Minutes Interview, Allegations of Clinton Groping Worth Covering
Willey: Why a Seven-Month Stall?
Just days after she first drew network attention by
arriving with prosecutors to testify before the grand jury investigating
the President, Kathleen Willey became an overnight media sensation. In a
rare two-segment interview on the March 15 edition of 60 Minutes,
Willey told her story of how President Clinton fondled her breasts and
put her hand on his genitals in a study next to the Oval Office.
"Wow! That was something!" exclaimed NBC Today
co-host Matt Lauer the next day. But why wasn’t the Willey story taken
seriously when it first broke last summer?
On July 30, 1997, CBS Evening News aired a
brief story (without naming Willey) on how Paula Jones’ lawyers had
subpoenaed Willey to testify. Bill Plante warned: "But unless and until
this case is settled, this is only the beginning of attempts by
attorneys on both sides to damage the reputations and credibility of
That same day, CNN’s Inside Politics put a
Willey brief at the end of the show and gave it 26 seconds on the
evening newscast The World Today. The next day, CBS and NBC aired
brief updates underlining Willey’s angry reaction to the Jones subpoena.
ABC aired nothing.
On August 4, Newsweek’s new issue (dated the
11th) detailed how Willey had been a White House volunteer who asked the
President for a paying job and was kissed and fondled. Newsweek
quoted Linda Tripp saying Willey appeared "flustered, happy, and
joyful." Network coverage? Zero.
But CNN’s Inside Politics devoted almost its
entire show that day to unproven charges the GOP Mayor of New York, Rudy
Giuliani, had an affair with press secretary Cristyne Lategano. Bernard
Shaw asked The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and Newsday’s
Leonard Levitt about how the Mayor’s sex life had been undercovered:
"President Clinton’s private life versus Mayor Giuliani’s private life.
Double standard on the part of the media?" Both guests agreed.
In an August 8 news conference, ABC reporter John
Donvan asked Clinton about refusal to comment on Willey: "Even for those
of us who don’t have much appetite for this entire subject, this
particular answer in this particular category seems needlessly evasive.
My question to you is: Is it your wish that it be answered this way, and
is it consistent with your intention to run an open White House?" But
ABC still spiked the story.
Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry shamed reporters out of
looking into Willey, refusing to discuss her. In his new book Spin
Cycle, Kurtz discovered: "Clinton pulled McCurry aside for a rare
word of thanks. ‘I think you handled that correctly and I appreciate
it,’ he said. ‘I know it’s not easy.’" Reporters should have been less
red-faced about the subject than by how easily they were played by
Formula for Media Success
Turn Against the Right
Journalist David Brock learned the secret of how to
get on television. Blast away at your former allies in the conservative
movement as a Clinton-hating "neo-Stalinist thought police," and the
invitations will come.
The networks did not bite in 1992 when Brock first
exposed Anita Hill’s weak case against Supreme Court nominee Clarence
Thomas in The American Spectator. When Brock transformed that
article into the book The Real Anita Hill in 1993, the networks
balked again, except for NBC. On May 3, the Today show paired
Brock with Hill defender Charles Ogletree, who charged him with
"countless errors of fact" and "outright lies." NBC didn’t allow
conservatives to debate pro-Hill authors.
Co-host Katie Couric asked Brock: "The American
Spectator is an ultraconservative magazine, and it seems as if you
are an advocate for Justice Thomas in the book. Is it really fair to
call yourself an objective journalist?" Pro-Hill journalists were not
asked that question. Later that year, none of the networks interviewed
Brock when his Troopergate expose in the Spectator rocked the
But when liberal journalists Jill Abramson and Jane
Mayer came out with their anti-Thomas book Strange Justice in
1994, all the networks interviewed them and ABC devoted a 60-minute
Turning Point special and a Nightline to their charges.
Abramson and Mayer appeared on nearly every interview show on TV, and
demanded at every one that Brock not be admitted to debate them. Despite
a tough point-by-point refutation of their book in the Spectator,
Brock was shut out.
All that changed in June 1997. Brock wrote an article
for Esquire magazine titled "Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man"
charging "neo-Stalinist" conservatives cared more about destroying
Clinton than the truth. NBC’s Today interviewed Brock again — but
without any conservative to attack him. He also appeared on NBC’s
Meet the Press.
On March 10, after Esquire publicists flacked his
latest article, a gimmicky open letter to Bill Clinton apologizing for
focusing on his sex life, he basically spent entire days in front of
television cameras. He appeared (unopposed) on all three morning shows,
as well as shots on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the
Nation, CNN’s Crossfire, two CNBC shows, and MSNBC.
No Labels for Lois.
Widows running for their husband’s seats in Congress are usually
portrayed with sympathy, but it doesn’t always prevent unbalanced
labeling. On the March 9 NBC Nightly News Gwen Ifill looked
at two congressional campaigns in California featuring widows hoping
to replace their husbands: Mary Bono, wife of the late conservative
Rep. Sonny Bono; and Lois Capps, wife of the late Walter Capps,
about the most left-wing member of the House. But Ifill didn’t
portray it that way.
Ifill described Mary Bono this way: "Like her late
husband, she’s a conservative Republican. But she’s a political neophyte
who plans to pick up where he left off." She used no label for the other
widow: "Democrat Lois Capps is also trying to pick up the political
pieces. Voters decide tomorrow whether she should succeed her husband
Walter in Congress. He died of a heart attack last fall." And Capps’
opponent? "Lois Capps’ race against conservative Republican Tom
Bordonaro has attracted national attention."
Media Masochism Update.
To demonstrate media excess in Monicagate coverage, some networks and
print outlets highlighted a study showing exorbitant reliance upon
weakly sourced material. But reporters didn’t bother telling viewers
that’s no different than how they handled Iran-Contra.
CNN’s Inside Politics devoted a February 18
segment to a study of major networks and print outlets sponsored by the
Committee of Concerned Journalists (CCJ). Anchor Jeanne Meserve
explained it "shows, in the first six days of coverage, 41 percent was
analysis/opinion; 25 percent was based on a single named source; 18
percent on anonymous sources; and one percent on two named sources."
During a March 5 Nightline on how the public believed the media
were over-covering the scandal, ABC’s Chris Bury also picked up the
study, relaying the finding that "40 percent of all reporting based on
anonymous sources was from a single source."
But a February 23 Center for Media and Public Affairs
(CMPA) press release announced that "contrary to the claims of some
media critics," their study "showed no marked increase in the use of
anonymous sources." Looking at the first ten days of Lewinsky coverage
on the broadcast networks, CMPA found that "more than half of all
reports (56 percent) cited at least one unnamed source. This is
comparable to network coverage of the first month of the Iran-Contra
scandal in November 1986, when 57 percent of all reports quoted unnamed
Contrary to media self-loathing about unfairness to
Clinton, the CMPA noted Clinton fared much better than his accusers:
"Researchers tallied all 537 sound bites containing judgments of Mr.
Clinton, and found nearly as many were supportive (48 percent) as
critical (52 percent)....Other scandal figures, however, didn’t fare as
well. Linda Tripp was criticized by 69 percent of quoted sources, and
Monica Lewinsky was panned by 75 percent. For his part, independent
counsel Kenneth Starr was criticized by 70 percent of quoted sources."
Family Matters. Media
stars slammed independent counsel Ken Starr for bringing Monica
Lewinsky’s mother, Marcia Lewis, before the grand jury to testify about
whether she encouraged people to lie to investigators. In the February
23 Time, Margaret Carlson was typical: "We are now on notice that
the conversations we have with our children are not safe from their
government. It seems quaint that on the day Monica was handed over by
Tripp to Starr’s deputies, she could turn to her mother with the
expectation that whatever she said, Mom wouldn’t tell. But in Ken
Starr’s America, moms do tell — or else."
Lewis’s testimony is hardly unprecedented. As John
McCaslin noted in The Washington Times, Paula Jones’ mother and
sister were required by the President’s lawyers to give depositions in
the Jones case at the office of Clinton’s old law firm in Little Rock.
A February 24 New York Post editorial
highlighted Iran-Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh’s criticism of Starr
for interrogating Lewis, and noted: "Much of the press agrees with Walsh
that forcing a mother to testify ‘against’ her daughter is an
unbelievably cruel and virtually unprecedented act....Let’s take a look
at Walsh’s own record. Consider: During the Iran-Contra investigation,
Walsh subpoenaed Betsy North, the wife of Lt. Col. Oliver North, North
lawyer Brendan Sullivan — even North’s pastor. In one go, Walsh flung
down and danced upon spousal, attorney-client, and even pastoral
privilege....To the best of our knowledge, none of those who currently
profess shock — shock! — at Starr’s efforts even said boo about Walsh’s
far more serious attacks on privacy and privilege."
ABC: Anyone But Conservatives?
Only Clinton Pals Welcome
At ABC News, you can chat with the President, but you
better not write about the Vice President. ABC reporter Bob Zelnick
revealed in a February 24 Wall Street Journal op-ed he was forced
to leave when he refused to stop writing a book about Al Gore to be
published by Regnery. ABC News President David Westin told Zelnick "we
cannot have a Washington correspondent writing a book about one of our
national leaders whom that correspondent will undoubtedly have to
Zelnick wondered: "Would I have faced the same problem
if I were an avowedly liberal journalist undertaking a book that made
conservatives mildly uncomfortable rather than a moderately conservative
one writing about a liberal icon? Had the proposed title been
Gingrich: A Critical Look at the Man and His Climb to Power, would I
have been forced to choose between my book and my career? I rather doubt
it. Nor does the double standard stop with books. My friend and former
colleague Sam Donaldson is again covering the White House six days a
week. On the seventh day he does not rest, but rather appears on This
Week With Sam and Cokie, where he is free with his concededly
liberal opinions. Sam is a gifted reporter, and in 21 years I have never
seen evidence of deliberate bias in his work. I think ABC is wisely
using his talents. But where is his conservative counterpart, licensed
both to report and to ruminate?"
If you are a buddy of the President and can influence
the flagship program, that’s fine. In Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton
Propaganda Machine, Howard Kurtz relayed this anecdote showing the
close ties between an ABC News executive and Clinton: "Unlike many
Americans, he didn’t watch the evening news. Clinton occasionally called
a longtime friend from his gubernatorial days. Rick Kaplan, Executive
Producer of ABC’s World News Tonight, a few minutes after the
6:30 program began, just wanting to chat. He seemed slightly surprised
when Kaplan told him he was running a live newscast and would have to
call him back."
Kaplan is now President of CNN, but while still with
ABC Kaplan spent a night in the Lincoln bedroom. He told Electronic
Media: "It’s nobody’s business." At ABC your personal views only
matter if you’re conservative.
Pass More Laws to Break?
TV Touts "Reform"
The DNC fundraising scandal has lapsed into obscurity.
When the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee released their final
report, none of the networks even mentioned it. But the Senate’s latest
rejection of campaign finance "reform" legislation on February 26 drew
angry network demands that liberal corruption should have been answered
with new liberal rules designed to limit free speech, as if the
Democrats might obey the new laws better than the old ones.
On ABC’s World News Tonight, Peter Jennings
mourned: "Together the Senate and the House of Representatives spent
more than nine million dollars to hold more than 30 days of hearings on
how to change the rules, and even though so many Americans believe that
money is more important to the process than their vote, which is not a
pretty picture, and though many, many politicians believe the system is
flawed, they will not be fixing it just yet."
"Republicans kill the bill to clean up sleazy
political fundraising. The business of dirty campaign money will stay
business as usual," proclaimed an agitated Dan Rather on the CBS
Evening News. "Legislation to reform shady big-money campaign
fundraising is dead in Congress. Republican opponents in the Senate
killed it today. It was the latest in a long-running attempt to toughen
loose laws that shield hidden donors with loose wallets and deep
pockets." Rather complained the Senate was "all talk and no action."
NBC’s Gwen Ifill took hyperbole to a new level on the
PBS show Washington Week in Review the next night: "It was a bill
that was doomed to die. The last time you heard people so eager to claim
responsibility for something like this, they were terrorists."
Campaign "reform" outranked conservative concerns at
CNN. On the March 10 Inside Politics, CNN anchor Judy Woodruff
began: "Pork-barrel politics was on the agenda today again at a news
conference held by Citizens Against Government Waste [CAGW]. The group
released its 1998 ‘Congressional Pig Book’ detailing who has brought
home how much bacon from Capitol Hill."
Rather than exploring the pork-busting group’s
ratings, Woodruff quickly shifted to a pro-campaign finance reform story
featuring the left-wing organization Public Campaign: "William Proxmire
used to hand out Golden Fleece awards for wasteful government
spending....Now, Proxmire serves on the board of a group that has come
up with another uncoveted prize."
Brooks Jackson reported on Public Campaign chief Ellen
Miller’s press conference at which she awarded Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.)
"The Golden Leash" for, as Jackson described it, "extraordinary service
to campaign donors." The story explained that McCollum, who has received
$374,000 during the last seven years from the credit card and banking
industry, is sponsoring a bill that "would make personal bankruptcy more
difficult, thereby helping credit card companies collect more from those
who run up big debts."
After a brief on-camera response from McCollum,
Jackson continued, "McCollum’s bill has 181 cosponsors; all together
they’ve received more than $11 million in donations from the bank and
credit-card industries. Public Campaign hopes this award will focus
attention on how money flows here on Capitol Hill — money they want
Congress to limit." Later that night on The World Today, CNN
repeated the Jackson story on Public Campaign, but didn’t even mention
First on the Story...Nine Months Later
Myers on Hubbell’s Ties
Twice in early March, NBC reporter Lisa Myers charged
ahead of her TV colleagues by highlighting on the Nightly News
evidence of hush money paid to Webster Hubbell.
When Vernon Jordan appeared on March 3 before the
grand jury to answer questions about his role in getting Monica Lewinsky
a job, Myers gave detail to a theme ignored by ABC and CBS and barely
touched on by CNN, explaining: "Jordan is on the hot seat in the grand
jury because not once but twice he arranged jobs for key witnesses just
as they were in a position to provide damaging information about the
In addition to Lewinsky, Myers explained that "after
Hubbell resigned from the Justice Department in disgrace, Ken Starr was
pressuring him to provide damaging information on the Clintons. Jordan
came to the rescue, getting Hubbell a $25,000 a month job at Revlon,
allegedly to do public relations. But prosecutors suspect this was hush
money." That’s a story all the networks ignored when first disclosed on
May 27, 1997 by USA Today.
A week after her Revlon payment story Myers delivered
the first broadcast network mention of another phony deal for Hubbell.
Picking up on the news of the day that Starr might indict Hubbell for
tax evasion, Myers explained on March 11: "The potential charges involve
taxes on hundreds of thousands of dollars in controversial fees Hubbell
received in 1994 after he resigned from the Justice Department in
disgrace and before he went to prison."
Myers continued: "In all, the President’s wealthy
friends provided Hubbell more than $500,000 in so-called consulting
fees, far more than he ever earned in any year of his life. Some of the
money came from the city of Los Angeles for work on an airport project,
but the city’s controller found that Hubbell filed false statements,
billing the city for work never done."
Myers deserves credit for getting some air time for
the airport deal, but it took a few months. "Hubbell Cheated L.A., a
City Audit Claims," announced a front page story in the June 24, 1997
Los Angeles Times, skipped by all the networks at the time.
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