CyberAlert -- 01/28/1998 -- Nets Conspire to Court Conspiracy
Nets Conspire to Court Conspiracy; One Journalist Crushed
MRC Chairman on NBC's Today today. Attention early-risers (or late-nighters in Australia where I understand from a recent reader comment that Today airs at midnight): Wednesday morning, January 28, MRC Chairman L. Brent Bozell will appear on the Today show during the first half hour. He'll discuss Matt Lauer's Tuesday interview with Hillary Clinton as well as media coverage of the scandal. The interview will probably be re-played during the day on MSNBC.
Right wing conspiracy day on the networks. In the morning Hillary Clinton announced her theory of how an organized conservative conspiracy is out to destroy her husband, but was not challenged by Today interviewer Matt Lauer. In the evening,
all the networks ran stories recounting her charge. ABC relayed it, CBS amplified it, and NBC actually compared it to reality.
A promo run on MSNBC and NBC Nightly News on Tuesday teased: "Who are these right-wing conspirators the First Lady spoke of? And are they really out to get the President? On the Big Show with Keith Olbermannn tonight on MSNBC."
-- On Tuesday's Today Hillary Clinton told Lauer: "The great story here for anybody willing to find and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy against my husband since the day he announced for President."
Instead of challenging her ludicrous claim, by asking exactly how am intern recommended by a big Democratic donor or Attorney General Janet Reno, who didn't hesitate to approve Starr's probe of the intern matter, fit into this "vast right-wing conspiracy," Lauer replied: "Has your husband, though, through some of his actions possibly made it easier for those people to attack him?" Not a bad question, but in this context it assumes "those people" are responsible for his current plight.
-- CNN's Inside Politics brought on Wall Street Journal editorial writer John Fund to react to Hillary Clinton's claim. Co-anchor Judy Woodruff pressed Fund, relaying the most-often cited allegation made by Clintonistas: "Well, let me ask you about the point she makes, and this has been -- I mean everyone has acknowledged this, that Ken Starr, the independent counsel was appointed by, she says, the same three-judge panel that was itself headed by someone who was chosen by conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth."
Fund countered by adding a bit of information left out of network stories: "Well, there's only one problem: Judge Sentelle. The judge she refers to was named in 1985 when Senator Faircloth was not even in the Senate. He was a private citizen. And she's from Yale Law School. She knows better than to say that. Also, the three-judge panel has always acted unanimously, Judy. It
includes Judge Butzner, who is a liberal Democrat selected by
Lyndon Johnson, who is the most liberal President this century. He has gone along unanimously with the decisions of the three-judge panel. So, where's this conspiracy? It involves a judge selected by Lyndon Johnson?"
-- Neither ABC or CBS bothered to tell their viewers Tuesday night about this bit of fact which contradicts the conspiracy theory. On World News Tonight ABC's Michel McQueen ran down Mrs. Clinton's charges, allowing a comment from Senator Faircloth. McQueen recalled the White House's 300 page report on the media food chain from right wing sources to the mainstream media.
McQueen aired a clip of Insight magazine editor Paul Rodriguez calling White House complaints about coverage business as usual since "it's just the way Washington works."
But McQueen concluded her story by countering Rodriguez and thus treating Hillary Clinton's theory as reasonable:
"But it's not that simple. There are unusually close relationships among the players. For example, the conservative Rutherford Institute is funding the Paula Jones case against the President. And that case is increasingly intertwined with the Starr investigation. Clearly, the White House is hoping that those connections raise more doubts in the public's mind than the allegations about the President's behavior do."
ABC is certainly helping implement that plan.
-- By listing how Starr is tainted by conservative politics, CBS also portrayed the First Lady's allegation as reasonable and credible. On the January 27 CBS Evening News Dan Rather observed that Hillary Clinton "believes there is and has been for a long time a wide and deep political conspiracy to get the President and that Ken Starr is the point man for that."
Reporter Phil Jones began: "Hillary Clinton linked Starr to a conspiracy that has even suggested the President was involved in the murder of a former campaign worker."
After running Clinton's soundbite about Jerry Falwell's discredited video Jones didn't suggest that Falwell has nothing to do with the current developments. Instead, he presented he First Lady's case against Starr, complete with loaded ideological labels. Jones asserted:
"It is Starr's past and continuing connections with very conservative organizations and causes that have brought him into the cross hairs of the First Family. As their evidence they point to his very appointment as independent counsel by a three judge panel headed by Judge David Sentelle, who is a close ally of ultraconservative North Carolina Senators Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth."
Following a clip of Faircloth denying the charge, Jones went on:
"Starr is also criticized for giving free legal assistance in the Paula Jones suit against the President before he was appointed independent counsel. He was involved in legal battles challenging President Clinton's opposition to using school vouchers for parochial schools. And Starr was also a lawyer for tobacco companies fighting the President. Bob Tyrrell is one of those included in Mrs. Clinton's right wing conspiracy theory. He's the editor of the conservative magazine American Spectator. Tyrrell has his own theory on why Hillary Clinton is attacking Starr."
Jones let Tyrrell say that the Clintons are just mad at Starr for the discoveries he made and people he locked up, before concluding: "Friends of the Clintons have attacked Starr before, but he's always dismissed them. But as we saw today it's impossible to ignore it when it's a President's wife firing the salvos."
Jones could have explored the plausibility of the conspiracy theory instead of just amplifying it. NBC managed to do that.
-- Tuesday's NBC Nightly News devoted an In Depth segment to the conspiracy but, unlike Jones, Lisa Myers tool a more skeptical approach. Myers explained:
"The First Lady's salvo appears to be a favorite Clinton tactic, fired off at almost every scandal from Gennifer Flowers to Paula Jones to Whitewater....Demonizing the President's accusers helps rally Democrats and distract attention from fresh charges against the President. In Clinton's case the conspiracy strategy often worked, partly because there is indeed a core group of conservatives who consider this President unfit for office..."
After showing Falwell, Myers noted that the Clinton conspiracy theory includes Linda Tripp, Paula Jones and Lucianne Goldberg, but "Then there are the so-called chief conspirators: Independent Counsel Ken Starr and the federal three judge panel that gave him the green light to investigate, a panel the White House says is driven by politics."
Hillary Clinton on Today: "The same three judge panel that is headed by someone appointed bu Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth."
Myers: "Both conservative Republicans and both close to head Judge David Sentelle, a former Republican activist. But the judicial panel also includes Kennedy appointee John Butzner and Nixon appointee Peter Fay, often described as non-partisan..."
NBC made up for its good report from Myers by catching up with CBS and running a snide hit piece on one of the whistleblowers, Lucianne Goldberg. (See the January 25 and January 27 CyberAlerts for CBS coverage.)
Gwen Ifill charged in her January 27 NBC Nightly News piece:
"Goldberg surfaced in this kind of story before, making waves in three administrations as well as in literary circles. In 1965 Goldberg tried to sell a letter Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to Lady Bird Johnson in 1960. The trouble is, it didn't belong to her. She apologized. And in 1983 best seller biographer Kitty Kelley won a $41,000 judgment against Goldberg over this book about Elizabeth Taylor."
Kelley: "You might be entertained or amused by Mrs. Goldberg, but you couldn't trust her, at least I couldn't."
Ifill: "Goldberg's controversies are not just literary. In 1973 the Nixon campaign paid her $1,000 a week to spy on the George McGovern campaign..."
Nice to know that Kitty Kelley, author of a book which featured unsubstantiated charges of an affair between Frank Sinatra and Nancy Reagan, is now an expert on morality and ethics. And, as explained in the January 25 CyberAlert, Goldberg also toiled for tow Democratic icons, Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy, in addition to Nixon.
Crushed by Clinton's betrayal. Want some evidence of how at least some journalists identify with Bill Clinton and consider him one of their generation's heroes? Just read Thomas Friedman's column in Tuesday's New York Times. The MRC's Tim Graham called this to my attention after he read a portion of the column in Slate's "Today's Papers" e-mail.
The disillusioned former reporter and now columnist, who you may recognize from his appearances on PBS's Washington Week in Review and CBS's Face the Nation, groaned:
"I understand and detest all the putrid smoke surrounding this story. But what I don't understand is the spark of fire that ignited it. I don't understand how someone entrusted with the opportunity to lead this country at such a great time, how someone whose political agenda was so substantively appealing -- on issues from abortion to education to the global economy -- could risk it all on a dalliance with a White House intern."
You can feel his sense of betrayal reading this paragraph. And note the use of the word "we" as he clearly identifies himself as a Clinton supporter:
"Those who identified with many of he domestic, and some of the foreign, policies of the Clinton agenda made a Faustian bargain. We overlooked Mr. Clinton's past indiscretions -- he was hardly the first politician with testosterone overload -- on the condition that he pursue his agenda and postpone his next dalliance until after he left the White House. But he broke the bargain. I knew he was a charming rogue with an appealing agenda, but I didn't think he was a reckless idiot with an appealing agenda."
Back when he was still a reporter in 1993 he got angry at Clinton's inability to successfully enact his liberal agenda. On the May 21, 1993 Washington Week in Review Friedman he lashed out:
"What he [Clinton] says so often, it seems to me, right on about where the economy is, what we need to do to create more jobs in this country, what we need to do to tackle the deficit, but something is missing in that White House because it's not delivering on the other end...It was truly depressing. You say to yourself 'we are at a watershed moment in this country's history and these people are so muffing it.' Yesterday I just wanted to get a hook and pull Stephanopoulos offstage and say 'George, go back, get your ducks in order, and then come out here, because this is too serious!'"
Now you know why all the other scandals
have received so little attention compared to this one: Reporters
haven't wanted to do anything which would detract from the
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