Will Contribute to Paula’s Pay Day?
Media Stay Silent on
Clinton’s Sexual Harassment Insurance
brushing off the Paula Jones settlement as an overdue end to one of the
President’s many distractions, the networks overlooked Bill Clinton’s
dubious deal with an insurance company to avoid paying Jones out of his
The November 14
Washington Post reported: "Sources said the President’s lawyers have
reached a tentative agreement with Chubb Group Insurance to buy out the
personal liability policy that has covered some of his legal expenses
for close to half the settlement. When all is said and done, ‘not a
penny will come out of his pocket,’ said one person close to the
The insurance coverage
should have raised all the issues uncovered by Byron York in a 1996
American Spectator piece on how Chubb and State Farm ignored their
own rules and industry norms to cover costs of the Jones suit. But the
networks have never investigated that fishy tale. Only FNC’s David
Shuster and NBC’s Lisa Myers noted the insurance companies’ role. Myers
did not highlight the specifics of the Chubb Group deal in her brief
mention: "Sources close to the President are optimistic the money will
come from his insurance policies, not from the Clintons themselves."
ABC’s Jackie Judd, CBS’s
Phil Jones, and CNN’s Eileen O’Connor all failed to note Clinton’s
insurance policies and the simple fact that Clinton gave Jones $150,000
more than her original request to smother the case.
This is not the way these
networks handled Newt Gingrich in April of 1997, when Bob Dole announced
he would loan Gingrich money to help him pay a $300,000 assessment to
the House Ethics Committee for the probe of his college course. On ABC,
Cokie Roberts said: "It contributes to the whole view that everybody
inside of Washington is in cahoots." On CNN, Steve Roberts asked: "Do we
really want a Speaker of the House who owes $300,000 to a guy who’s a
principal of a major lobbying firm?"
CBS anchor Paula Zahn
connected the loan to current legislation: "The suggestion of some kind
of tobacco connection to the Gingrich-Dole loan deal comes as the
tobacco industry is reportedly working on a $300 billion deal to settle
government and private health lawsuits."
Larry Klayman’s Judicial
Watch has filed suit to prevent payouts from either of Clinton’s funders
— the insurers and his legal defense fund. But the networks began and
ended the Jones case with willful indifference to the ethical questions
Livingston, We Impugn
The media seemed to approve of incoming House Speaker Bob Livingston.
Unlike the monstrous Newt Gingrich, Livingston is a more conventional
glad-handing politician than conservative ideologue. But CBS still found
a way to attack him, Eric Engberg portrayed his legal fundraising work
on behalf of House candidates as sleazy, if not unique.
Engberg explained how the unopposed
Livingston had $600,000 in funds to give to other GOP House candidates.
BOB’s PAC was created to distribute another $800,000. Engberg intoned:
"CBS News also found that Livingston exploited gaping legal loopholes in
the election laws to get more bang for his buck by channeling donations
from business lobbyists through his PAC to other GOP campaigns...United
Parcel Service sent Livingston’s PAC a check for $5,000, but it’s made
out to a House candidate named Ernie Fletcher. Records show the check is
earmarked for Fletcher and that BOB’s PAC simply passes it on to him.
Livingston thus collects the political chit. All told, business PACs
delivered checks totaling about $50,000." After two soundbites from the
liberal Center for Responsive Politics, Engberg ended: "Livingston
became the unopposed king of the Hill by first becoming the king of
A Scary Growth
The media will often praise a conservative who starts leaning leftward
by saying he has "grown in office." The Washington Post delivered
a classic example of this cliche Monday, November 16. In a front-page
profile, reporters Eric Pianin and George Hager wrote without irony that
despite his conservative record, Livingston has shown "enormous capacity
to grow," and that while arriving in Congress with "knee-jerk
conservative views," he has since "matured into an adroit legislator."
Tripp’s Time Out
With the release of the Tripp tapes, the networks had enhanced
capabilities to underline evidence of presidential perjury and witness
tampering. But instead of focusing on the incriminating content of the
tapes, the media took the more familiar tack of trashing the ones who
The November 18 CBS Evening News
was typical. After citing a poll showing 62 percent agreed that Starr
was not "impartial but, rather politically motivated and out to get the
Clintons," Dan Rather hinted: "So is there any basis for this
perception?" In a "Reality Check" segment, Eric Engberg found that,
surprise, there was: "Before the tapes came out Linda Tripp told us she
only did what anyone in her shoes would have done."
Engberg cut to the famous Tripp sound
bite from outside the courthouse where she declares "I’m just like you.
I am an average American who found herself in a situation not of her own
making." Engberg interjected, "Time out. The tapes show her carefully
coordinating her betrayal of Lewinsky with an accomplice, Lucianne
Goldberg, book agent and self-proclaimed Clinton-hater." Engberg
concluded: "Just another average American helping out a friend."
Tim the Tool
ABC’s Good Morning America provided Ken Starr a chance to warm up
for his grilling by House Democrats when reporter Tim O’Brien peppered
him with questions right out of the Democrats playbook the night before
O’Brien asked, "Did you in any way assist
Paula Jones’ lawyers in deposing the President?" and, "One of the things
that people don’t get...how this case, starting as a land deal in
Arkansas became an investigation of lying about sex in the White House."
Even when he posed a question that dealt with the substance of Starr’s
case against Clinton, he downplayed its seriousness: "It amazes your
defenders as you make this great case against the President, the public
doesn’t seem to buy it. They say, yes, adultery is wrong, lying is
wrong, especially under oath, but is it worth all this time and all this
money and possibly removing the President? Why is this offense so
On June 11, 1990, as Reagan aide John Poindexter’s fate laid before a
judge, O’Brien didn’t check a poll to measure morality. He reported the
judge must determine "what punishment it will take to teach a lesson
about abuse of power to John Poindexter, to those who follow him in the
corridors of the White House."
Double Standard on Death
60 Minutes Aids
CBS’s landmark magazine show
60 Minutes made its name in hunting down killer corporations —
Audi’s supposedly dangerous accelerators, Uniroyal’s allegedly harmful
Alar pesticide. But when Jack Kevorkian came to 60 Minutes with a
videotape of a death he inflicted in his crusade to make euthanasia
legal, Mike Wallace gave him most of a 14-minute segment to air his tape
and make his case.
Wallace promoted the death
to come: "In a few minutes, you will see Dr. Kevorkian end this man’s
life. First, though, we’ll tell you why Mr. Youk [the man requesting
death] wanted Dr. Kevorkian to do it, and why Dr. Kevorkian wanted you
to see it even though it could get him charged with murder." After the
CBS audience saw Kevorkian’s willing victim suffocate on camera, Wallace
asked him: "You were engaged in a political , medical, macabre publicity
venture, right?" And so was CBS.
A medical ethicist from the
University of Chicago was allowed 90 seconds of rebuttal. But the rest
of the time was dedicated to Kevorkian’s crusade to move from docter-assisted
suicide to active doctor-inflicted euthanasia. Youk’s family was
included to testify to his suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Wallace
asked: "And I take it you would not be sitting here unless you thought
it was useful, socially useful to have this broadcast?"
So would CBS apply this
"socially useful" standard to other forms of death, like abortion? When
a congressional candidate presented a campaign ad in 1992 showing
grotesque images of aborted babies, CBS condemned him on the April 20,
1992 Evening News. Reporter Wyatt Andrews attacked: "Michael
Bailey, an anti-abortion candidate for Congress in Indiana today began
airing what could be the most tasteless ad ever shown on television.
What’s more, he’s a candidate, protected against censorship. No one can
stop him." But CBS did stop him: they blurred the images into a blank
gray screen. "While we have altered these pictures, Bailey’s ad
explicitly shows full-term human fetuses and the bodily remains he says
are the products of abortion. Video shock therapy comes to abortion-era
Andrews finished: "TV
stations in Indianapolis and Louisville are questioning whether Bailey
is abusing the law, whether under FCC rules, any zealot with a
candidate’s filing fee can put anything on TV...Tastelessness in
television may not be new, but this case is unique."
Starr’s Day Couldn’t Match
independent counsel Kenneth Starr prepared to address the House
Judiciary Committee on November 19, the media were showing no fear. For
months, they had broadcast their Carvillesque incantations and push
polls insisting that Starr was a partisan zealot. These ten months of
hammering home a theme couldn’t be erased in a day.
For large parts of the day,
Starr’s legal interpretation of Monicagate and other scandals provided a
brief respite of equal time for the case against Clinton. But even if
Starr’s testimony carried the potential to rivet America as Ollie
North’s Iran-Contra testimony did in 1987, the networks insisted that
nothing he said would ultimately change the scandal as they had so
relentlessly framed it.
Nine minutes into CBS’s live
coverage, Dan Rather had already laid down his marker, insisting that
Starr has become known as a "Republican partisan." That night on
Nightline, Ted Koppel began: "Inadvertently, at least, some of the
President’s allies did Kenneth Starr an enormous favor. As long as he
did not show up before the House Judiciary Committee this morning in a
stained trench coat with a copy of Hustler magazine under his arm, he
was bound to exceed expectations." The next morning on Today,
Katie Couric joked: "Do you think Ken Starr’s standing in the opinion
polls is going to go up a bit? I mean, he has nowhere to go but up,
right?" Tim Russert smiled and replied: "Well, exactly right. Lower than
Saddam Hussein in many of the polls."
The news networks (CNN,
MSNBC, FNC) stayed with Starr all day long, beginning at 10 A.M. Eastern
time. While the Big Three all went live at the beginning, CBS aired the
most coverage, while ABC left early and NBC jumped out early and often.
ABC signed off at about 3:17 because Republicans weren’t providing an
alternative viewpoint to Starr. Peter Jennings claimed: "We were trying
to make the point a little earlier today that we heard Mr. Starr at
length this morning and we saw a lot of Democratic agitation, so we
wanted an opportunity for the Democrats this afternoon to have a go at
Mr. Starr, in purely generic terms, and the Republicans do not seem
disposed to have at him, so we are going to try to keep the sense of
balance by coming back a little later on today and listening to Mr.
Clinton’s lawyer David Kendall question Mr. Starr as well." Jennings
offered this reasoning after Democratic counsel Abbe Lowell grilled
Starr for an hour. (Kendall’s quibbles with Starr were later excerpted
That evening, the networks led with multiple stories about his
appearance featuring many soundbites of his comments, as well as
Democratic attacks on him. Reporters noticed Starr’s calm demeanor, and
Democrats’ failure to challenge Starr on the evidence against Clinton.
An even balance of comments for and against Starr was quite a feat. But
the networks still attempted to convince the public that this
impeachment process was doomed.
ABC’s Jackie Judd noted:
"Clearly, the Independent Counsel had a huge challenge going into this
hearing, to reshape his public image and to restore credibility to his
much-maligned investigation." ABC also insured the coverage wouldn’t get
too tough by not calling conservative analysts George Will or William
Kristol into the studio at any time during the day or night, although
Jennings called on George Stephanopoulos and Cokie Roberts.
CBS’s Dan Rather produced
the strangest image of the night, calling the hearing "an extraordinary
mix of lofty constitutional law and muddy mosh-pit politics." (As if
Republicans and Democrats and Ken Starr were jumping up and down and
into each other at a Nine Inch Nails concert.) As usual, Rather
marshaled Clinton-friendly poll results, although he gave no word of
when the poll was taken. One result indicated Clinton’s high approval
rating (67 percent). Another, listed on the screen as "Reason for
Republican inquiry?", found 56 percent answering "to damage Clinton" and
just 34 percent saying "to investigate charges." Bob McNamara reported
from Fort Worth about how conservative talk show host Mark Davis
conceded listeners are "tired and bored and want the story to go away."
On NBC, Lisa Myers noted
that under "ferocious attack" from Democrats, Starr was "unflappable,
although he hasn’t changed many minds." Then Gwen Ifill reported on
"moderate" Republicans: "Just upstairs from the impeachment hearings
today: political reality. Illinois Congressman John Porter, one of at
least a dozen Republicans who say that even if the committee recommends
impeachment, he probably won’t. "Ifill concluded: "Now even the
President’s enemies want middle ground, not impeachment."
Sam Dash Quits.
Whatever ground Starr gained, the networks sought to erode the next
evening after Sam Dash, the former Democratic Watergate counsel and
ethics adviser to Starr, resigned in protest of Starr’s testimony. ABC’s
Peter Jennings suggested: "A single lawyer may have done the kind of
damage to the independent counsel Kenneth Starr today that 16 Democratic
Congressmen and the President’s lawyer didn’t quite manage to do
yesterday." Although she reported that Dash had been under pressure from
the White House and other Democrats to resign, Jackie Judd touted Dash’s
"impeccable credentials as an adviser on ethics."
On CBS, the same Dan Rather
who regularly calls Starr a "Republican partisan" referred to "the
widely respected, independent Sam Dash." Rather and reporter Scott
Pelley never referred to Dash as a Democrat.
NBC’s Lisa Myers joined Judd
in noting a possible White House connection to Dash’s day-after
departure, but Tom Brokaw began the show with a funeral dirge: "Good
evening. In poll after poll and in other ways, the public says it does
not want President Clinton impeached. That issue hurt the Republicans in
the elections. Special prosecutor Ken Starr offered no new smoking guns
in his long appearance before the Judiciary Committee. And then tonight
a stunning new blow to Starr’s reputation: his own ethics adviser has
quit in protest. That has only accelerated the unraveling of the
Four days later,
Scripps-Howard Editor Dan Thomasson noted what viewers missed: Dash’s
"reputation for partisanship was relatively well-demonstrated" during
Watergate. Dash edited out unfavorable mentions of Democratic presidents
in Nixon White House memos, and allowed his probers to leak material
damaging to Nixon, including the existence of a White House taping
the Bright Side
For months, TV news viewers
have been hearing that no one is ever punished, let alone charged, for
committing perjury when lying about sex in a federal civil case. Over
the past few weeks, though, Dateline, Today, 20/20 and NBC
Nightly News all have discovered the case of Barbara Battalino and
others imprisoned for doing just that.
As detailed by Dan Abrams on
the November 11 Today, Battalino, a female psychiatrist in a
Veterans Administration hospital, had oral sex with Ed Arthur, a male
patient. When he sued her for medical malpractice, she denied it in the
civil proceeding. Arthur then recorded his conversations with her, a la
Linda Tripp, and Battalino found herself indicted by the Justice
Department. "In that case," Abrams reported, "Barbara Battalino was
charged with perjury and in a plea bargain received six months of home
Stone Phillips also pointed out, during the first report about Battalino
on the November 6 Dateline, that similar to the Paula Jones case,
the federal court also threw out Arthur's case.
Sam Donaldson took it a step
further, tracking down two more women, in addition to Battalino, who are
now serving prison time for lying about sex in civil suits on the
November 11 20/20. In addition to relating the specifics of each
case, Donaldson also allowed federal judge Lacey Collier to tell why
perjury matters in all cases: "If a person comes to court and cannot be
counted on when he takes the oath, then that’s very destructive of the
entire system because truth, justice, that is what we’re all about in
the judicial system. And it fails when the truth is not told under
But evening news viewers had
to wait until the November 19 NBC Nightly News to find out from
Pete Williams about Battalino and the others like her. While finally
seeing these reports is gratifying, four are hardly enough to balance
out more than 9 months worth of reporter comments that lying about sex
is not a serious matter. In fact, Battalino’s story first came to light
in a June 22 editorial by David Tell in The Weekly Standard. It
would be another four months before network viewers would be told about
her and the other cases, conveniently just days after the elections.
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