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From the October 5, 1998 MediaWatch

Clinton Didnít Yell, But Aides Didnít Tell

Page One

Again, White House Benefits from Misleading the Media

The media created widespread expectation that the videotape of Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony would show Clinton exploding in profanity and storming out of the room. When that prediction did not come true as the tape aired nationwide on September 21, Clinton's approval rating rose. The media began talking of a backlash, that the Republicans had overplayed their hand.

Left out of this triumphant spin: who fed the media this dishonest line? And would anybody care if the White House lied to them again? The day after Clinton's testimony aired, CBS's Bob Schieffer told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz that "his sources were on Capitol Hill, not the White House. But, he said, 'I got it from Democrats who'd been talking to the White House.

I do not believe the people I talked to would deliberately mislead me."

Kurtz added: "White House officials acknowledge that they knew this negative spin would eventually help Clinton. But they say they offered accurate guidance to reporters once they were briefed by the President's lawyers last Friday." If that was true, why were expectations so high on Monday? (One exception was NBC's Lisa Myers, who specifically reported before the video aired that Cinton did not storm out.)

On CNN's Reliable Sources September 26, Time reporter Karen Tumulty claimed many reporters got their information from Clinton aides who weren't lying, just misinformed: "I am told that he was quite angry from having sort of held it in and I think that is where the spin came from and it was one of the cases that we've had all along in this story, is that the people who really have the information are the people who aren't talking."

But on CNBC's Tim Russert the same night, Schieffer changed his mind about being misled: "By accident or design, we were deliberately misled on this. I'm absolutely convinced of that. Now whether this was done this way in the beginning, purposely and deliberately, I don't know. But I do know this for a fact: Once I went out with that story I got no call from the White House telling me 'Bob, you've gone too far.' I got no call from any Democratic official telling me, you know, that story is just wrong. They let it stay out there because they knew what was happening was it was building up expectations."

By focusing on expectations, the media made Clinton's performance -- not the truth of his testimony or the spin of his aides -- the biggest story in town.
 

 

 

Revolving Door:

NBC, ABC, CNN...the White House

When President Clinton tapped Joe Lockhart in late July to replace Mike McCurry as Press Secretary as of October 5, ABC's Peter Jennings didn't tell viewers how Lockhart used to work for ABC News. In a story for CNN, Wolf Blitzer also skip-ped Lockhart's time at the cable network.

As The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz noted in a September 9 profile, "he will be the first White House press secretary since Ron Nessen in the Ford administration to have had a recent career as a newsman. The son of journalists and the husband of a longtime ABC producer, Lockhart was spinning through the revolving door between media and politics long before that phrase became fashionable." Indeed, he has bounc-ed back and forth since his father, an executive with NBC News, landed him a volunteer spot in Carter's 1980 reelection campaign.

As recounted by Kurtz, Lockhart "left to become an NBC foot soldier, writing for the network's internal wire at the Democratic National Convention." After the convention he got a paying job with the campaign.

By 1984 he had "climbed aboard Walter Mondale's presidential campaign. He was responsible for the care and feeding of the network cameramen and technicians, riding with them on the 'zoo plane' and helping them find backdrops for better shots."

Mondale's loss led Lockhart to a Press Secretary position for Democratic Senator Paul Simon. But he soon crossed back as an assignment editor for ABC News in Chicago, later taking the same title in CNN's Washington bureau. Within a couple of years, he signed aboard the 1988 Dukakis presidential effort as a traveling press aide.

When his wife Laura Logan, Deputy Press Secretary for John Glenn's 1984 presidential run, was transferred to London by her employer, ABC News, Lockhart followed and landed a slot with the nemesis of liberals: Rupert Murdoch. Kurtz recounted: "He applied for a producer's job at British-based Sky News and was stunned when executives there wanted him for on-air work....Soon his daily business reports were running back home on Fox, albeit at 5 a.m. Sky News dispatched him to Washington to report on the Gulf War, but...his program was later canceled." Back in the U.S. he worked for the Clinton campaign, then assumed the Deputy Press Secretary slot at the White House.

 

 

NewsBites

Zip on Trips
Members of the media continue to complain about over-coverage of the Lewinsky affair, but when more evidence broke in a policy-related scandal, not one network took the bait.

The September 19 Washington Times carried an Associated Press story reporting a recently found Democratic National Committee memo indicated the Commerce Department did ask the DNC in 1994 to suggest candidates for a trade mission to Russia, contradicting claims that the trips were not used to reward DNC donors with foreign business contacts. The memo "suggested that DNC staffers could use another list of suggested participants for a trade mission to Belgium as a starting point for developing a list for the Russia trip."

The article also pointed to another discovered memo showing that the DNC had been prompted by Commerce officials to put together a list of businesses within each congressional district.

AP reported Melissa Moss, the former head of the Commerce office of business liaison, which arranged the trade missions, told the Senate she had no knowledge of any lists from the DNC. Interesting developments, but none of the networks noticed.

Kendall's Conduits
The networks didn't buy Clinton lawyer David Kendall's "oral sex isn't sex" defense, but they lapped up his charges that the Starr report left out exculpatory evidence, that Lewinsky testified no one specifically asked her to lie.

Good Morning America co-host Lisa McRee started the Clinton defense September 22, insisting to Rep. Charles Canady that there was "lots of exculpatory evidence" in Clinton's favor: "Monica Lewinsky says that no one ever asked her to lie nor was there any sort of deal made of silence in exchange for a job....Doesn't that damage Ken Starr's case?"

That night on CNN's The World Today, John King relayed the Clinton lawyers charged Starr with a "grievous error," which they claim "raises grave questions about the fairness" of Starr's report. King didn't read from the Starr report, but just vaguely relayed a Starr letter in reply saying the White House attack on his report represented an "intentional effort to mislead" because the report did include Lewinsky's point, if not her exact quote. NBC's David Bloom read the same non-specific portion of Starr's reply.

On ABC's World News Tonight, Sam Donaldson mentioned Kendall's charge of "one-sided manipulation of evidence," but also quoted Starr's report: "What Starr did say in his report was, 'While the President did not expressly instruct her to lie, according to Ms. Lewinsky, he did suggest misleading cover stories.'"

What Heroes?
Even as impeachment hearings approach, comparisons to Watergate still rankle the media. On September 23's The World Today, CNN political analyst William Schneider insisted that while "Watergate gave us real heroes...the heroes of the current White House scandal just don't look very heroic," and though "Watergate gave us real villains," the "villains of the current White House scandal just don't look very villainous."

Schneider felt Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski were a martyr and a real pro, respectively, unlike Ken Starr, whose "excesses make the Office of Independent Counsel look dangerous." Schneider compared reporters Woodward and Bernstein to Internet tipster Matt Drudge instead of a reporter like Newsweek's Michael Isikoff.

Then Schneider mentioned John Dean whose "betrayal of his boss looked courageous...Now there's Linda Tripp whose betrayal of her friend looks contemptible." Unlike Watergate's G. Gordon Liddy, he described Bruce Lindsey as "too preppy" to be the "shadowy villain of the Clinton White House."

Schneider concluded with the two principals, describing Nixon as "a scheming and malicious figure who got caught subverting the Constitution," while Clinton was "naughty" and "a reckless and irresponsible figure who got caught with his pants down." As if the nation's chief law enforcement officer lying under oath before a federal grand jury doesn't subvert the Constitution or the rule of law.

 

Page Four

No Liberal "Goldfinger"?

Within days of Hillary Clinton's charges of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," national networks, magazines, and newspapers began reporting on its alleged "Darth Vader," Richard Mellon Scaife. Reporters investigated the "Goldfinger of conservative causes" who funded sex stories like The American Spectator's Troopergate story. The media may have derived their Scaife reports from the liberal Web site Salon, which made Scaife their central focus in the first months of Monicagate.

But when Salon put out its own sexual scoop as Ken Starr's report headed for the House Judiciary Committee - that the committee's chairman, Henry Hyde, had an affair 30 years ago - no media outlet investigated the financial backers of the "vast left-wing conspiracy" behind Salon's well-timed hit piece. The Landmark Legal Foundation wrote Kenneth Starr and the Justice Department demanding a criminal investigation of Salon and the White House for potential obstruction of a congressional investigation. LLF's brief noted the Clinton ties of Salon funders:

  • The Silicon Valley investment banking firm of Hambrecht & Quist is a principal investor in Salon. "From 1991 to 1997, Mr. [William] Hambrecht, his wife, and daughter, gave more than $384,000 to Democratic candidates and organizations exclusively. Last February, Mr. Hambrecht hosted a major fundraiser for Democratic House candidates at his San Francisco home with President Clinton."
  • Adobe Systems is another principal investor, launched with venture capital from among others, Hambrecht & Quist. "From 1990 to 1997, Adobe's Chairman and President, Charles Geschke and his wife contributed over $95,000 -- all to Democratic candidates and organizations....Only a few weeks before the 1996 presidential election, Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore participated via video conference at a reception in their honor held at Adobe."
  • Apple Computers "is the second major computer company backing Salon. In 1996 and 1997 alone, Steve Jobs, Apple's chief, contributed over $167,000 to the DNC. During a recent fundraising/golf outing weekend, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton stayed at Mr. Jobs' Woodside, California home." Since Salon skewers conservatives, the media found no nefarious conspiracy worth exposing.

 

Review

Media Ignore Top Pentagon Spokesmanís File Leak

Who Said Linda Tripp Had Rights?

Monica Lewinsky isn't the only one who hates Linda Tripp. The networks reliably jump on negative allegations against Tripp, but reliably ignore negative allegations against Tripp's enemies. For example, independent counsel Kenneth Starr questioned whether the audiotapes Tripp submitted were altered, and suggested if so, Tripp could be guilty of perjury. ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and the Fox News Channel all reported it. (NBC's Andrea Mitchell noted she's been compared to "the Wicked Witch of the West.")

On July 7, every network noted how Maryland had launched its own grand jury investigation into whether Tripp violated state law by taping her phone calls with Lewinsky. (None noted that night that the state prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, is a Democrat.)

Every network reported The New Yorker's allegations in March that Tripp lied on her federal job application that she'd never been arrested. As a teenager, she was once detained by Greenwood Lake, New York police over a missing wallet and watch another teenager had placed in her purse as a prank.

But that story carried a twist that reflected badly on the Clinton administration. The story's author, Jane Mayer, had contacted her former Wall Street Journal colleague, chief Pentagon spokesman and Clinton appointee Kenneth Bacon, and asked if Tripp had claimed never to be arrested on her application form. Bacon ordered Tripp's confidential personnel file released -- a possible violation of the Privacy Act and a clear violation of Pentagon security policy. But MediaWatch analysts found ABC and NBC have never reported on the Tripp-file scandal, and CBS only mentioned it in passing on a Sunday morning. Among the details skipped:

May 1: Clifford Bernath, the principal deputy to Kenneth Bacon, testified in a Judicial Watch lawsuit on the FBI files that Bacon ordered the leaking of the Tripp file. Network coverage? FNC's Rita Cosby reported the story. The other networks didn't.

May 21: Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon reported Judicial Watch's Larry Klayman forced Kenneth Bacon to admit he orchestrated the file's release. Sammon added that Clinton promised in 1992, when Bush's State Department investigated Clinton's passport file, "If I catch anyone using the State Department like that when I'm President, I'll fire them the next day." Bacon wasn't fired. TV coverage? Only a mention on CNN, even as Starr opened a probe into the Tripp leak the next day.

June 10: FNC reported White House fixer Harold Ickes was at the center of a Virginia grand jury investigation of the Tripp files. Ickes had "admitted discussing Tripp with Ken Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman." Other network coverage? Only a CNN story by Bob Franken.

July 11: The Washington Post reported Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the Defense Department to seize and search Bernath's hard drive after he admitted deleting files from his computer. Coverage? Zero. But the next day, CBS's Rita Braver mentioned Bacon in a Larry Klayman profile on Sunday Morning.

July 17: Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon revealed "White House officials searched their files for 'anything and everything' on Linda R. Tripp after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, but President Clinton refused to reveal that search to Congress." Sammon noted that days after Mayer's New Yorker article, Rep. Gerry Solomon (R-N.Y.) wrote the White House asking if anyone had pulled her White House file, which would have contained security clearance information. The White House never responded, but had pulled Tripp's files, according to a June 30 Judicial Watch deposition of Terry Good, director of White House records management. Coverage? Zero.

August 18: Judicial Watch filed a complaint in D.C. District Court demanding more documents and asking for sanctions against Bacon. The motion revealed that Bacon suspiciously promoted Bernath just days after the file release to Jane Mayer, and complained that Clinton Justice Department Attorney Anne Weissman prevented Bacon from answering questions unless they were narrowly interpreted as being about the original file release. Weissman prevented answers such as the names and qualifications for the other applicants for the promotion Bernath received. Bernath's new job included teaching Pentagon employees about privacy procedures. TV coverage? Zero.

September 4: Tripp was blocked from testifying in the Judicial Watch FBI-files suit by Starr's staff. Sammon reported in The Washington Times that Judge Lamberth was persuaded to postpone Tripp's deposition since the Filegate and Travelgate probes are at "extremely sensitive stages." TV coverage? Zero.

The Tripp leak also implicates Defense Secretary Bill Cohen, who declared on the April 26 Fox News Sunday "we know the individual who did it...he was responding to an inquiry from the press." Cohen's inference that Bernath released Tripp's file on his own is misleading, since Bacon personally told Cohen he'd authorized it. But Cohen appeared since May on ABC's Good Morning America (twice) and This Week, CBS's Face the Nation, NBC's Today and Meet the Press, and PBS's NewsHour without a single Tripp-file question.

If you went looking in the news magazines to find this story, you wouldn't find it either. Searching the Nexis news data retrieval system for the word "Tripp" within 100 words of "Bacon," Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report have failed to publish a single article on the Tripp file. Time mentioned Bacon's role in a negative June 22 profile of Klayman, in which Richard Lacayo began: "Even in the fang-baring world of Bill Clinton's most dedicated pursuers, Larry Klayman is in a class by himself."

It's strange to watch the media's conflicted feelings about the privacy of government employees. Clinton loyalists receive sympathetic coverage, while whistleblowers against Clinton get only dead air. National reporters lashed Rep. Dan Burton when he released recordings of Webster Hubbell's prison phone conversations (recordings which are required by law), but the manhandling of Tripp's personnel files by the White House and the Pentagon remain a shocking non-story.

 

On the Bright Side

That Was Then, This Is Now

FNC demonstrated again how it offers a unique perspective. On September 23 CBS and NBC relayed the Democratic strategy of blaming the GOP for dragging out the Clinton impeachment inquiry, but only FNC picked up on Democratic hypocrisy.

"Republicans take a hard line," declared NBC's Tom Brokaw on Nightly News before Gwen Ifill found that even "one Senate Republican" decided "that House Republicans are too shrill." On the CBS Evening News Dan Rather emphasized the GOP's unreasonableness: "On Capitol Hill not only did the Republican-led majority reject any punishment deal, they're even talking now of a wider, deeper, longer investigation."

Only Fox Report viewers heard a different take, as FNC's Carl Cameron observed: "For the last couple of weeks the Democrats have said Republicans are in a 'reckless rush to judgment.' Now they seem to think that the GOP is moving too slowly."

After allowing House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt to charge that "if the Republicans don't want to drag this out we can do it fairly and judiciously and justly in the next 30 days or so," Cameron highlighted the Democratic change of ploys: "Quite a contrast to recent Democratic complaints that Republicans have moved too fast." To illustrate the point, Cameron played a clip of Democrat John Conyers from just nine days earlier: "What is it that we're rushing for? What are we trying to find? What deadline have we self-imposed on each other?" Cameron observed: "Republicans accuse the minority of trying to pick fights and cause distractions."
 

 

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