Clinton Didnít Yell, But
Aides Didnít Tell
Again, White House Benefits from Misleading
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
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.
NBC, ABC, CNN...the
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
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.
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
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.
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.'"
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
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
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
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
- 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.
Media Ignore Top
Pentagon Spokesmanís File Leak
Who Said Linda Tripp
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
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
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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
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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