Tailgate Tailing Off; NBC Gives Susan McDougal Prime Time to Tar Starr
Wednesday night, of the broadcast networks, only NBC aired a full story about Monicagate and only NBC, in a brief item read by anchor Tom Brokaw, mentioned the successful House vote on renaming National Airport after Ronald Reagan. While NBC is in a partnership with Microsoft to run MSNBC, NBC Nightly News did not air footage of the pie attack on Bill Gates, footage featured by both ABC and CBS.
Here's a brief rundown of the February 4 evening shows:
-- ABC's World News Tonight led with an Iraq update and a story on Capitol Hill reaction followed by a report from Italy on Italian anger at the US over the Marine jet which cut a cable car's cable, plunging 20 to their deaths.
After noting the not guilty plea from the Army's McKinney, Peter Jennings offered a 24-second item on the sex scandal. He explained that the grand jury heard from a White House steward who from his pantry job may have seen Clinton and Lewinsky together. With exaggerated emphasis on the word "alleged," Jennings added: "Mr. Starr's investigation of the President continues to focus on potential witnesses to the President's ALLEGED relationship with Monica Lewinsky."
-- Iraq also topped the CBS Evening News. In the number two slot: 17 seconds from Rather on the Lewinsky matter. Rather relayed that the AP reported that Starr had rejected an offer from Lewinsky for her testimony in exchange for immunity.
Later in the show Rather treated the attack on Bill Gates as if it were carried out by deadly terrorists. He ominously intoned: "Police and security guards in Belgium were caught flat-footed today by a cowardly sneak-attack on one of the world's wealthiest men. The target was Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, arriving for a meeting with community leaders. Watch what happens when a team of hit men meet him first with a pie in the face...."
-- NBC Nightly News started with the east coast storms followed by a minute-by-minute recitation of how two teenage girls were rescued on Tuesday from a flood in Los Angeles.
For the third story anchor Tom Brokaw introduced a Monicagate piece by outlining a Wall Street Journal report on its Web site that asserted the White House steward saw Clinton and Lewinsky alone, but his lawyer denied the report. NBC's Claire Shipman said that Starr had rejected an immunity deal and then she moved to a NBC exclusive, a look the second and third pages of the memo Lewinsky gave to Tripp about what to say in order to clear Clinton. The additional pages, Shipman claimed, are less formal, less legalistic than the first and may have been drafted by Lewinsky with the advice of a lawyer.
Later, NBC ran an "In Depth" segment from Lisa Myers on Lewinsky lawyer William Ginsburg, focusing on critics who say he's in over his head and has hurt his client with ill-advised comments to the media.
Tuesday night the three broadcast shows all led with the then-impending (at least in the Eastern and Central airings) execution of Karla Faye Tucker. The surrender of fugitive fundraiser Charlie Trie generated just brief items read by the anchors on ABC and NBC, a full piece on CBS. On Wednesday morning CBS's This Morning skipped Trie while both NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America each did the least they could while still being able to say they covered the news: one brief mention from the news reader during just one of the half-hourly news updates. CNN's The World Today on Tuesday night, MRC news analyst Eric Darbe determined, followed the broadcast pattern, giving Trie just a few seconds.
Here are some highlights of the February 3 evening shows:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. After stories on Tucker, the cable car plunge in Italy, the impact of El Nino on California and then an ad break, ABC got to Monicagate. Reporter Jackie Judd said that ABC had learned more about Lewinsky's account, specifically that last July Clinton told her the physical relationship had to end because lawyers for Jones were asking about another woman. (No wonder Clinton's so mad about Paula Jones.)
Judd also relayed the revelation that after Lewinsky left her White House position she had been cleared in three dozen times. She ended by noting the grand jury appearance by George Stephanopoulos.
Next, Jennings took 13 seconds to report Trie's surrender.
-- CBS Evening News. Tucker and two weather stories topped the broadcast. After the first ad break Phil Jones explained how Trie had surrendered at Dulles Airport and listed the charges against him. Rather then turned to Scott Pelley for a Monica update. He began by reporting that the Secret Service determined that no agent saw a Clinton liaison with Lewinsky. Pelley noted how Lewinsky had been cleared in 37 times by Betty Currie, then showed a clip of the statement from Stephanopoulos after talking to the grand jury.
Pelley entertainingly illustrated the coordinated wording uttered by those called before the grand jury:
"A key target of the grand jury investigation is the origin of a document Lewinsky used to try to influence the testimony of her friend Linda Tripp. Tripp was due to testify against Mr. Clinton in the Paula Jones suit. The document suggests she can change her testimony and clear Mr. Clinton by saying she 'never observed the President behaving inappropriately with anybody.' Prosecutors don't know who wrote that, but the words ring familiar among the lockstep lines of White House witnesses."
Leon Panetta outside courthouse: "I am personally not aware of any improper relationship."
Evelyn Lieberman outside courthouse: "I know of no improper relationship."
Former intern Caroline Self outside courthouse: "I know of no improper relationship."
Panetta: "By this President and any of the White House interns."
Lieberman: "Between the President and Monica Lewinsky."
Self: "Between the President and Monica Lewinsky."
Panetta: "Or anyone else for that matter."
Lieberman: "Or anyone else for that matter."
Self: "Or any other White House intern."
They certainly know how to stay "on message."
-- NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw allocated 29 seconds to Trie after stories on Tucker, bad weather in California and Florida and the Italian cable car disaster. A story from Claire Shipman covered the Monica news of the day: her 30 plus post-employment White House visits, Stephanopoulos before the grand jury and how Bruce Lindsey is prepared to claim executive or attorney-client privilege.
NBC's "In-Depth" segment explored the who and how of getting into the White House. Noting that the White House was eager to release visitor records for donors in order to beat the congressional committees at revealing the information, reporter Andrea Mitchell aired a clip of Johnny Chung saying he was treated like a VIP. Mitchell then got some expert comment on intern access:
"Most interns are not treated like VIPs, rarely if ever go back. But a former Carter White House intern, NBC's Brian Williams, says he understands wanting to."
Over a photo of him with President Clinton, Williams recalled: "Candidly, as an intern, I made it my business to get into that West Wing as many times as I could, so I don't blame anybody for wanting an in for return visits."
VRWC Angle Involving the MRC: Attention reporters looking at the VRWC (Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy): After his surrender Tuesday at Dulles Airport, the FBI drove Charlie Trie to the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia -- that's just five blocks from the MRC's headquarters. Coincidence or conspiracy?
Dateline NBC can't get enough of Susan McDougal trashing Ken Starr. Last October the show ran a two-part profile which allowed McDougal and her mother to equate Ken Starr with the Gestapo. (See the October 21 CybrAlert.) Tuesday night of this week the show's Stone Phillips provided McDougal with another opportunity to air her gripes about Starr and claim his demand that Lewinsky tell about sex with Clinton matches his effort to get her to lie about sex with Clinton.
Phillips set up the February 3 Dateline NBC piece:
"Susan McDougal. The silent shackled figure at the center of the original Whitewater investigation speaks out about the President she defends, the prosecutor she detests and the 24-year-old woman whose dilemma she knows all too well."
Phillips opened his piece by asking what advice she'd give Lewinsky and explaining how she was jailed for contempt for refusing to testify about the Clintons. "Now, as she watches Starr zero in on Monica Lewinsky, McDougal says, it's deja vu all over again."
Phillips let McDougal claim that Clinton is just a misunderstood flirt, someone who "loves people." Then, as transcribed by MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens, Phillips gave McDougal time to claim that Lewinsky just reflects Starr's latest attempt to smear Clinton with a false sex tale:
"Almost overnight those tapes of Monica Lewinsky, secretly recorded by her friend Linda Tripp, shifted Kenneth Starr's investigation from the arcane intricacies of an Arkansas land deal to sex, lies and audiotapes. A new turn? Maybe not. Susan McDougal claims two years ago before she went to jail, another Whitewater figure who had been meeting with Starr's staff to cut a deal for leniency paid her a visit."
Susan McDougal: "Jim McDougal, my ex-husband at the time came to me and even asked me to say that I had an affair with the President. He said that I could write my own ticket if I would say such a thing."
Phillips: "Jim told you what?"
McDougal: "If I would say that I had an affair with the President that would be enough for me to get a deal from them. That I could walk away. I remember Jim saying, 'You can walk away from this. You won't have to spend a day in jail. If you'll just say that.' And I told him then, I said, 'Jim I can't say that, that is not true.' And he said, 'Well that is what they want from you.'"
Phillips: "Starr's office says it never suggested to anyone that Susan McDougal should lie about an affair or about anything else. And even though his new investigation of Lewinsky was authorized by Attorney General Janet Reno. A member of the President's own cabinet, McDougal says the current investigation is about prying into people's sex lives. Reaching into the gutter."
When McDougal insisted that "Bill Clinton would never ask anyone to lie for him," Phillips did at least ask how that matches the audiotapes played by Gennifer Flowers on which Clinton tells her to lie. But, Phillips ended on a light note, observing that like Clinton she craves Big Macs.
Ooops. Here's the caption for a photo which accompanied a February 4 Washington Post "Style" section story: "Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) at last night's Washington Press Club Foundation Congressional Dinner, where he joked about the President." Only problem: the photo shows not Frank but House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
At least CyberAlerts don't have photos we can misidentify. -- Brent Baker
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