CyberAlert -- 02/17/1998 -- NBC's Turn: "Has Starr Gone Too Far?"
NBC's Turn: "Has Starr Gone Too Far?;" Puppet-Master Scaife
NBC made it three for three. Last Thursday CBS did it. (See the February 13 CyberAlert) On Friday ABC did it. (See the February 16 CyberAlert) And Monday night NBC got around to it: giving airtime to the anti-Starr agenda espoused by the White House by running a story on whether the independent counsel is too aggressive, too rough or has gone too far.
Monday night February 16 Diane Sawyer took 24 seconds on ABC's World News Tonight to report that Secret Service officer Lewis Fox would testify Tuesday. On the CBS Evening News Scott Pelley told viewers that the OIC maintains there never was an immunity deal because Lewinsky's lawyers changed the terms, that Fox is scheduled to appear before the grand jury and that Starr's office has subpoenaed records from the White House paging system because Lewinsky supposedly paged Clinton repeatedly.
Much like ABC's Friday story by Linda Douglass, NBC's hit on Starr gave time to his supporters, though one soundbite damned with faint praise, but only within the context of a story matching the agenda of his detractors.
Leading into the first ad break on the February 16 NBC Nightly News viewers were treated to this plug:
Tom Brokaw: "Still ahead tonight. Investigating the President. A growing backlash against independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Is he out of bounds or just tone deaf?"
Victoria Toensing: "Ken Starr has a political tin ear. And that is what has really hurt him."
Brokaw: "Has Starr gone too far in his pursuit of Monica Lewinsky and the President?"
Reporter Lisa Myers began the subsequent piece by reciting how William Ginsburg had "hammered" Ken Starr, "accusing him of prosecutorial misconduct." Myers elaborated:
"It's no longer just the White House and Lewinsky's team taking aim at Starr, he's taken a public relations beating since this spectacle last week -- Monica's mother, Marcia Lewis, leaving the grand jury, distraught, unable to continue....Even some former prosecutors now say Starr's tactics are overkill, tactics usually used against Mobsters and drug lords."
Stanley Brand, defense attorney: "As a matter of practice I think he's crossed the line."
Myers: "By essentially going nuclear in terms of his tactics?"
Brand: "By getting much more aggressive than anything we've ever seen in Watergate or in Iran/Contra or in any of the other independent counsel cases to date."
Myers then gave time to Starr's side: "But other former prosecutors insist Starr's tactics are both reasonable and justified." Following a clip from former federal prosecutor
Victoria Toensing, Myers noted how family members often testify against each other and, like Douglass, she cited the McVeigh bombing case. Myers then contended that even if he is legally correct Starr is unwise:
"But even those who approve of Starr's tactics say he has hurt himself by not realizing how the public would react. Polls show that almost two-thirds of Americans now believe Starr is on a partisan crusade."
Toensing: "Ken Starr has a political tin ear. And that is what has really hurt him as opposed to any tactic he has used."
Myers: "Sources close to the investigation say Starr has made a conscious decision to continue to play rough, hoping his results will outweigh criticism of his tactics..."
Speaking of Mob-like tactics, Myers' comment that Starr is employing "tactics usually used against Mobsters and drug lords" reminded me of a comment about some others who act like the Mob, Democratic fundraisers, but that didn't generate any media interest. As noted in the December 19, 1997 CyberAlert, here's an exchange from a December 9 House Government Reform and Oversight Committee hearings:
Dan Burton: "Mr. Freeh, over 65 people have invoked the Fifth
Amendment or fled the country in the course of the committee's
investigation. Have you ever experienced so many unavailable
witnesses in any matter in which you've prosecuted or in which
you've been involved?"
Louis Freeh, FBI Director: "Actually, I have."
Burton: "You have? Give me a rundown on that real quickly."
Freeh: "I spent about 16 years doing organized crime cases in
New York City. And many people were frequently unavailable."
So, the FBI Director compared Democratic fundraisers and
donors fleeing the country or refusing to talk to how the Mafia
react to investigations. You'd think that would make a great,
provocative soundbite. But none of the networks, not ABC, CBS,
CNN, or NBC, showed it.
Scaife: Conspirator-in-Chief? Media reports on the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy put Richard Mellon Scaife in the middle, as the Starr-linked money machine that makes it all possible. There's just one problem with the theory, a small detail reporters have incompetently or deliberately overlooked: far from a Starr promoter, Scaife cut his funding for the American Spectator after it ran an article defending Starr.
First, two examples of sloppy reporting which disregarded the inconvenient facts, then a Reality Check.
-- In a February 1 CNN Impact story, Kathy Slobogin charged: "Finally, there is the Clinton's arch nemesis Ken Starr. His links to Clinton detractors? He agreed to write a brief in the Paula Jones case. Once appointed independent counsel his law firm dropped the case. A year ago he almost took an academic job funded by millionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, a relentless Clinton opponent. And Starr is a friend of Alfred Regnery, publisher of many Clinton attack books...."
-- A February 8 CBS Evening News story transcribed by MRC analyst Steve Kaminski.
Anchor John Roberts: "It was Hillary Rodham Clinton who first charged a right-wing conspiracy is out to get her husband. When asked who the main conspirator is, the President's supporters keep coming up with one name in particular. Rita Braver tells us about the mystery man on the right."
Rita Braver: "This is rare video tape of one of the conservative movement's biggest and most private money men, Richard Scaife. He's introducing one of his heroes -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich....Liberals say it is Scaife who is really the behind the scenes ideological warrior."
Elliott Mincberg, People for the American Way: "He has invested literally millions of dollars in right-wing organizations and media focused specifically on digging up dirt and getting information to embarrass the President of the United States."
Braver: "Scaife, an heir to the oil and banking fortune of Pittsburgh's Mellon family, controls three of his family's foundations that have given away hundreds of millions of dollars to charities, cultural groups, and conservative organizations that have attacked the President. For example, two Scaife-funded groups set up a Clinton sexual harassment hotline....Christopher Ruddy, a reporter at Scaife's newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, wrote a spate of articles claiming former White House aide Vincent Foster was murdered rather than committing suicide. Scaife foundations have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to The American Spectator, which broke the story that led to the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against Mr. Clinton. Scaife also funded a special Clinton investigative unit at the magazine. Scaife also helped underwrite the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University where, the school says, purely by coincidence, independent counsel Ken Starr is slated to work. Ed Feulner, President of the conservative Heritage Foundation, is a close associate of Scaife."
Ed Feulner: "Yes, he loves politics, he loves the inside and the outside of it."
Braver: "How do you respond to the idea that Dick Scaife is behind a right-wing conspiracy to get President Clinton?"
Feulner: "I say that Dick Scaife, again, believes in certain ideas of individual liberty and individual responsibility. And there's no big conspiracy about it, he's been doing it more than 30 years."
Braver: "Scaife is notorious for refusing to talk to reporters, and he turned down an interview for this story. As his friend Ed Feulner says, 'Scaife doesn't have to stand up and answer questions.' Rita Braver, CBS News, Washington."
Reality Check, from a December 15, 1997 AP dispatch on Scaife's reaction to an article defending Starr's report on the Foster case in which Starr concluded he had committed suicide:
"Conservative philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife is cutting off financial support for The American Spectator after the magazine ran an article criticizing those who believe White House lawyer Vincent Foster may have been murdered.
"Scaife owns the Tribune-Review, a Pittsburgh-area newspaper that has published a number of stories by reporter Christopher Ruddy questioning the conclusion that Foster committed suicide. Scaife's decision to end financial support for the Spectator reflects the debate among conservatives over whether Foster's death deserves further investigation....
"Scaife did not return telephone calls seeking comment, but his newspaper published a column Dec. 5 in which his decision to cut off support for the magazine was recounted by Reed Irvine of the conservative group Accuracy in Media....
"Irvine said Scaife's decision to cut off the Spectator was tied to a John Corry article in the December issue that questions those who refuse to accept the conclusion of Whitewater prosecutors that Foster shot himself in a Virginia park in July 1993..."
Quite a coordinated conspiracy. The funding source can't even control what his fellow conspirators conclude in their reports or what his puppet magazine writes about that report.
Partying down with Senator Ted. Senator Ted Kennedy turns 66 on February 22 and tonight he'll hold a fundraiser in Manhattan to mark the occasion. Some Hollywood stars promise to show, reported Jeannie Williams in the February 12 USA Today: "The $1,000-a-ticket party will draw assorted other Kennedys, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Lauren Bacall, Chevy and Jayne Chase."
For those of you in the Tri-State area who wish to pop in, it's being held at some place called St. Regis Roof. -- Brent Baker
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