Judicial Watch “Conservative” in Clinton Era, Now “Legal Advocacy Group”; JW Suddenly Newsworthy; Brown Whined About Having to Cover Clinton Scandals; Geraldo: Monica Distracted FBI from Terrorism
1) When it was suing Clinton officials to disclose information Judicial Watch was always tagged as “conservative.” But when it sued Vice President Cheney on Wednesday, the networks changed their tune as all described it as a non-ideological “watchdog group,” “legal group,” “legal activist group” or “legal advocacy group.” A rundown of contrasts for ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC.
2) Seeing the widespread media interest in the Judicial Watch lawsuit against Vice President Cheney, Brit Hume observed on his FNC show Wednesday night: “It’s worth noting that Larry Klayman never got much coverage when he was going after Bill Clinton.” Indeed, Wednesday night marked the first time ever that on the same night all three broadcast network evening shows cited Judicial Watch as both CBS and NBC led with it. Plus, examples of Clinton-era Judicial Watch activities the networks ignored.
3) When Aaron Brown on Tuesday night remonstrated critics who charged bias stemming from his focus on Bush's 1990 sale of Harken Energy stock, he lectured his critics to think about where they'd be if the shoe was on the other foot, i.e., if Bill Clinton were President. But when the subject was Bill Clinton, Brown frequently commented on how he found it distasteful to be even reporting allegations against the then-President.
4) Geraldo Rivera suggested September 11th might have been avoided if FBI agents had not been
mis-allocated to the Lewinsky case: “Don’t you wish those guys were looking for terrorists before September 11th?” Rivera recalled the “partisan bitterness, that divisiveness that marked the end of the Clinton years.” But he once called Ken Starr a “terrorist.”
When Judicial Watch was suing Clinton administration officials the networks, on the rare occasions when they deigned to even mention the group, made sure viewers realized it was “conservative.” But when the organization run by Larry Klayman filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Vice President Dick Cheney, it suddenly became a non-ideological “watchdog group,” “Washington watchdog group,” “legal group,” “legal activist group” or “legal advocacy group.”
(And it marked the first time, at least since January 1996, that all three broadcast networks aired a story on the same night about a Judicial Watch lawsuit. More about that in item #2 below.)
Compare and contrast network labeling of Judicial Watch in the past versus Wednesday, starting with CNN and then the broadcast networks. So the description stand out, I’ve put them in ALL CAPS:
-- CNN’s Inside Politics, Brooks Jackson contrast:
# Jackson, October 29, 1996 in a story on a federal judge ordering the then-missing John Huang to be deposed by Judicial Watch: “The lawsuit concerns attempts by a CONSERVATIVE WATCHDOG GROUP to uncover trade documents at the Commerce Department where Huang worked until last year.”
# Jackson, July 10, 2002, first sentence of his story: “A WASHINGTON WATCHDOG GROUP is calling Vice President Richard Cheney a crook.”
(In checking the tape of the 1996 Inside Politics show I noticed what I had forgotten, that back then the half-hour IP aired on CNN at 8:30pm. Also, the above 1996 Jackson quote does not match what you’ll find in Nexis which has a very inaccurate transcript featuring whole paragraphs which did not air. The above is what I transcribed direct from the videotape in the MRC’s tape library.)
-- CNN’s Inside Politics, Judy Woodruff contrast:
# Woodruff, March 3, 1998: “Another Clinton-related controversy has prompted a new round of depositions. Lawyers for THE CONSERVATIVE GROUP, JUDICIAL WATCH, today questioned Clinton adviser, Paul Begala, about the FBI files flap.”
# Woodruff, July 10, 2002, introducing the story by Brooks Jackson: “Now we turn to the big issue of corporate responsibility. The reviews of President Bush’s speech on that subject were still coming in today as A WATCHDOG GROUP said that it was suing Vice President Dick Cheney.”
On screen as Woodruff was saying the above: “Watchdog alleges fraud by VP, Halliburton Co.”
-- ABC’s World News Tonight:
# Brian Ross in an October 24, 1996 story on the disappearance of John Huang: “Larry Klayman, A CONSERVATIVE LAWYER who filed the lawsuit, says the Democrats are trying to hide Huang until after the election.”
Pierre Thomas, in an August 27, 2001 story on Anne Marie Smith, the flight attendant who had a relationship with Gary Condit: “Smith denies making any money off the case, and today she appears to be fighting back, with support from THE CONSERVATIVE LEGAL FOUNDATION, JUDICIAL WATCH.”
# Peter Jennings, July
10, 2002: “Now to this issue of Vice President Cheney. A LEGAL ACTIVIST GROUP CALLED JUDICIAL WATCH filed a lawsuit today against the Vice President and Halliburton, the energy company he used to run.”
(According to a Nexis search, this was the first time Peter Jennings has ever uttered the name “Judicial Watch” on the air and World News Tonight only cited them once during the Clinton years. More in item #2 below.)
-- CBS Evening News:
# Phil Jones, December 6, 1996: “In May, Judge Royce Lamberth issued an order to the Department of Commerce to produce documents being sought by JUDICIAL WATCH, IT'S A CONSERVATIVE GROUP investigating foreign contributions to Democrats and the Clinton presidential campaign.”
# Bob Schieffer, March 23, 1998: “In a sworn affidavit filed in federal court, Nolanda Hill, [late Commerce Secretary Ron] Brown's former business partner, said Brown told her before his death 'the trade missions were being used as a fundraising tool for the upcoming Clinton-Gore campaign and the Democratic Party.' She said, 'Ron told me that domestic companies were being solicited to donate large sums of money in exchange for their selection to participate.' And when a CONSERVATIVE WATCHDOG GROUP, JUDICIAL WATCH, became suspicious and filed suit to get government documents about the trips, she said Brown told her former White
House chief of staff Leon Panetta and presidential aide John Podesta urged him to hold back the documents until after the 1996 elections and to devise 'a way not to comply with the court's orders.'”
# Wyatt Andrews, July 10, 2002, leading into a soundbite from Larry Klayman with his Judicial Watch affiliation on screen: “In a gathering political storm, the President and Vice President face charges that, as businessmen, they were part of the culture that goosed up numbers to shine up companies. Vice President Cheney, already facing a six-week-old SEC investigation, was sued by A WATCHDOG GROUP alleging investor fraud."
(The 1996 and 1998 citations of Judicial Watch quoted above were the only two Clinton-era times Nexis found the group mentioned on the CBS Evening News. More in item #2 below.)
-- NBC Nightly News.
# Tom Brokaw, December 19, 2000: “Back in Florida the news media and at least one CONSERVATIVE ADVOCACY GROUP have restarted the recount.”
# Kerry Sanders in the subsequent story: “Florida law makes the ballots public after the election is over, and A CONSERVATIVE LEGAL GROUP, JUDICIAL WATCH, is counting here as well, trying to figure out, it says, what standard Broward officials used when they counted the ballots and found Al Gore the winner.”
# Anchor Brian Williams, July 10, 2002: “A WATCHDOG GROUP that tormented the Clinton administration filed suit against Vice President Cheney over alleged accounting irregularities at Halliburton.”
# Campbell Brown, opening the subsequent story: "New accusations today against the Vice President and Halliburton, the massive energy company he headed for five years. THE LEGAL GROUP, JUDICIAL WATCH, that made headlines helping Paula Jones with her lawsuit against President Clinton, today sued Vice President Cheney...”
(Nexis doesn’t go as far back for NBC as for ABC and CBS. The December 2000 story quoted above was the only previous NBC Nightly News story mentioning Judicial Watch found in a Nexis search.)
-- ABC’s Good Morning America:
# Diane Sawyer to Anne Marie Smith’s lawyer, Jim Robinson, August 28, 2001: "In the New York Times this morning, the fact that you are joined in this request for a grand jury by Judicial Watch, according to the New York Times says, 'adds a decidedly political edge to the case.' Is this a Republican vendetta of some kind? A RIGHT-WING VENDETTA?"
# News reader Robin Roberts, July 11, 2002, as found by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson: "Well, Vice President Cheney is being accused of corporate fraud. THE WATCHDOG GROUP JUDICIAL WATCH is suing Cheney and the energy company he once headed."
NBC’s Ann Curry apparently didn’t get the memo on how Judicial Watch should no longer be tagged as conservative. MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed this item she read on the July 10 Today:
"Meantime, a Washington based watchdog group is accusing Vice President Dick Cheney and his former firm of an accounting fraud. Judicial Watch, a private group that champions conservative causes, is filing a shareholder lawsuit against Cheney and the energy company he once headed."
But, like ABC’s Robin Roberts this morning, CBS’s Julie Chen followed the new script on Wednesday morning, MRC analyst Brian Boyd observed. On the July 10 Early Show Chen announced:
"Vice President Dick Cheney faces a lawsuit over his corporate past. He was CEO of oil services giant Haliburton, accused of accounting fraud. THE ADVOCACY GROUP JUDICIAL WATCH plans to file a shareholder lawsuit today against Cheney and the company."
I don’t have a contrast to the Clinton years since, according to Nexis, this is the first time a CBS show in the 7-9am time slot (Early Show/This Morning) has mentioned Judicial Watch by name.
Update: Two related items in subsequent CyberAlerts:
-- Even the ABC News political unit found sudden network interest in Judicial Watch
remarkable: “If you had told us that within a year of the September 11 attacks, Larry Klayman would lead one of the newscasts, we would have been dubious. But there he was leading the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather last night, and playing big in the first blocks of WNTWPJ and
TNBCNNWTB.” And FNC’s Brit Hume picked up on a CyberAlert item about the coverage. For details:
-- On the ABC News.com Web site “The Note” linked to the CyberAlert documentation of the changing labeling, CBS on Sunday, July 14, described Judicial Watch as “a public interest group,” and Fox News Sunday showed video clips to illustrate the contrasting descriptions offered by ABC, CNN and NBC. For
details and a video clip:
Seeing the widespread media interest in the Judicial Watch lawsuit against Vice President Cheney over accounting practices at Halliburton when Cheney ran the company, Brit Hume observed on his FNC show Wednesday night: “It’s worth noting that Larry Klayman never got much coverage when he was going after Bill Clinton.” Morton Kondracke added: “Deemed a crank in those days.”
Indeed, my review of the MRC archives and a Nexis search shows that Wednesday night marked the first time ever that on the same night all three broadcast network evening shows cited Judicial Watch as ABC, CBS and NBC ran full stories prompted by the “watchdog” group’s lawsuit. The CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News led with it. (The Nexis database goes back solidly to 1996 for CBS, a bit earlier for ABC’s
Judicial Watch filed a lot of lawsuits during the Clinton years and the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening shows ignored virtually all of them. Some were covered by CNN, more by
According to a Nexis search, July 10 was the first time Peter Jennings ever uttered the name “Judicial Watch” on the air and World News Tonight only cited them once during the Clinton years -- the October 24, 1996 story quoted in item #1 above and cited further below.
The CBS Evening News only cited Judicial Watch twice during the Clinton years, the instances in 1996 and 1998 quoted in item #1 above. .
Nexis doesn’t go back to 1996 for NBC, but judging by the other networks and how CyberAlert has never previously cited a NBC Nightly News story mentioning Judicial Watch, I doubt they’ve done much, if anything, beyond the late 2000 story quoted in item #1 above about the group’s lawsuit over ballot counting in Florida.
-- A Monday, June 30, 1997 CyberAlert item documented one case of network disinterest in Judicial Watch findings:
Scandal Skipped: "Huang Had Special Interest in China, CIA Officer Testifies," announced a Saturday, June 28 Washington Times headline over an AP story. Saturday's Washington Post offered a headline emphasizing Huang's manners: "CIA Official Briefed 'Very Polite' Huang 30 Times at Commerce Dept." The AP item in the Washington Times began:
"John Huang, a central figure in the campaign fundraising investigation, expressed a particular interest in gathering
secret intelligence about China, according to testimony by the CIA officer who briefed Huang 37 times." The testimony was taken
as part of a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch on whether Democratic donors were rewarded with trips on trade missions.
Coverage: Again, not a syllable on Friday and Saturday's ABC
World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News.
END Reprint of first of three previous CyberAlert items
Two other earlier CyberAlerts documented instances where one broadcast network evening show covered a Judicial Watch action while the other two skipped it.
-- From the Friday, October 25, 1996
Last Sunday, DNC General Chairman Chris Dodd promised that
John Huang would be made available to the media. So far, no one's been able to find the DNC fundraiser (and former Commerce Department official) responsible for bringing in the illegal $250,000 from South Korea and hundreds of thousands of dollars in other questionable donations from overseas. On Thursday, a federal judge took action. As reported by Brian Ross on Thursday's World News Tonight (October 24):
"In Washington today, a federal judge ordered Democratic Party lawyers into court and told them to produce John Huang to testify in a civil lawsuit alleging favoritism at the Commerce Department for big Democratic contributors. The judge's unusual action came after Huang could not be found at his home in Glendale California or when U.S. Marshall's went to an address yesterday in
Washington that the judge had ordered the Commerce Department to provide..."
Reporter Mark Litke followed with a dispatch from Jakarta on
the Lippo conglomerate's Asian empire and ties to Clinton.
While ABC thus updated viewers on the Indonesian scandal, neither
CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News mentioned the scandal or Huang's name. (CNN's Inside Politics did offer an anchor-read brief.)
END Reprint of second of three previous CyberAlert items
As quoted in item #1 above, in that 1996 story Ross went on to tag Judicial Watch’s chief: “Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer who filed the lawsuit...”
-- An excerpt from the Tuesday, March 24, 1998
On Monday Nolanda Hill, business partner with the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown filed an affidavit in Judicial Watch’s civil suit and gave testimony in court. What did she say? ABC, CNN and NBC viewers have no idea since those networks skipped the development that CBS and FNC found newsworthy. Both of those networks reported that she asserted that Commerce sold inclusion on trade missions to businessmen who donated to the Democratic Party or Clinton-Gore. CBS also reported that top White House officials told Brown to defy a court order demanding release of documents showing the scheme. FNC added that Hill claimed the “scheme was First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s idea.”...
ABC’s World News Tonight. Zilch on...the Commerce scheme. Sam Donaldson concluded his report from Ghana by noting how foreign trips let Presidents escape bad news...
CBS Evening News....Bob Schieffer reported: “Like other Commerce Secretaries the late Ron Brown organized overseas trade missions like this one with business leaders to promote American business overseas. But in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court, Nolanda Hill, Brown’s former business partner, said Brown told her before his death, 'the trade missions were being used as a fundraising tool for the upcoming Clinton-Gore campaign and the Democratic Party.’ She said 'Ron told me that domestic companies were being solicited to donate large sums of money in exchange for their selection to participate.’
“And, when a conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, became suspicious and filed suit to get government documents about the trips, she said Brown told her former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and presidential aide John Podesta urged him to hold back the documents until after the 1996 elections and to devise 'a way not to comply with the court’s orders.’...
END of Excerpt
For the article in full:
The MRC’s MediaWatch newsletter later reported: “While CNN’s The World Today squeezed in a story, Inside Politics skipped the development. The next day ABC’s Good Morning America devoted a 17-second item to Hill’s allegations, but that was it for ABC: nothing on World News Tonight. NBC ignored the tale of corruption entirely on Nightly News and Today.”
Back to this week, Wednesday’s CBS Evening News led with a story which prominently featured the Judicial Watch lawsuit. John Roberts introduced the story transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
"There is a crisis of confidence on Wall Street, and there is no sign President Bush's visit there has done anything to ease it. Since the President vowed yesterday to crack down on corporate crooks and cooked books, the Dow has plunged 461 points. A CBS News poll finds 79 percent of Americans believe questionable corporate accounting is widespread, and 71 percent believe that government needs to do more to regulate it. On that score, the Senate today approved new penalties for corporate crime, including 10 years in prison for securities fraud. And after defending the President's past corporate financial dealings, the White House is now defending the Vice President's. We begin at the White House tonight with CBS's Wyatt Andrews."
Andrews began: "In a gathering political storm, the President and Vice President face charges that, as businessmen, they were part of the culture that goosed up numbers to shine up companies. Vice President Cheney, already facing a six-week-old SEC investigation, was sued by a watchdog group alleging investor fraud."
Larry Klayman, Judicial Watch: "Vice President Cheney was the chief executive officer at the time."
The July 10 NBC Nightly News also led with the lawsuit. Anchor Brian Williams announced:
"This tumbling stock market may be giving the White House enough of a headache tonight, but they have another piece of bad news to contend with. A watchdog group that tormented the Clinton administration filed suit against Vice President Cheney over alleged accounting irregularities at Halliburton. That's the energy company he ran before going back into public service. Here is NBC's Campbell Brown."
Brown explained: "New accusations today against the Vice President and Halliburton, the massive energy company he headed for five years. The legal group, Judicial Watch, that made headlines helping Paula Jones with her lawsuit against President Clinton, today sued Vice President Cheney, Dallas-based Halliburton, and its accounting firm -- scandal-plagued Arthur Andersen. The suit alleges Halliburton issued financial statements from 1998 to 2001, part of the time Cheney was in charge, that were quote, 'false and misleading,' that the company, similar to Enron, used accounting practices to overstate revenues by $445 million, resulting in major losses for shareholders."
Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch: "There's a lot out there, and we want to get to the bottom of it. It's in the public interest, obviously, that the Vice President is beyond reproach."
ABC’s World News Tonight made the lawsuit its second story after a piece on the plunging stock market. Jennings stated:
“Now to this issue of Vice President Cheney. A legal activist group called Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit today against the Vice President and Halliburton, the energy company he used to run. The lawsuit accuses Halliburton, and its former CEO, of the same fraudulent accounting associated with the Worldcom and Enron companies.”
An item written up for me by the MRC’s Rich Noyes:
When CNN’s Aaron Brown on Tuesday night remonstrated critics who charged bias stemming from his Monday night focus on Bush's 1990 sale of Harken Energy stock, he lectured his critics to think about where they'd be if the shoe was on the other foot, i.e., if Bill Clinton were President.
"Would the reaction to this decade-old story have been the same?" Brown asked at the top of the July 9 NewsNight, in comments checked against the transcript by MRC analyst Ken Shepherd. "Would it still be bias? Would the writers still say 'drop this silliness?' Consistency counts and my gut says if the president were Clinton, this decade-old story would be hyped to death all over the radio, through at least half the Congress, probably around more than a few water coolers, and maybe, just maybe, the Justice Department."
Perhaps notably, Brown did not promise that his program would have joined in the coverage of a hypothetical Clinton story.
But when the subject WAS Bill Clinton, Aaron Brown frequently commented on how he found it distasteful to be even reporting personal allegations against the then-President. "Life for all of us has become even worse than the movie 'Ground Hog Day,' he fretted on ABC's since-cancelled Good Morning America Sunday on September 20, 1998: "Not only do we all keep waking up to the same disheartening scandal that is dominating the news and public discourse, nearly every other day, it seems, the Clinton scandal begets new scandals." (The new development that Brown was referring to was the revelation of Henry Hyde's affair thirty years earlier.)
On that same show, he practically begged the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz to condemn the media coverage: "Are we the enablers in all of this, using the word of the time, that we can say, 'Well, it's about family values,' or 'It's about hypocrisy,' or ' It's about this,' or 'It's about that,' but all we really want to do is put the dirt in the paper or on the tube?"
Four months later, as Clinton's Senate trial began, Brown confided to the GMA Sunday audience on January 17, 1999 that he didn't want to be reporting any of it: "As I sat down to write this, I realized I'd much rather be talking to you this morning about Michael Jordan's retirement. I'd rather our lead story was the fascinating scandal unfolding in Salt Lake City, the scandal over allegations of bribery in the Winter Olympics. Someday, those of us in the news business will no doubt miss the Starr-Clinton-Lewinsky mess. It's been a great story. But, a year into it, I'm not sure I have any great thoughts left....Distasteful? Of course it is. In some ways tiresome? Absolutely. But it is also as important as anything we've ever reported on and we need to remember that, too."
Earlier this year, Brown was mocking of Independent Counsel Robert Ray's final Whitewater report: "The investigation into Bill Clinton is finally over -- the independent counsel announced that today. Wow, I was worried there might be an impeachment or something! Look, do me a little favor: If you thought the investigation of Mr. Clinton ended a year ago when he left office, raise your hand. Okay, now you can lower them. If you thought the investigations would never end, raise your hand. It turns out you were closer to correct."
The lengthy Whitewater saga began with reporting in the New York Times in March, 1992. The Harken Energy story involving Bush was featured in print a year earlier -- Time magazine on October 28, 1991 reported on the late SEC filing and other questions involving whether Harken's business deals in the Middle East were a way for countries such as Bahrain to curry favor with the first Bush administration.
Brown is now defending July 2002 coverage of a story whose essential elements haven't changed in more than ten years. Yet the less old "distasteful" and "tiresome" Whitewater and Lewinsky stories made him weary.
New network, but same old Geraldo Rivera. Plugging the new Fox prime time news magazine show Pulse set to debut tonight, which will feature him, on Wednesday’s Live with Regis and Kelly, Rivera suggested September 11th might have been avoided if FBI agents had not been mis-allocated to the Lewinsky case: “Don’t you wish those guys were looking for terrorists before September 11th?”
If Bill Clinton had kept his pants zipped when around interns there wouldn’t have been anything to investigate.
Last November, just after jumping from NBC/CNBC to FNC, he conveyed similar reasoning Bill O’Reilly: “I would bet you that I can find you 4,000, 5,000 FBI agents who wish to God they weren’t assigned to Whitewater, Monicagate, Bill Clinton -- that instead they were on the trail of Osama bin Laden and the people who were plotting mass murder against us.” For more:
On the July 10 Live with Regis and Kelly Rivera first offered some praise for Bush: “I think that President Bush, it’s too bad all these financial difficulties, I think we’re going to be distracted, because he really is, as a commander-in-chief, has done a magnificent job, let’s face it. He’s really rallied people. He beat the bad guy and we’ve got them on the run. I don’t want the country to disintegrate back into that partisan bitterness, that divisiveness that marked the end of the Clinton years where everybody was just hating everybody because of your political party. To me that’s so irrelevant.”
Kelly Ripa: “Do you think that leaves us more susceptible to terrorist attacks when they know we’re so distracted by other things?”
Rivera: “Hundreds of FBI agents were working on Monica Lewinsky! I mean there were 12 of them the day they busted her at that hotel in Virginia. Don’t you wish those guys were looking for terrorists before September 11th?”
Of course, Rivera was a major transmitter of “partisan bitterness, that divisiveness that marked the end of the Clinton years.” He once called Ken Starr a “terrorist.”
Complaining about how Susan McDougal was held in jail for contempt because of Starr’s insistence she tell what she knew, Rivera charged on the April 12, 1999 Upfront Tonight on CNBC: “I really thought all along that to bring the criminal contempt after she did 18 months on the civil contempt showed a kind of viciousness that made Ken Starr a legal terrorist in my book.”
Now we all know what real terrorists are