As Reno on the Fundraising Scandal
Networks Reluctant to
Note Calls for Independent Counsel
House Government Reform and Oversight Committee heard testimony on
August 4 from FBI Director Louis Freeh and chief investigator Charles
LaBella. Both have written memos to Attorney General Janet Reno arguing
she has no choice but to appoint an independent counsel.
Chairman Dan Burton asked Freeh about who
may have violated the law on fundraising: "Does that include the
President and the Vice President?" Freeh replied: "Yes sir." Is that big
news, the FBI Director saying Clinton and Gore are personally being
investigated for law-breaking? Not to ABC or CNN, which ignored the
exchange that night. NBC played it deep in their story. Only CBS and FNC
News made it the lead of their reports. Instead, ABC and CNN focused on
Reno rejecting Burton's subpoena of the Freeh and LaBella memos.
But the networks had been ignoring new
fundraising developments for weeks. On July 23, New York Times
reporter David Johnston revealed LaBella’s memo on the front page:
"After a 10-month inquiry, the departing chief of the Justice
Department’s campaign finance unit has concluded in a confidential
report to Attorney General Janet Reno that she has no alternative but to
seek an independent prosecutor to investigate political fundraising
abuses during President Clinton’s re-election campaign, government
officials said Wednesday."
But was it serious enough for TV? That
morning, NBC’s Today aired two briefs totaling 41 seconds on the
matter, while ABC and CBS were silent about it. Despite a question to
Reno about the matter at a press conference that morning and her
videotaped response, that night ABC and NBC aired nothing, while CBS and
CNN aired full reports. That night, CNN’s Pierre Thomas became the first
to note that Sen. Fred Thompson read from portions of FBI Director Louis
Freeh’s November memo to Reno, which was noted on the New York Times
front page on July 16.
CBS and NBC continued to ignore it on
July 24, even though the Today show interviewed Al Gore. So did
ABC’s Good Morning America, but Aaron Brown asked Gore a question
at the very end wondering only how Gore could get around prosecutors:
"There are more and more, every day, calls for an independent counsel to
look at the campaign finance stuff, some of which includes phone calls
that you made or didn’t make during the campaign season. Is there any
way short of an independent counsel to put this behind you?"
Sticking to Sex.
As if the Monica Lewinsky story was the only scandal in Washington, TV
reporters missed chances in July to expand the Clinton scandals beyond
The Washington Post published two
bombshells July 10. Bill Miller reported a federal judge ordered the FEC
to review Judicial Watch’s allegations that the Clinton administration
and the DNC offered spots on overseas trade missions in exchange for
donations. George Lardner disclosed that Al Gore fundraiser Howard
Glicken pleaded guilty to soliciting and laundering $20,000 in foreign
money in 1993 for Democratic Senate campaigns.
On July 11, the Post and The
Washington Times reported Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the Defense
Department to seize and search the computer of Pentagon official
Clifford Bernath, who admitted to leaking Linda Tripp’s security
clearance form. Lamberth ordered the seizure after Bernath deleted
documents from his computer.
Nine days later, The Washington Times
added to the Tripp story with a Bill Sammon report that Tripp was among
the nearly 1,000 names on a revised list of FBI files obtained by the
White House. TV coverage of all these? Zero.
Grand Old Losers.
"Nelson Rockefeller. Jacob Javits. Mac Mathias. Lowell Weicker. All once
proud and powerful members of the Republican Party. And all Northeastern
moderates." On the July 21 Inside Politics, CNN’s William
Schneider pushed the media belief that power lies in the center for the
GOP: "With conservatives controlling the GOP leadership, moderate
Republicans have become marginalized in their own party. Do they have a
future? We tracked them down in their native habitat: Connecticut."
After quotes from local Republicans about
how most Americans are pro-choice, and oppose the NRA and the religious
right, he concluded: "If the Republicans lose Congress and the White
House in 2000, it could provoke a showdown in the GOP. The experience of
losing election after election might teach the Republicans the same
lesson that it taught Democrats: power lies in the center."
But if "moderates" win in Connecticut,
why did Weicker lose? In fact, in 1988, his last year in office, Weicker,
earned an American Conservative Union ranking of 4 on a scale of 100.
His Democratic opponent, Joseph Lieberman, multiplied that score by
eight in 1989. But Schneider’s thesis conflicts with reality: when
Northeastern Republicans controlled the party it was in the minority for
close to 50 years until the 1994 conservative Republican revolution; or
that in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan ran as a conservative he was
overwhelmingly elected twice.
Peter Jennings found the newest health problem on the July 21 World
News Tonight: Catholic hospitals. Jennings asserted: "When a
Catholic hospital is the only one nearby are patients losing some of
their options? We’ll take A Closer Look....This is not about cost. It’s
about ideology. What happens when a Catholic hospital is the only one
Michele Norris investigated what happened
when the Catholic hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire entered into a
partnership with another city hospital, "a partnership formed to help
cut costs, but because of the Catholic church’s rules about birth
control and abortion, there have been severe consequences for patients."
Norris ran two soundbites from Frances
Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice and a clip from an upset doctor,
but just one soundbite from the head of the Catholic Hospital
Association. Norris warned: "In many cases the merger leaves the
Catholic hospital with a virtual monopoly on hospital care. Anyone who
wants access to one of the restricted services has no choice but to go
elsewhere. That’s the dilemma that patients now face in 76 communities
across 26 states."
Then Jennings talked to medical ethicist
Arthur Caplan, who suggested there was nothing wrong with a hospital
owner running it as they see fit. But Jennings countered: "A cynic on
the other hand might say that here is the Catholic church trying to get
around the abortion laws in the country and force its will on an
increasingly larger number of people. What do you say to that?"
Pushing U.S. News Left
Zuckerman & Fallows Feud
A feud has broken out between former
U.S. News & World Report Editor James Fallows and owner Mortimer
Zuckerman, with each accusing the other of contaminating the magazine
with their personal views. Fallows announced his own firing in June,
blaming it on editorial clashes with Zuckerman. That angered Zuckerman
and his deputy, Editorial Director Harold Evans. The two sides have been
haggling since over severance for Fallows.
Fallows and Zuckerman are outspoken
liberals and in telling the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz about
the flaws the other inflicted on the magazine, their examples
demonstrated how each tried to use the magazine to push his liberal
views. In his July 28 story Kurtz described how Zuckerman complained
that "last fall...Fallows was considering a cover story in which a
disgruntled doctor blasted the practices of health maintenance
organizations. Working title: ‘The Patient Is the Enemy.’ Zuckerman
thought the piece was terribly one-sided, part of a pattern of
editorials masquerading as news stories. He ordered up a more balanced
article that ran with the headline: ‘Are HMOs the Right Prescription?’"
Matching what the July 29 MediaWatch
Study documented, Kurtz relayed how Zuckerman "criticized the
magazine’s coverage of the Monica Lewinsky investigation as ‘slow off
the mark and weak initially.’"
Partisans for Fallows countered that
Zuckerman and Evans pushed articles by their friends, who just happened
to be liberal crusaders. "One was liberal columnist Joe Conason," Kurtz
reported, "whom Evans wanted to profile Clinton-bashing publisher
Richard Mellon Scaife; Fallows was wary of Conason’s politics, and while
Conason was paid for the piece, it still hasn’t run." In another
incident, Kurtz highlighted how "U.S. News staffers still hoot about
Zuckerman trying to assign a story on Hispanic culture to his friend,
socialite Bianca Jagger. Zuckerman says reports that he dated Jagger are
false and that he asked only that she be consulted on the story."
In the rush to replace Fallows might
Zuckerman have stumbled upon a conservative? An August 3 New York
Times profile of new Editor Steve Smith relayed how "Smith describes
himself politically as somewhat right of center. ‘I am not an
ideological guy,’ he said. ‘I got into journalism not to save the world
but to do good stories.’"
Will Zuckerman, who has strong liberal
views, let him? In the June 29 issue, the next to last edited by
Fallows, Zuckerman declared that Ken Starr is causing the Founding
Fathers to spin in their graves: "When they wrote the First Amendment,
they imagined a press corps as a curb on power. They did not anticipate
an independent counsel free from checks and balances. They had no role
for a chief inquisitor. Nor should we."
Geraldo Uses His NBC
Venues to Promote Clinton
The White House's
Geraldo Rivera has been
replaced by Jerry Springer as the paragon of chair-tossing daytime
tabloid television. A decade ago, Rivera’s social commentary was limited
to subjects like "the lesbian baby boom" and "transsexuals in prison."
But Rivera has taken his attention-grabbing antics uptown with a new
contract with NBC worth an estimated $5 million a year that includes not
just his nightly CNBC show Rivera Live, but a forthcoming nightly
half-hour news show on CNBC, plus stints as an NBC News reporter. All
for a man who bluntly told Today’s Matt Lauer in May: "I believe
objectivity is a fantasy."
Rivera served as Today’s reporter
on President Clinton’s China trip. Rivera’s passionate attachment to
Clinton came through in an article in the August 1-7 TV Guide.
Mary Murphy chronicled the hourly doings of the press corps on the trip,
like this entry for June 30:
"8 P.M., Geraldo Rivera’s Suite.
Rivera is beaming. ‘I’ve been to see the boss,’ says Rivera, referring
to Clinton. ‘McCurry took me up to the 45th floor to an alcove outside
the President’s bedroom. He came out. He told me he’s just gotten a
message from the Dalai Lama and that the Dalai Lama was ecstatic that
progress had been made.’ Rivera was not permitted to bring a cameraman
with him upstairs, but his informal audience is nonetheless an obvious
mark of favor. I ask McCurry why Rivera — and not [CBS reporter Scott]
Pelley — got the interview. ‘Because Geraldo was arguably the biggest
network name on the trip,’ he says. ‘Besides, when it comes to scandal
stuff, Geraldo has been as open-minded as you would want a journalist to
be. We notice things like that. So we felt a little private time with
Clinton was not inappropriate.’"
Praise for Rivera’s "open-mindedness" has
clearly been returned in kind. On Today he offered a glowing
account of his Clinton encounter and relayed the "joke" he told about
Bill Clinton: "I was thinking if they give him any more airtime he’s
going to have to register as a pro-democracy dissident." TV Guide
also noted that on Today, Rivera termed Newsweek magazine
and The Washington Post as "‘sex-obsessed sister publications’
which have been ‘suckling leaks from the breast of the likes of Ken
But the White House staff probably set
their VCRs for Rivera’s pro-Clinton orations on CNBC. On May 19, Rivera
delivered a stem-winding Clinton defense: "This man has scarcely had a
day in office untainted by accusations of scandal. His very frustrated
political enemies have tried every imaginable attack on the President’s
so-far impenetrable armor. There’s been Whitewater, Filegate, and
Travelgate, each trumpeted in its time as the scandal that would bring
down his presidency. All now revealed basically as next to nonsense.
Miserable flops costing taxpayers millions."
Rivera wondered how Clinton could endure
all the abuse: "How much of his vital attention is being consumed by Ken
Starr’s endless probe, by the Monica Lewinsky saga, by the fears that
his trusted Secret Service agents will be forced to rat out the maybe
gory details of his private life....And finally, and most importantly,
how can our bridge to the 21st century feel about the slanderous charge
amounting almost to treason, that for Johnny Chung’s bribe of 100,000
lousy dollars he sold America’s missile secrets to the Chinese, who now
aim their deadly devices at America’s children?.... I watch him and I
wonder how he does it. I watch him and wonder how much is too much for
On Rivera’s June 26 show, MSNBC’s John
Hockenberry suggested: "If, as you say, the Linda Tripp testimony leads
to a Monica indictment it will be the ultimate betrayal of Monica."
Rivera replied from China: "And I think that’s what Linda Tripp was
aiming for along with her mentor Lucianne Goldberg, the book agent. They
wanted to make money on a book, but once push came to shove they were
perfectly willing to sacrifice the young former White House intern on
the altar of greed, on the altar of hatred for Bill Clinton and his
administration and I think they’re going to accomplish that at least in
the short term. But if it comes to trial, Linda Tripp will be facing
some severe questioning by Monica Lewinsky’s very capable counsel. And
my God, a first year lawstudent hearing those tapes will be able to make
her look like exactly what she is, a treacherous, back-stabbing,
good-for-nothing enemy of the truth."
Rivera even threw rhetorical punches at
Jay Leno on NBC’s Tonight Show July 13 when Leno suggested
perjury was the issue: "I disagree. I think it’s all about sex.
Whitewater: they tried it, came up with nothing. Travelgate: nothing.
Filegate: nothing. All they have is this purported semi, neo, almost,
quasi sex with a 24-year-old and then the lie about it. What married man
is not going to lie about it? It is Hillary’s business, it is not the
grand jury’s business. And for Ken Starr to pretend with this lofty
language that you’re talking about profound constitutional issues is the
height of hypocrisy. He will do anything necessary, by any means
necessary to nail the President of the United States."
On the July 29 Today, Geraldo
sparred with conservative MSNBC pundit Laura Ingraham over the meaning
of Monica Lewinsky’s immunity deal: "The New York Times story, as
every New York Times story virtually since the beginning of
Whitewater, is grossly overstated. I can report with confidence that
contrary to what you’re hearing in this, the newspaper of record, that
that basically was the same deal Bill Ginsburg offered in January...The
question is whether Congress is in the mood to impeach a popular
President for doing something that virtually every member has done at
some time in their lives."
Katie Couric admonished Rivera: "I want
you to take off your political adviser’s hat even though you may have
fantasies of serving in that role. I’d rather talk about some basic
legal issues." When Couric brought up reports that Lewinsky would
testify the White House had no role in writing "talking points" advising
Linda Tripp what to say to Paula Jones’ lawyers, Rivera proclaimed: "The
talking points were the banner that the right wing ran up the hill and
said, ‘Bruce Lindsey suborned perjury, he’s the one, the talking points
are going to bring down this President.’ And now suddenly the talking
points are history. Just like Whitewater, just like Travelgate, just
like Filegate. It’s going to turn out that this President is the most
maligned and assailed man in the history of the Executive Office and
we’ll all be deeply ashamed." Heaven help Geraldo if events prove the
maligners and assailers correct.
Since the Cold War, reporters
usually focus on defense issues only when a liberal shibboleth is
involved, like gays or Kelly Flinn, and tend to worry more about
"full-funding" for Head Start than spare parts for Air Force planes. An
exception to that trend was ABC’s John McWethy report on Air Force
readiness on the July 16 World News Tonight. Reporting from
Langley Air Force Base, McWethy warned: "Within the U.S. military and
especially the Air Force, there is a growing sense of crisis. Weapons
are aging, aircraft sit idle for lack of spare parts, long tours of duty
in the Persian Gulf are killing morale and wearing out equipment."
McWethy quoted an opinion from General
Richard Hawley, who claimed a "ten to twelve percent" drop in readiness.
McWethy added, "But the numbers do not begin to describe the depth of
the problem or the frustration it is creating on the flight line."
Senior Airman James Mullins angrily
resented the state of the Air Force: "If I have to wait a month to get
the part to fix the jet, and then the part I get doesn’t even work, how
is readiness so good? The jet’s not flying, it’s sitting on the ground.
The pilot’s not getting his training. In my opinion, readiness stinks."
Lieutenant Charles Collier, a maintenance
officer, said that of the 21 jets he was in charge of, "on a given day
we probably have ten." McWethy noted acidly "That means less than half
of this squadron can fly. Pilots are also getting out in record numbers,
going to airlines for better money and for a life that does not include
long separations from their families." He also said that soldiers "fed
up with long deployments for peacekeeping" are leaving for higher paying
and less stressful jobs in the private sector. "They can still defend
the nation, they argue. But they admit the erosion in their capabilities
is alarming and may not be easy to reverse."
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