed that a larger share of editors cast their
ballot for Clinton than did the rest of the electorate. In 1992 when
just 43 percent of the public picked Clinton, Robinson reported in a
January 30 story, 58 percent of editors pulled the lever for the winner.
Support for Clinton held steady through the President’s first term as 57
percent hung with him in 1996 while he captured only 49 percent of the
"How often do journalists’ opinions influence
coverage?" While only 14 percent said "often," a solid majority of 57
percent conceded it "sometimes" happens, meaning 71 percent acknowledge
the connection between personal views and coverage. Barely one percent
insisted it "never" occurs with 26 percent saying it "seldom" happens.
The E&P poll of editors completes a trilogy of
recent surveys documenting liberal views throughout the newspaper
reporting process: A Freedom Forum poll released in 1996 of Washington
bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents determined that 89
percent voted for Clinton in 1992. Just 15 percent of staff reporters at
papers across the country identified themselves as conservative in a
poll issued last year. The survey by the American Society of Newspaper
Editors showed that 61 percent of their newsroom staffs considered
Networks Fail to Compare Ken Starr’s Tactics to
Iran-Contra Prober’s 1992 Last-Minute Leak
Enlisting in White House War on Starr
After years of calling him a "Republican prosecutor,"
Dan Rather announced the newest network poll: "By more than two to one,
the public says special prosecutor Ken Starr is politically motivated to
damage the Clintons." NBC News touted a poll showing 64 percent said the
Starr probe is "partisan and political" while only 22 percent found it
"fair and impartial."
The unasked question in the pack of stories and polls
suggesting the partisanship of independent counsel Kenneth Starr is
this: has Starr done anything as politically damaging as Iran-Contra
counsel Lawrence Walsh’s reindictment of ex-Defense Secretary Caspar
Weinberger four days before the 1992 election? Walsh’s team leaked a
note suggesting George Bush lied when he said he was "out of the loop"
on Iran-Contra. The networks have aired stories underlining Starr’s
partisanship without any reference to Walsh, displaying a double
ABC’s Michel McQueen noted on February 7 that Lewinsky
lawyer William Ginsburg "is not the only one to complain that Starr’s
tactics border on abuse. Whitewater figure Susan McDougal has long
maintained that she’s in jail on contempt charges only because she won’t
invent facts to fill Starr’s story. The question now is whether Starr’s
tactics will prove more offensive to the courts and the public than any
alleged wrongdoing that the President is investigating."
CBS anchor Dan Rather aided the war on Starr by
emphasizing his party in this February 6 intro: "New and heavy return
fire late today from the White House under fire. Clearly and
dramatically, the President’s side confirmed a key part of their
strategy is to counterattack the man they see as a politically biased
special prosecutor, Republican Kenneth Starr."
Three days later, Rather carried this salvo: "In
Washington late today, lawyers for President Clinton asked a federal
court to find special prosecutor Kenneth Starr in contempt of court. Mr.
Clinton’s lawyers cite what they say are illegal, false, and
self-serving leaks from Starr’s grand jury investigation, especially
aspects involving Monica Lewinsky."
On February 8, NBC Nightly News began with the
tease by anchor Len Cannon: "The President’s popularity continues to
climb while new leaks raise more questions about this crisis and the
special counsel who is running the investigation." NBC then highlighted
a clip of Clinton defender Paul Begala from Meet the Press: "Ken
Starr has become corrupt in the sense Lord Acton meant when he said
absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Leading into the first ad break on the February 16
NBC Nightly News viewers were treated to this plug from Tom Brokaw:
"Still ahead tonight. Investigating the President. A growing backlash
against independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Is he out of bounds or just
tone deaf?" Reporter Lisa Myers elaborated: "Even some former
prosecutors now say Starr’s tactics are overkill, tactics usually used
against Mobsters and drug lords." Myers referred to Stanley Brand,
without identifying him as a former lawyer for the House Democratic
majority under Jim Wright.
Though Myers aired Starr’s side, "But other former
prosecutors insist Starr’s tactics are both reasonable and justified,"
she countered: "Even those who approve of Starr’s tactics say he has
hurt himself by not realizing how the public would react. Polls show
that almost two-thirds of Americans now believe Starr is on a partisan
On February 5, CNN aired a 60-minute special on
"Investigating the Investigator." Reporter Kathy Slobogin announced
Starr’s "conservative connections, his links with the President’s
political opponents, have made him suspect." Host Roger Cossack added:
"Even if Starr’s critics overlooked his connections to the right, they’d
probably still find ammunition by focusing in on his tactics."
Walsh Was No Media Starr. On
October 30, 1992, with George Bush arriving at a statistical dead heat
with Bill Clinton in some network polls, Lawrence Walsh dropped an
Iran-Contra bomb on the Bush campaign. Did the networks react harshly,
scorning prosecutorial abuse on the eve of a national election? There
were no heavy-breathing attacks on grand jury leaks, no 60-minute
investigations of the investigator. In fact, even as they presented the
story as another damaging blow to the Bush campaign, the Big Three
networks didn’t even mention Lawrence Walsh by name.
That night, ABC’s Peter Jennings began: "The question
of truth and character came up again today for President Bush." After
reading the leaked Weinberger note, Jennings was the only anchor to
mention the note was "released by the special prosecutor, who is seeking
a new indictment of Mr. Weinberger for lying to Congress about the
Iran-Contra affair. Governor Clinton’s campaign said today this was the
smoking gun that shows the President has been lying." Walsh’s name went
CBS anchor Dan Rather cited new "grand jury evidence"
without any mention of Walsh. Reporter Rita Braver ran two soundbites of
unlabeled liberal columnist Anthony Lewis, who told viewers: "It’s the
President of the United States deliberately, knowingly, forcefully
telling you an untruth year after year, month after month. That’s going
to destroy our faith in our political system."
After nearly two minutes of Bush-busting, Braver
concluded without a drop of skepticism: "The independent counsel insists
the release of the note was timed to meet the schedule for Caspar
Weinberger’s trial, not to embarrass the President in the final days of
NBC anchor Tom Brokaw cited "new material that
directly contradicts President Bush’s claim he was out of the loop in
the Iran-Contra affair." John Cochran noted: "the last thing George Bush
needs is a reminder of the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran." Andrea
Mitchell added: "The Iran-Contra developments were a gift to Bill
Clinton, who’s been struggling to counteract Bush’s attack on his
credibility." No one mentioned Walsh.
Over on CNN’s World News, reporter Anthony
Collings noted that "pre-trial court papers in the indictment of...Caspar
Weinberger quote from Weinberger’s notes seeming to contradict Mr.
Bush." But unlike the others, Collings found someone who accused Walsh
of "playing politics," then-Weinberger lawyer Bob Bennett: "They’ve had
this information for years. There can be no doubt any more that this is
not about justice. This is an outrageous political prosecution."
None of the networks followed up on the Washington
Times story of November 6, 1992 which raised the question of why did
the Clinton campaign issue a detailed press release dated the day before
Walsh’s re-indictment? Did the Walsh team leak to the Clintonites? It
may seem late to seek answers now, but it should chasten media attacks
on Starr, who worked quietly through the 1996 campaign as each new
inquiry added to his plate (Travelgate, the FBI files) disappeared from
the news media.
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe