CyberAlert -- 02/16/2001 -- Clinton Avoided "Is"

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Clinton Avoided "Is"; Will GOP "Overplay" Pardon?; Democrats Give Less to the Wealthy; ABC Promoted Affluent Who Want Estate Tax

1) ABC and NBC stressed how donations by Denise Rich, in the words of ABC's Jackie Judd, "shows no huge spike in giving when talk of a pardon began in earnest." CBS assured viewers the controversy hasn't hurt Bill Clinton as speaking offers are "lined up like airplanes over LaGuardia on a foggy day."

2) In his statement Bill Clinton was grammatically incorrect in saying "any suggestion...are false." FNC's Brit Hume wondered if he was trying to avoid the word "is."

3) CNN's Bob Franken raised supposed Democratic concern that Republicans might "overplay" the Rich pardon and ABC's Charles Gibson rued how the launch of a criminal probe means "this is not going away." George Stephanopoulos stressed how difficult it will be to prove Clinton did anything wrong and how he was motivated by trying to advance the Middle East peace process.

4) Dan Rather: Congressional Democrats issued a plan which "features tax cuts half the size of the Bush proposal, fewer of those cuts going to the wealthy, many more targeted to middle and lower income Americans." NBC's David Gregory showcased the Democratic photo-op with a woman who claimed to get little from Bush's plan.

5) ABC lent its air time Thursday night, on World News Tonight and Nightline, to promoting the effort by a few wealthy people, who feel guilty about their affluence, to keep the estate tax.

Denise Rich's willingness to testify under oath in exchange for immunity led the Thursday CBS Evening News which also ran a piece on how the pardon controversy has not diminished the speaking demands for Bill Clinton. ABC and NBC followed Denise Rich's money to show how it does not support the idea that she increased her donations after Clinton agreed to pardon her ex-husband.

Phil Jones opened his lead story: "CBS News has learned that Denise Rich is now willing to testify under oath, to answer questions about whether any of her contributions to the Clintons and the Democratic Party, played a role in getting a pardon for her ex-husband, fugitive financier Marc Rich. The one caveat: she wants immunity from prosecution."

Jones proceeded to quote Clinton's denial of any wrongdoing and noted how Clinton associates say lobbying from Israel was a major factor. Jones ran a soundbite from the Mayor of Jerusalem praising Rich for his contributions to Israeli causes.

Jones concluded by making sure viewers realized which party now controls the executive branch: "Here in Washington today officials in the Republican-controlled Justice Department said there are no plans to ask for a special counsel."

Next, Anthony Mason looked the impact of the controversy on n Clinton's speaking fees. After pointing out how Morgan Stanley paid him at least $100,000 but the Chairman later said it was a mistake to have picked him, Mason went on to show that's an aberration. While Gerald Ford gets $60,000 for a speech and George H. W. Bush makes $80,000, only John Glenn at $100,000 is in Clinton's league and the offers keep pouring in. Mason concluded:
"The former President will speak to the Oracle Corporation on Monday and to a conference sponsored by another investment firm the following week. Despite the controversy and the fee, his agent Don Walker told me today, 'the offers are lined up like airplanes over LaGuardia on a foggy day.'"

On the February 15 World News Tonight ABC's Jackie Judd reported on the criminal probe launched by the U.S. Attorney in New York City, Mary Jo White, who will follow the money to see if there's any connection between it and Clinton's action. Judd cautioned:
"An inspection of Denise Rich's known political contributions shows no huge spike in giving when talk of a pardon began in earnest. She gave $172,000 last fall to the Democratic Party, $30,000 more than the same period two years earlier. Her $450,000 contribution to the Clinton library was made before the pardon came into play. Defense attorneys say that illustrates how deep prosecutors will have to dig to make a case."
Abbe Lowell, defense attorney: "The benefit has to be very personal in order for it to be a good case. Not that you gave to my party, not that you gave to a candidate I like, not even that you gave to my library, but you gave something to me. And so that's the difficulty in proving any kind of public corruption case."

Abbe Lowell: An example of the resurrection of the Clinton defenders as independent experts.

Pete Williams made the same point on the NBC Nightly News: "An NBC News analysis of her contributions shows a dramatic increase in 1998, before Marc Rich hires former White House counsel Jack Quinn to press for the pardon. The contributions reach a peek in 2000, an election year and Clinton's last year in office."

The lack of a spike in donations after the pardon request hardly proves Denise's money didn't have an influence. Maybe she just gave a lot of money hoping Clinton would appreciate it and do her a favor knowing she had a lot more money to give.


Did Clinton avoid the word "is" on purpose? All the networks on Thursday night quoted Bill Clinton's statement denying he did anything improper in granting the Marc Rich pardon, but only FNC picked up on Clinton's grammatical error in which he incorrectly used the word "are" instead of "is."

During the roundtable segment on Special Report with Brit Hume viewers saw this text on screen of Clinton's statement: "Any suggestion that improper factors including fundraising for the DNC or my library had anything to do with the decision are absolutely false."

Hume observed: "So the suggestion 'are' false. Mort, any thoughts as to how because that statement is not grammatical and we're using the word 'is' there, is that a way out of this statement if it turns out to be true?"

Mort Kondracke postulated: "Maybe the word 'is' is not in Clinton's vocabulary anymore." Kondracke urged a careful "parsing" of the words and jokingly suggested: "Maybe the 'fact,' if it were a fact that he gave the pardons out in return for money or for the library or something like that, the fact would be true but the 'suggestion' is false."

Don't be too quick to dismiss that parsing.


The first signs of a media backlash against Republicans for pursuing the Rich pardon? CNN's Bob Franken raised supposed Democratic concern that Republicans might "overplay" the Rich pardon controversy and ABC's Charles Gibson rued how the launch of a criminal probe means "this is not going away." On Good Morning America on Thursday George Stephanopoulos stressed how difficult it will be to prove Clinton did anything wrong and how he was motivated by trying to advance the Middle East peace process by fulfilling a request from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

-- CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, February 14. MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth caught this Wednesday night exchange on the 8pm ET show:

Wolf Blitzer: "How much of a stomach do the Republicans appear to have right now to pursue this investigation to the bitter end?"
Bob Franken: "Well, you know, it's very interesting. I noticed today that the Democrats on the committee were all saying pretty much the same thing: 'Hey, this has gone far enough. It's time to put it to an end.' And perhaps a question to them would be, have they seen had some sort of poll that has shown people are getting sick and tired of this? This was something that happened a lot of times during the scandals and the controversies that surrounded Bill Clinton while he was in office, and perhaps the Democrats would seem to be indicating that maybe they're saying that Republicans are gonna be, have to watch out that they don't overplay this."

-- ABC's Good Morning America concentrated its February 15 discussion around how the probe may never end, showing how hard it will be to prove Clinton did anything wrong and rationalizing Clinton's decision by liking it to bringing peace to Israel. MRC analyst Jessica Anderson took down a hunk of the discussion which failed to delve into the provable possibility of wrongdoing if Denise Rich's donation money came from her husband's overseas accounts:

Charles Gibson: "George, when this gets into the realm of a criminal investigation, or a preliminary criminal investigation, it becomes open-ended. This is not going away."
George Stephanopoulos: "That's right, there's no natural ending point. Usually these preliminary investigations can take place in a matter of days or weeks, but we're dealing with a complicated set of facts here, looking at a lot of different bank records from overseas. But as Jackie [Judd] said at the end, and we should really underscore this, this case is very difficult to prove. Denise Rich gave contributions to the Democratic Party and the Clinton library. In order to show it was illegal, you really have to show that the contributions came from overseas in about the same amounts at about the same time as she made the contributions to the Clintons."
Gibson: "Well, and in order for the President, the former President to be charged, you'd have to show that he was, in some way, doing what he did as a quid pro quo for the money coming in."
Stephanopoulos: "And knew it, and you know, again, to prove these cases, we've all seen the movies, you'd basically have someone on a wire saying, 'I'm giving you this money and you're giving me the money, right?'"
Gibson: "Well, that's very hard to prove, yes, if there's a criminal charge, but from the former President's standpoint, it's very hard to prove that he didn't. As Senator Cole from Wisconsin said yesterday, there's no one in the country who doesn't think this is a question of power, connection or money. In other words, there's a cloud hanging over the President that's very difficult for him to get removed."
Stephanopoulos: "And that's what I think everyone agrees on here, that this raises the question of money and power, because even if it wasn't a trade, how did Marc Rich get the case heard? Because he had a lot of influence, he had a lot of friends in high places, and no question that the campaign contributions at least allowed his case to be heard."
Gibson: "Well, it's not just campaign contributions. Jack Quinn, the attorney who was making the case to the President on behalf of Rich and his partner, Pincus Green, was pointing to the fact, yesterday in his testimony, that the Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak was weighing in on behalf of this pardon."
Stephanopoulos: "Several times, and I think you're going to learn more about this in coming days as well. Prime Minister Barak weighed in in the Oval Office with the President, on phone calls with the President. Remember, he was pushing two pardons at the same time, this and the Jonathan Pollard, the ex-spy. He knew he wasn't going to get Pollard. Marc Rich was a big contributor to a lot of philanthropic organizations in Israel. Some people say there were connections between him and the Labor Party, so the President, who was trying to get Prime Minister Barak to cooperate with him in the peace negotiations, felt that pressure as well."

At least it was worth is since those peace talks worked out so well.


Democratic spin as Dan Rather's reporting. On Thursday's CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather adopted as factual the Democratic characterization of their tax plan as well as of Bush's while NBC's David Gregory eagerly relayed without retort the Democratic photo-op with a woman who claimed she would not benefit from Bush's plan.

Dan Rather held coverage to this short item: "A key Republican Senator, Pete Domenici, told reporters this evening President Bush does not have the votes to pass his big tax cut plan, at the very least not yet. And Democrats in Congress put out their version of a budget and tax cut plan. It features tax cuts half the size of the Bush proposal, fewer of those cuts going to the wealthy, many more targeted to middle and lower income Americans. The Democrats would also earmark more of the federal surplus for national debt and for creating a prescription drug benefit for seniors under Medicare."

Rather and CBS went on to celebrate how key Senators have moved to support the creation of a huge new spending program: "On that score, a new bi-partisan prescription drug benefit proposal is being offered in the Republican-led Congress and it's a far cry from the one put out by President Bush." Indeed, Bob Schieffer explained how Republicans have decided to let Bush's plan die and are now pushing the John Breaux/Bill Frist effort to make prescription drugs part of Medicare, a government expansion plan which matches what Al Gore advocated.

The NBC Nightly News provided a full report on the Democratic tax and spending plan. Tom Brokaw announced, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "On Capitol Hill tonight, tax cuts back at center stage. The Democrats offering up a plan of their own that they say is more fair to working Americans and less tilted toward the rich than President Bush's plan. NBC's David Gregory joins me now with that debate that's centered on the difference between a payroll tax and an income tax. David."

Gregory began: "Well, Tom, Democrats may be willing to swallow the bitter pill of a big tax cut, but not as big, as you say, as the President's. Their offer about half what Bush wants. Today top Democrats, eager to prove the Bush tax cut mostly helps the rich, turned to Luwuanna Adams, a low income single mother, who, because she doesn't pay much income tax, gets little out of the President's plan."

Luwuanna Adams: "I can expect to receive $117 a year. That comes to about $2 a week."

Gregory relayed the Democratic spin: "An example, Democrats say, of the working poor who, squeezed by high payroll taxes like Social Security, really need the tax break most."
Tom Daschle: "The American people deserve a major cut, and we want to give it to them so long as it's fair, responsible, and based on honest projections."

Without putting the Democratic claims in any kind of context by, for instance, pointing out how Luwuanna Williams is already getting a great deal in having to pay little if anything in income taxes, or how liberals would scream about how Social Security would be destroyed by any reduction in FICA tax revenue if Bush really proposed cutting FICA in any way, Gregory continued:
"The Democratic plan, still short on details, would take only $900 billion, a third of the $2.7 trillion surplus, for a tax cut. Another $900 billion would pay down the debt, and $900 billion would be earmarked for new spending on everything from education to defense. But today the President wouldn't budge....His plan's major components: an across-the-board cut in income tax rates and a doubling of the child credit to $1,000. But today a noticeable crack in Republican unity."
Senator Lincoln Chafee, (R-sort of): "I think it's too big a tax cut for this early in a recovery from the '90s recessions."
Gregory concluded: "Senator Chafee's comments tonight confirmation that in an evenly split 50-50 Senate, Bush doesn't yet have the votes to pass his tax cut. The President admitting tonight quote, 'I have a lot of work to do.'"

What "'90s recessions"? It's been ten years since the last downturn in 1991 which shows that for liberals like Chafee it's always too soon for a tax cut.


The networks love people who love paying high taxes -- or at least assuaging their own guilt by making others pay high taxes. In this case, their heirs. As detailed in the February 15 CyberAlert, on Wednesday night the NBC Nightly News highlighted the efforts by a few wealthy philanthropists to keep the estate tax. On Thursday night, ABC joined the liberal campaign with a story on World News Tonight and an entire Nightline all prompted by the decision of a few rich guys to buy some newspaper ads next week.

Peter Jennings introduced the February 15 World News Tonight story by first taking brief note of the Democratic tax cut and spending plan:
"On the Hill today, Democrats produced their plan for cutting taxes. They want to reduce taxes by less than half the amount that President Bush has proposed. They want to go on using the budget surplus to keep on paying down the national debt, to increase spending on education, defense and prescription drugs. Now there's another specific tax issue in the news this week. President Bush wishes to repeal the estate tax, which people pay when they inherit pretty significant amounts of money. But now more than 200 of the wealthiest people in the country have begun a campaign to keep the tax in place."

Betsy Stark explained: "Billionaire George Soros, billionaire Warren Buffett, several Rockefellers, and other icons of American wealth are telling George Bush, 'Thanks, but no thanks.' They are running this newspaper ad saying they want to pay estate taxes because not to do so 'would be bad for our democracy, our economy, and our society.' Leading the charge, William Gates, Sr, father of Microsoft mogul Bill Gates, the richest man in the world."

[Newspaper ad headline as shown on screen: "If the estate tax is eliminated, someone else will pay. YOU."]

William Gates: "It may be a little hard for people to believe, but there are a lot of people in our country who actually put the country's interests ahead of their own, and it's not in the country's interests to repeal the estate tax."
Stark: "The estate tax is paid by roughly two percent of Americans. Repealing it could cost the Treasury nearly $300 billion over the next ten years."
Steven Rockefeller: "Somebody else other than the wealthy people who are paying inheritance taxes are going to have to make up that loss, and, undoubtedly, it will fall on the middle class and on others who are least able to afford it."
Stark: "These wealthy critics also argue that repealing the estate tax would hurt charitable giving. Right now, the rich have a strong incentive to leave money to non-profits like New York's Museum of Modern Art. It reduces the value of their estate and, therefore, their tax bill. Those on the other side of the debate, like Republican Senator Jon Kyl, say most Americans support a repeal."
Jon Kyl: "It's not a fair tax. That death is a taxable event is a stain on our tax code."
Stark concluded: "Senator Kyl says the estate tax makes it difficult for the children of small business owners and family farmers to keep their parents' businesses intact. But they have a wealthy opposition now, making the odds of a win on this part of the tax bill even longer."

The estate tax cut, like all tax cuts, always had opposition from the media so "the odds of a win" were always long. -- Brent Baker

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