Seconds for Clinton’s "Criminal Violation"; Ruling Buried at Press Conference
1) A federal judge’s finding that Bill Clinton violated the
Privacy Act, in releasing Kathleen Willey’s letters, generated just seconds
on all networks but FNC. Capturing more time: An adjustable stadium,
baseball’s opening day, melting ice in Alaska, how easily mattresses burn, a
finger-length test for lesbianism.
2) FNC’s Brit Hume noticed "we were ten questions into
this news conference when he was finally asked about the federal judge’s
finding" that Clinton "had committed a criminal violation."
CBS’s Mark Knoller asked Clinton for his advice for Tony Blair and how he
would take care of a new baby in the White House.
CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NBC allocated a mere 18 to 29 seconds each Wednesday
night to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth’s finding that President
Clinton violated the Privacy Act: "The release of the Willey letters
was a criminal violation of the Privacy Act," Lamberth declared.
Network by network time given to the ruling:
-- ABC’s World
News Tonight: 19 seconds
-- CBS Evening
News: 29 seconds
-- CNN’s The
World Today: 28 seconds
-- MSNBC’s The
News with Brian Williams: 23 seconds
-- NBC Nightly
News: 18 seconds.
-- FNC’s Special
Report with Brit Hume and Fox Report both delivered multiple minute
Without pointing out the irony, in reports on Elian
Gonzalez, ABC, CNN and NBC/MSNBC played portions of Clinton’s insistence
at the press conference that the Miami relatives should follow the law.
ABC viewers heard: "But I still believe in the rule of law here, we
all have to, whatever the law is, whatever the decision is ultimately
made, the rest of us ought to obey it." A story run NBC and MSNBC
showed Clinton declaring: "They should observe the rule of law."
Instead of examining the Willey case and what led to
the judge’s ruling, ABC dedicated nearly five minutes to how new
investors are driving the "volatility" of the stock market and
the dangers of buying on margin; CNN spent over two minutes summarizing a
study which claimed the length of a woman’s index finger is a good
indicator of whether she is a lesbian; CBS allocated almost three minutes
to melting ice in Alaska as a sign of global warming; MSNBC replayed a
ten-minute Dateline story on flammable mattresses; and NBC devoted its
"In Depth" segment, which consumed more than five minutes, to
the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to take paternity
leave followed by a look at a study on how moms and dads in the U.S. are
spending more time with their kids.
Here’s a rundown of how the networks handled the
Willey ruling and how much time each gave to other stories, many less than
pressing. All but MSNBC led with one or more reports on the tornado damage
to downtown Fort Worth, Texas. Below is a look at the March 29 evening
shows on the broadcast networks and then the cable networks.
-- ABC’s World News Tonight opened with two
minutes on the tornado followed by 1:55 on an MIT study on how two-thirds
of the time commercial passenger plane pilots fly through storms. Jackie
Judd got 1:40 to update the Elian Gonzalez case. She noted:
"At his news
conference President Clinton struggled to appear even-handed, but
ultimately reminded the family of its responsibility."
I still believe in the rule of law here, we all have to, whatever the law
is, whatever the decision is ultimately made, the rest of us ought to obey
concluded: "Justice Department officials said tonight they considered
the Mayor’s comments inflammatory, not helpful during this critical
Next, 1:40 on the Uganda doomsday cult deaths and 22
seconds on the Supreme Court ruling that Erie, Pennsylvania may ban fully
nude dancing. Then, anchor Peter Jennings arrived at the judge’s ruling,
taking 19 seconds to relay:
judge has ruled that President Clinton criminally violated the privacy of
Kathleen Willey, who accused him of groping her in the Oval Office. The
ruling concerns the White House’s release of some friendly letters Miss
Willey wrote the President. The judge said that Mr. Clinton knew he was
subject to a law called the Privacy Act, but he chose to violate its
Jennings then went to John Cochran for a barely
minute-long summary of other issues Clinton commented on during his press
conference. After an ad break ABC dedicated 4:55 to "A Closer
Look" by John Martin at how "volatility" in the stock
market is being fueled by the explosion of information now available
online and on cable TV which has caused new investors to buy and sell
often. For the second piece in the package Kevin Newman highlighted the
dangers of buying on margin. The first ever overseas opening day for
baseball, in Japan, earned a 2:35 story.
Finally, Jennings took 38 seconds, twice the time he
dedicated to the judge’s finding, to showing animation of a planned
stadium in Japan in which the walls and seats move to allow for crowds of
from 5,000 to 40,000.
-- CBS Evening News
began with 4:15 on the tornado followed by 2:02 on Elian Gonzalez, but
CBS’s story didn’t play a Clinton soundbite. Anchor Dan Rather then
took 29 seconds to read this item:
Clinton says he disagrees with a federal judge’s ruling today that he,
the President, violated the privacy of former White House volunteer
Kathleen Willey, a misdemeanor. In a 60 Minutes interview in 1998 [video
of her with Ed Bradley] Willey claimed the President made unwanted sexual
advances. In an effort to refute that White House aides released friendly
letters Willey wrote after the alleged incident. The President said today
he’d released the letters quote, ‘reluctantly’ but he said it was
the only way to refute the woman’s accusations."
Next, John Roberts got two minutes to review other
issues raised during Clinton’s press conference, mainly gas prices.
Roberts stressed how despite the higher gas prices, sales of
"gas-guzzling SUVs" are expected to surpass cars this year. He
showed himself posing this question to Clinton at the press conference: "Have you done enough, both practically
and psychologically, to promote the idea of weaning this country off of
fossil fuels?" Clinton began his
reply: "Well, maybe not, but I’ve done a lot more than the Congress
The show next gave two minutes to a piece on the
Supreme Court hearing a case about prayer at school sports events,
followed by 2:45 for Bob McNamara to warn of the "big ice melt"
in Alaska which proves global warming. He ominously concluded: "It
comes slowly, but Spring is returning to Alaska and with it the hope of
many here that the Earth’s warming is just a cycle of climate and not a
catastrophe yet to come."
CBS’s 2:45 "American Dream" segment
focused on a 72-year-old woman whose son she had given up for adoption 45
years ago, because she was not married at the time, managed to find her.
Rather finished up with 40 seconds on baseball’s opening day in Japan.
-- NBC Nightly News led
with 5:05 on the tornado before anchor Tom Brokaw introduced a story on
Clinton’s press conference:
"At the White House today President Clinton met
with the press. With less than a year to go in his term, he has a lot on
his agenda, but two problems, soaring gas prices and that old sex scandal,
took up much of the question and answer time."
Bob Kur ran through Clinton’s comment on OPEC oil
production, how he put pressure on the oil companies to cut prices and
urged the public see gas prices as a "wake up call" on buying
SUVs. Kur continued, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
"Then he challenged Congress to move quickly on a Medicare
prescription drug benefit, a patients’ bill of rights, an increase in
the minimum wage, and he hit Congress on stalled gun control."
appears the opponents of reform have run out of arguments, so now
they’re just trying to run out the clock."
Now we get to NBC’s 18 seconds on the Willey
ruling, though the 18-second measurement does not include Brokaw’s
introductory reference to "that old sex scandal." Kur stated:
"The President was forced to confront a new twist in an old legal
battle. A federal judge ruling today that Mr. Clinton violated the Privacy
Act by releasing letters from Kathleen Willey, who accused him of making
an unwanted sexual advance in the White House."
"Obviously we don’t agree with the ruling."
Kur quickly moved on to
Clinton reminiscing about spending time in India with daughter Chelsea.
Brokaw soon arrived at what NBC really considered
the big news of the day: "NBC News In Depth tonight, the new
fatherhood and just how much time should a new dad take off from his job?
This has become a very hot issue in Britain where Prime Minister Tony
Blair is about to become a father again at the age of 46. Blair and his
wife Cherie are a high-powered couple. They make a lot of money. As Prime
Minister Blair earns $175,000 a year. His wife, a lawyer, is believed to
take home three times that much. So when the baby comes, do both halves of
this power couple stay home?"
stories, first on the British situation and second on the trend in the
U.S. where a study found despite working outside the home moms and dads
are spending more time with their kids, consumed 5:25.
Later in the program NBC got to Elian Gonzalez. In
her story Andrea Mitchell observed: "The President today tried to
defuse the tension."
Clinton at his
press conference: "I don't think they should be singled out. I don't
think there should be any extra pressure put on them. But on the other
hand, I think that who -- they should observe the rule of law."
Instead of pointing
out any contradiction with his own behavior, Mitchell zoomed ahead to her
interview with the INS Commissioner: "In an exclusive interview the
woman in charge of enforcing the custody decision says the burden is on
the Miami relatives to obey."
Nightly News ended with a 2:40 profile of Wenda
Mallard, Executive Vice President of Double Click.
-- MSNBC’s The News
with Brian Williams began with Fidel Castro’s announcement, which came
after the East Coast feeds of the broadcast shows, that he will send
Elian’s father to the U.S. The show
replayed Mitchell’s piece as quoted above from NBC Nightly News.
After lengthy interviews about OPEC/gas prices and
the New York Senate race, MSNBC allocated 9:50 to a replay of a piece
titled, "The Burning Bed," a segment from Dateline NBC by Lea
Thompson on how federal regulators have yet to ban mattresses made of
polyurethane foam which easily ignites, emitting poisonous gasses. Yet,
most inmates in prisons get flame retardant mattresses because local
governments want to prevent prison fires.
About 58 minutes into the show substitute anchor
Forrest Sawyer finally got to Judge Lamberth’s ruling, but not with an
actual story. Sawyer took 23 seconds in the "Tomorrow’s
Headlines" segment to summarize a Washington Post story on the
-- CNN’s The World
Today. Following tornado news and multiple pieces on Elian, anchor Jim
Moret played this soundbite from Clinton’s press conference:
"I would just
hope that the law would be followed by everyone, including them. I think
that there is a legal process here. I have done my best to avoid
politicizing it. And I think that the appropriate authorities should -- in
this case, the judges -- will make a decision. And when that is done, I
think that the people on all sides should accept the rule of the
A bit later John King provided an overview of the
press conference in a piece similar to what ran earlier on Inside
Politics. King summarized Clinton’s comments on OPEC and U.S. energy
policy before adding: "Then 22 questions, a chance to discuss
relations with China, Russia under new President Vladimir Putin, and to
offer advice to father to be Tony Blair, the British Prime Minster whose
wife wants him to take time off for paternity leave."
don’t want to get in the middle of that."
King proceeded to take 28 seconds to relay how
Clinton reacted to the court finding: "There were ghosts of the past
as the President tried to shape his future and his legacy. Mr. Clinton
took issue with a new ruling by a federal judge who says the President
violated the Privacy Act when he released letters from former White House
volunteer Kathleen Willey during the Monica Lewinsky investigation. Willey
had accused the President of making unwanted sexual advances."
was the only way I knew to refute allegations that were made against me
that were untrue. And I think they plainly did that. And I would not have
done it otherwise."
Minutes later CNN’s
Don Knapp highlighted the latest evidence of a biological cause for sexual
preference, taking over two minutes to pass along a U.C.-Berkeley
professor’s theory about a link between sexual orientation and the
length of a woman’s index finger relative to her ring finger.
-- FNC. The 7pm ET Fox
Report gave anchor Shepard Smith and reporter Jim Angle 2:25 to report and
discuss the court ruling and Clinton’s reaction. The 6pm ET/9pm PT
Special Report with Brit Hume led with Brian Wilson examining the Lamberth
ruling. He uniquely quoted the Judge: "The President had the
requisite intent for committing a criminal violation of the Privacy
Act." Wilson also uniquely explained how the ruling was spurred by a
Judicial Watch civil lawsuit.
Wilson went on to discuss with Hume how a White
House computer contractor revealed there is a disk containing e-mail
written by Monica Lewinsky and how Congressman Dan Burton has said he will
make a criminal referral to the Justice Department over statements his
committee heard last week about the e-mail scandal.
In the second half of the program Hume relayed a
short item about Hillary Clinton’s role in the release of Willey’s
letters: "The Justice Department has said in court filings that White
House aide Sidney Blumenthal discussed the Willey letters with Mrs.
Clinton at the time Willey made her allegations and that Mrs. Clinton
agreed with Blumenthal that the letters should be released."
Lamberth’s finding was announced in the morning, in plenty of time for
Bill Clinton’s press conference which began at 2:08pm ET, but did not
come up until CNN’s John King posed the tenth question and he set
Clinton up nicely to dismiss the judge’s credibility by asking Clinton
if he agreed "with the take of one of your legal advisers earlier
today who called this judge, quote, ‘a loose cannon’?"
The low priority given the development by the White
House press corps surprised FNC’s Brit Hume, who immediately after the
press conference scolded his colleagues. At 3:15pm ET he told anchor
"I think this
most extraordinary thing about this news conference, Shep, and it was one
of the more extraordinary ones I’ve ever seen, were the questions. We
were ten questions into this news conference when he was finally asked
about the federal judge’s finding today in Washington that the President
had committed a criminal violation of the Privacy Act. It is not every day
that a judge makes such a finding, and it, we talked, we heard all about
the President’s views on Elian Gonzalez, certainly that’s in the news.
We had questions on the Middle East. We had the President’s opinion
solicited in the second question in the news conference about police
shootings in New York. And then it was ten questions in before we got
around to this extraordinary thing that happened today with the federal
judge making this finding. Now the President said he didn’t agree with
it, which is what one would expect him to say, and obviously there’s
more on this chapter to play out. But quite a remarkable performance by
those asking the questions it seemed to me."
On target analysis, but Hume, who is Washington
Managing Editor for Fox News, did not point out that one of his staffers
had a chance before CNN’s King to ask about the Willey ruling. The
eighth question went to Jim Angle who used his time to pose the second
question of the press conference on the Gonzalez situation.
Part of the reason for the delay in getting to the
ruling may have been that Clinton initially called upon less-known
reporters with particular interests and avoided the network stars, but
even when he did go to the big name correspondents they asked about other
matters and failed to follow up on CNN reporter John King’s inquiry
about the Lamberth decision. CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, for instance,
queried Clinton about "any thoughts or advice for your friend"
Tony Blair about taking paternity leave and "what would you do in
Here’s a rundown in numbered sequence of the
questions posed at the March 29 press conference shown live by CNN, FNC
and MSNBC, along with some of Clinton’s most noteworthy replies:
-- Q1) Helen Thomas on Assad and Middle East peace.
-- Q2) Sonya Ross,
AP: "Mr. President, three unarmed black men have been shot and killed
by police in New York City in the past 13 months. Do you believe that the
New York Police Department has a racial problem? And does that department
require Justice Department oversight?"
-- Q3) Randall Mikkelsen, Reuters: Is it wise to get as close to Russia’s Putin as you
had to Yeltsin?
-- Q4) Ellen Ratner, Talk Radio News: "The
Internet commission is meeting on electronic commerce, and they are giving
some proposals. What are your thoughts about what proposals you think they
should come out with? And also, what about the states as electronic
commerce becomes more and more available on the net and may take revenue
from the states?"
-- Q5) Bob Deans,
Cox Newspapers: "Mr. President, are you prepared to deploy American
advisers, monitors or troops on the Golan Heights to secure an
Israeli-Syrian peace accord?"
-- Q6) John Cochran, ABC News: "A possible
confrontation is looming between the relatives and Elian Gonzalez and
federal authorities. As a last resort, would you permit federal
authorities or some kind of federal agents to go in there to forcibly take
the boy, so that he could be sent back to Cuba?"
prompted Clinton’s first comments about respect for the law: "I
would just hope that the law would be followed by everyone, including
them. I think that there is a legal process here. I have done my best to
avoid politicizing it. And I think that the appropriate authorities should
-- in this case, the judges -- will make a decision. And when that is
done, I think that the people on all sides should accept the rule of the
Pressed by Cochran
about sending in the U.S. Marshals, Clinton added: "Well, that --
it's no more an option there than it is for anyone else who doesn't -- who
says, I don't like the way the courts decide. I don't think they should be
singled out. I don't think there should be any extra pressure put on them.
But on the other hand, I think that who -- they should observe the rule of
law, just like if they prevail in court, the others should accept it. I
have done my best not to overly politicize this. And I don't think we
should. There is a legal process here, we ought to let it play out."
-- Q7) Unidentified male reporter: Getting nominees
for the Federal Reserve Board confirmed.
-- Q8) Jim Angle,
Fox News: "Mr. President, the mayor of Miami, back on the Elian
Gonzalez case, the mayor of Miami said today that he would withhold any
assistance from the city, including police, if federal authorities decide
to return Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, and that if there were any violence in
the streets he would hold you and Attorney General Reno personally
responsible for that. That seems to sound like an invitation for the
community to block federal authorities and an assurance to them that the
Miami police will stand aside."
Clinton urged the
law be obeyed: "Well, I like the mayor very much, but I still believe
in the rule of law here. We all have to, whatever the law is, whatever the
decision is ultimately made, the rest of us ought to obey it."
-- Q9) Bill Plante, CBS News: "Mr. President,
Charlton Heston is on the college speaking circuit. And he said last
night: It amazes me that the president is so stubborn when it comes to
guns. And he notes that there are already 22,000 gun laws on the books, by
his count, which he says that the administration does not enforce. Could
you do more to enforce existing gun laws? And how do you feel about the
attack that the NRA has mounted on you and your administration?"
-- Q10) John King, CNN: "Mr. President, a
federal judge, with whom you have disagreed in the past, today said it was
his opinion that you had committed a criminal violation of the Privacy Act
by releasing those Kathleen Willey letters during the independent counsel
investigation. What do you think of that ruling? And do you agree with the
take of one of your legal advisers earlier today who called this judge,
quote, ‘a loose cannon?’"
"Well, he does seem to have somehow acquired a significant percentage
of the cases involving the White House. That's an interesting story. But
anyway, you know, obviously, we don't agree with the ruling. And I can say
that when the decision was made to release those letters, I didn't even
have any conversations with anybody about the Privacy Act. I never thought
about it, never thought about whether it applied or not. And decided to do
it reluctantly only because it was the only way I knew to refute
allegations that were made against me that were untrue. And I think they
plainly did that. And I would not have done it otherwise...."
-- Q11) Larry McQuillan, USA Today: Sign a gas tax
-- Q12) Mark Knoller, CBS News: "Mr. President, I wonder if you've got any
thoughts or advice for your friend, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and
the dilemma that he faces on whether he should take parental leave, as his
wife has suggested, when their next child is born? And if you don't want
to share your advice with us, what would you do in that situation?"
-- Q13) Mara Liasson, NPR: Gore’s opposition to Clinton’s trade stance with China.
-- Q14) Susan
Feeney, Dallas Morning News: "Sir, could you comment on the Vice
President's plan for a $7 billion democracy endowment to pay for
congressional and perhaps presidential campaigns?"
-- Q15) John
Harris, The Washington Post: Still think Chinese
President Jiang's leadership deserves the "praise you gave it"
two years ago?
-- Q16) Mark Smith, AP Radio: "Mr. President,
I'd like to return to campaign finance reform, if I could. Vice President
Gore, in announcing his proposal, called himself an ‘imperfect
messenger’ on that subject. Isn't that acknowledge, sir, of something
you and he have long denied, that there was an attempt to bend, if not
break, the spirit, if not the letter, of campaign finance laws during your
maintained: "....look at the difference in the way we reacted in 1996
and the way the other party reacted to allegations of illegal foreign
money, for example. What did we do? We
spent $4 million, that we had to go out and raise, to put all these
records on computer disks, to give it all to the Justice Department to
make sure that everything is there. There was no slow-walking, no
stonewalling, no nothing.
outraged when I found out that the system for checking the backgrounds of
contributors and things like that had been dismantled without my knowledge
or approval....I was as appalled as the next person when I found out that
we had taken funds -- that people had given us money that wasn't
legal....And so I think what he meant is that he had been involved in one
incident which he felt was unfortunate, and we raised soft money, and we'd
done it aggressively, because we don't believe in unilateral
-- Q17) George Condon, Copley News Service: Could
you ever support Taiwanese independence?
-- Q18) Thomas
Hargrove, Scripps-Howard: "Although not unprecedented in history,
it's unusual for a President's child to have such an important limelight
as Chelsea had during your state visit to the Asian subcontinent. With the
First Lady fully engaged in New York, will we be seeing more of Chelsea?
Did she express an interest to make more state visits with you, sir? How
do you think she did?"
unidentified male reporter: "Mr. President, it was reported today
that the White House had a computer disk with Monica Lewinsky's e-mails.
Sir, what do you think about the notion that it wasn't turned over sooner?
And how would you assess your administration's overall handling of e-mail
problems at the White House?"
-- Q20) Francine Keiffer, Christian Science Monitor: Violence glorified in movies still?
-- Q21) Bob Kur,
NBC News: More danger for U.S. troops in Kosovo?
-- Q22) John
Roberts, CBS News: "Mr. President, tomorrow on the Hill, Republicans
will accuse you of a failed energy policy when we look at America's
continued dependence on foreign oil. Even a member of the Democratic
Senate says that not enough has been done, that we have grown complacent.
And when you look at the popularity of sport utility vehicles in this
country, sir, have you done enough, both practically and psychologically,
to promote the idea of weaning this country off of fossil fuels?"
++ Get a flavor of the
press corps’ interests. Late Thursday morning MRC Webmaster Andy Szul
will post a RealPlayer clip of CBS News reporter Mark Knoller asking
advice for Blair and Clinton’s response about how "I envy him very
much" and "I wouldn't have the same burdens if we were having a
baby. I could spend a lot of time with the baby and still work." Go
Knoller is primarily a radio reporter who appears on
TV usually only on the Saturday Early Show, so if you recognize his name
and can place his voice here’s a chance to see what he looks like.