CyberAlert -- 01/22/1997 -- Clinton Innocent

Clinton Innocent; Poetic Justice for Newt; Clift's Confusion

1. In Inauguration Day coverage, CNN's Bernard Shaw and USA Today's Walter Shapiro defend Clinton's attack on conservatives. One calls it "stirring."

2. The Washington Post and CBS paint Clinton as innocent victim in Democratic fundraising controversy.

3. Networks jump on Gingrich, but as Clinton proposes new finance rules they've failed to report many of his ethical breaches. And a network VP worries about too much emphasis on Clinton scandals!

4. "Poetic justice" is how Time magazine describes the punishment for Newt Gingrich.

5. Eleanor Clift offers an unreliable statement on whether she compared Newt Gingrich to Charles Manson.

6. Another McLaughlin Group regular analogizes Newt Gingrich to OJ Simpson.

1) Some notes from Inauguration Day coverage:

-- MRC analyst Clay Waters caught this bit of generosity by CNN's Bernard Shaw at about 11am ET:

"A very, very special day for this President when you recall that our years ago he came to this city he was expecting so much. His mother was at his side there at the Inaugural. She passed away a year later. And when you look at what was besetting the United States, a four trillion dollar deficit, budget problems, foreign policy problems. The budget deficit now has decreased. There seems to be relative peace in Bosnia. The Middle East, the breakthrough of the Hebron agreement, a lot has gone on in four short years."

A while after Clinton's address, in an exchange with guest commentator Peggy Noonan (a former Reagan and Bush speechwriter), Shaw defended the President's anti-conservative comments:
Noonan: "Some of the language seemed almost radical. He had a sentence in there that said as each new wave of immigrants come into the United States they become targets for hatred and persecution or something to that extent and I thought Yowsa! That's a little bit hot."
Shaw: "Well some people would argue that those immigrants with dark skins have been the object of discrimination rather than those immigrants from Eastern European nations."
Noonan: "But targets! Read it to me, 'Wave after wave of immigrants come and become targets of hatred.' That's just a little bit hot. I have a feeling he went a little over the line in that section, in that part."
Shaw: "Well do you think he went over the line in view of the campaign, the fire-hot, white-heat hot, if you will, rhetoric and debate in the just-concluded presidential campaign. Immigration, a very visceral issue in California and elsewhere?"

-- Over on NBC before Clinton spoke, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed NBC News VP Tim Russert relaying as fact the rhetoric of liberals opposed to welfare reform:

"Many children in this country, it is estimated, will fall below the poverty line with the changes in the welfare reform bill. And Hillary Clinton is going to take initiatives to try to bring some of those children into programs which will help educate and feed and clothe them."

-- Monday night Tom Brokaw announced on the January 20 NBC Nightly News: "The President, it turns out, worked on his speech right up to the moment that he delivered it and while it lacked great passion or memorable phrases, it was filled with noble intentions."

In Tuesday's USA Today (January 21) former Carter Administration official turned Time magazine reporter turned USA Today news columnist Walter Shapiro also found comfort in Clinton's attack on conservatives. Citing the same passage that so upset Noonan ("Each new wave of immigrants gives new targets to old prejudices. Prejudice and contempt, cloaked in the pretense of religious or political conviction are no different") Shapiro endorsed Clinton's take: "That last sentence was a fusillade against aimed at California Gov. Pete Wilson and the Republicans like him who dangerously fan the flames of discord with nostrums like Proposition 209, which rolled back affirmative action."
Shapiro continued: "I doubt that Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition were cheering wildly as the President attacked 'prejudice and contempt' masquerading as 'religious conviction.' But one stirring passage does not a reborn President make."

Ignoring the jabs at conservatives and emphasizing Clinton's call to end partisan bickering, ABC's new White House reporter, John Donvan, concluded his World News Tonight story:
"...Tomorrow, of course, it is back to business. Another question, however, is whether it will also be back to politics. If it is not, and if the President's address today had anything to do with it, then that speech, Peter, certainly deserves to go down in history."

2) Reporters continue to assume that President Clinton was some kind of innocent bystander to Democratic fundraising tactics.

The January 19 Washington Post ran the transcript of its interview with Clinton. Here's the campaign finance questions:
"There's been a lot of talk lately, as you know, printed and so forth, about the Lincoln Bedroom and the people who stay here. And obviously a lot of them are your friends. And I don't think anybody would begrudge somebody having guests in their own house. Some of them, though, it seems apparently you didn't know quite as well. And we're wondering if you might feel let down a little bit by your staff or by the DNC in their zeal to raise funds?"

On Monday's CBS Evening News reporter Rita Braver noted that while the President was being sworn in, "White House aides were putting the finishing touches on the plan he'll propose tomorrow in the wake of he controversy over Democratic fundraising. The President will also announce new rules tightening up contributor's access to the White House."

It's as if these guests showed up unannounced and Clinton was forced to accommodate them.

3) Tuesday night the broadcast networks highlighted the ethical breaches of Newt Gingrich, but the word "ethics" didn't pass their lips in stories on Clinton's proposed campaign finance rules.

Dan Rather opened the January 21 CBS Evening News:
"Good evening. The mood in Washington changed dramatically overnight, from celebration to castigation. The House of Representatives voted today to reprimand and fine Speaker Newt Gingrich for low ethics. Specifically, using money from tax-exempt foundations to fund his partisan college course. And, a pattern of giving investigators inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable information."
CBS didn't mention a word about Clinton's campaign finance proposal.

As a "Day of Dishonor" chyron was displayed, Tom Brokaw opened NBC Nightly News:
"Newt Gingrich, who came to power after all preaching a higher standard in American politics, a man who brought down another Speaker on ethics accusations, tonight he has on his own record the judgment of his peers, Democrat and Republican alike. By an overwhelming vote they found him guilty of ethics violations."
Introducing the second story of the night Brokaw emphasized how Clinton was solving a problem:
"For his part, President Clinton tried to take the high road today on political money, just when Gingrich was caught in the headlights. But, of course, Clinton has his own troubling record on campaign contributions. We have more tonight on how he's trying to get beyond that now from NBC's Jim Miklaszewski."
Miklaszewski noted that "in the last campaign it was the Democrats who took questionable foreign contributions. As of today, no more. The Democratic Party will no longer take political money from foreign firms or individuals, no longer accept more tan $100,000 from any single donor per year. And White House access for campaign contributors will be tightened. But the new rules do not apply to individual Democratic candidates and President Clinton will still invite big contributors to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom."
After a clip of Common Cause's Ann McBride saying voluntary rules aren't enough, Miklaszeski announced:
"But the President claims no matter what mistakes Democrats have made, Republicans are worse."
Clinton: "They raise more money, they raise more foreign money, they raise more money in gig contributions and we take all the heat. It's a free ride."
Stop the tape. "...and President Clinton will still invite big contributors to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom." Huh? NBC viewers must have asked. That story broke December 15, but that was its first mention on NBC Nightly News.

On ABC's World News Tonight Peter Jennings told viewers:
"The Democrats have had their own highly embarrassing problems, as you know, with campaign contributions during the presidential race, have tried today, to get some of the problems behind them. New rules for who may give and under what circumstances."

Stop the tape. "As you know..." How would World News Tonight viewers know about major developments in the Democratic fundraising scandal. They have yet to mention the Lincoln Bedroom as Motel 6 news. As noted in the January 16 and 17 CyberAlerts, NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight have failed to report several recent revelations, including:

-- Last week Vice President Al Gore admitted to the AP that he used "a poor choice of words" when he insisted an April 1996 fundraiser at a Buddhist Temple was nothing more than a "community outreach" event. The AP noted that three days before the event the DNC sent Gore a memo explaining how he should "extend appreciation for participant support and inspire political and fundraising efforts."
-- The day after Christmas the Democratic National Committee released a huge pile of documents on their fundraising activities. The papers showed how foreign donors to the DNC got special access to the White House and Clinton. The New York Times ran a big piece on the December 27 front page.
-- Last Thursday three newspapers uncovered new aspects in the John Huang/Democratic fundraising saga: Thursday's Washington Post front page headline: "Guest Lists at White House Didn't Include Rap Sheets: Some at DNC Fund-Raising Coffees Ran Afoul of Law." The Los Angeles Times front page: "Papers Show Huang's Policy Role at Commerce: Documents Contrast with Assertions that Figure in Democratic Fundraising Scandal Had Minimal Duties." The Boston Globe's page one headline declared: "Clinton Policy Shift Followed Asian-American Fundraiser."

ABC's John Donvan did conclude his piece by noting: "...The new rules look like serious reform. The only question is how good the Democratic Party will be at enforcing them after a 1996 campaign when millions in illegal and improper contributions reached the party coffers and had to be sent back."

And NBC's Miklaszewski was the only one to report that "The Democrats problems are far from over. The Republican Chairman of the House Rules Committee sent a letter to the FBI today asking it to investigate whether some of those foreign contributions may have been a part of espionage against the U.S."

Sounds like a good subject for an investigation by NBC News, or at least an explanatory story. But don't count on it. In a January 17 USA Today story reporter Martha Moore relayed the perspective of NBC's Russert: "The test facing the media may be to not spend all its time covering scandals. 'Do we just become totally overwhelmed with the news of scandal, and forget that all the things we talked about during the campaign -- Medicare, balanced budget and Social Security -- are still going on?' asks NBC's Tim Russert. 'The scandals will eventually be resolved,' but the issues 'will have a lot more impact and consequence.'"

4) Time magazine decided to equate Newt Gingrich with former House Speaker Jim Wright who used royalties from bulk book sales to pocket money and circumvent honoraria limits. Richard Lacayo concluded his piece in the current (January 27) issue:
"The New Republic points out this week that the book [To Renew America] leans heavily on copyrighted materials developed for Newt's college course by the tax-exempt group that is at the center of his current problems.
"That could well be a violation of IRS rules that prohibit tax-exempt organizations from transferring assets to private individuals. It also calls into question Gingrich's claim that he's no Jim wright -- the Democratic Speaker whose ouster he spearheaded -- because he never sought to line his own pockets. After taxes, his royalties would have stuffed his pockets with something like $300,000 -- the amount of his fine. Maybe he should hand it over. If nothing else, it would prove that even when you can't count on the rule of law in Washington, there's always poetic justice."

5) Back on January 3 MediaWatch Associate Editor Tim Graham debated Eleanor Clift on MSNBC about coverage of scandals. Here's one exchange in which Clift was not fully forthcoming:
Tim Graham: "What's worse, Eleanor, is you coming on this program and pretending you're not a partisan, that you can go out on the weekends on the press and compare Newt Gingrich to Charles Manson and than say you can be an observer--"
Eleanor Clift, Newsweek: "I have never compared Newt Gingrich to Charles Manson."
Graham: "McLaughlin Group."
Clift: "In fact, I wrote a book called War Without Bloodshed published earlier this year in which Newt Gingrich is one of the characters. He provided the title for the book. I believe I have fairly covered Newt Gingrich, and I think he would answer that well."

Let's go to the videotape. On the November 18, 1995 McLaughlin Group Clift declared: "Newt Gingrich teaching manners is like Charles Manson teaching nonviolence."

6) Speaking of bizarre analogies, we normally don't follow Morton Kondracke of Roll Call since he's not with a major news outlet, but here's his argument on how Gingrich's punishment was too soft, as expressed on the McLaughlin Group this past weekend:
"Now, as to Newt Gingrich, this is thoroughly in keeping with the OJ Simpson case, for example. OJ Simpson may have committed murder, but he gets fined as a result, he has to pay money. By this theory you get $300,000 for this offense, whatever it is, big fine, Richard Nixon instead of being impeached should have gotten a $5 million dollar fine, maybe. And Jim Wright should have paid $50,000 bucks?"

Well, at least it's not as bad as Sam Donaldson comparing Mr. Newt to Lenin.

-- Brent Baker