Networks Ignored the Charge
3) The much-touted PBS profile
of Reagan delivered the usual liberal nonsense: "Cuts in social
programs created a homeless population that grew to exceed that of
Atlanta. AIDS became an epidemic in the 1980s...Reagan largely ignored
The networks were slow to pick up on charges that the White House had tasked private investigators to probe the personal lives of Republican lawyers, prosecutors and witnesses connected to the Lewinsky case. The charge came to light on Sunday's Meet the Press, but the broadcast networks initially ignored it and CNN described such activity as routine. As the February 23 Washington Post reported:
"Joseph E. diGenova, a former federal prosecutor now working for House Republicans, said he was told that he and his wife, attorney Victoria Toensing, 'were being investigated by a private investigator with links to the White House.' DiGenova, who has played a peripheral role in the Lewinsky investigation, offered no evidence, attributing his charge to tips from reporters.
"'If the White House is condoning the investigation of private citizens, looking into their lives...that is truly a frightening...development,' diGenova said on NBC's Meet the Press.
"The White House fired back hours
later, berating diGenova for repeating what it called 'blatant
"Lenzner declined to return phone
calls over the weekend about whether his company is investigating Starr or
his staff. Mickey Kantor, who represents Clinton as a lawyer in the
Lewinsky matter, refused to say whether he has collaborated with Lenzner.
As he was speaking to a reporter by phone Saturday, Kantor was overheard
telling a family member that Lenzner was on the other line. 'I've known
him for 30 years,' Kantor then explained."
ABC's World News Tonight had time for Peter Jennings to talk about a new asthma drug, the CBS Evening News made room for an Eye on America on how tobacco companies make women's groups shut up by distributing hush money to women's shelters and sports tournaments so many women's groups are now "addicted to big donations from Big Tobacco."
NBC Nightly News managed time for a Fleecing of America piece on a commuter rail project in Vermont, a report on a New Zealand power outage, and a final story previewing the PBS documentary on Reagan. NBC's Bob Faw asserted:
"The documentary shows his
contradictions. He preached balanced budgets, but never submitted one. His
priorities: budgets so big the Pentagon was spending $34 million every
hour. And his courage in 1981 when a bullet from a would-be assassin came
within an inch of his heart..."
Only CNN on Monday picked up the private probe angle, only to dismiss its relevance, MRC analyst Eric Darbe observed. In a story aired on both Inside Politics and The World Today, CNN's John King began:
"Sources describe independent counsel
Ken Starr as angry at what he considers a White House sanctioned effort to
smear his prosecutors in the Monica Lewinsky case. Old news clippings
about controversial cases are sent to reporters, along with faxes raising
questions about Starr and his team. Such tactics are routine in political
campaigns, and most lawyers shrug given the high stakes in the Lewinsky
Tuesday White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry conceded that Clinton and
White House lawyers had indeed employed private investigators, but instead
of pouncing on this admission of Nixonian behavior ABC concluded Starr
"is out of bounds" and CNN's Bernard Shaw demanded to know if
"by calling before the grand jury people such as Sidney Blumenthal,
is Ken Starr acting illegally?" CBS and NBC refused to make a moral
choice, treating the whole matter as a cat fight between equally corrupt
Here's a rundown of February 24 evening show coverage. All led with the weather damage in California and Florida with both
ABC and NBC featuring full stories on an
18-month-old boy found safe inside tree after a tornado. About 20 minutes
into their shows all the broadcast networks got to Starr's decision to
call before the grand jury those he suspects of spreading misinformation
to the press about his staff.
"In Washington today, the independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who's investigated everything from Whitewater to the President's behavior with Monica Lewinsky, has been trying to find out how information about his staff ended up in the media, so today's events were not about getting to the actual details of the allegations in the Lewinsky case, they were a fight with the White House over tactics."
Jackie Judd began: "Starr struck back at what prosecutors believe is a campaign coordinated by the White House to smear them in the press."
Following a clip of Starr Judd explained
how White House aide Sidney Blumenthal and private investigator Terry
Lenzner had been subpoenaed, explaining: "Lenzner's appearance at the
courthouse caused the administration some discomfort because on Sunday he
had issued an apparently definitive statement that 'No one...hired...any
private investigator to look into the background of..investigators,
prosecutors or reporters.' Today, Mr. Clinton's attorney's conceded
Lenzner has worked for them since 1994. Mike McCurry claimed there was
nothing unusual about his work."
"Starr justified the subpoenas of
Lenzner and Blumenthal by saying a smear campaign could amount to
obstruction of justice, but even some current and former federal
prosecutors say that Starr is out of bounds and he should get on with the
issues that really matter in the Lewinsky case."
"Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr has
increased the pressure even further on President Clinton today in what
some call the nastiest and most personal clash yet. The Clintons have
accused Starr of illegal, false and self-serving leaks of grand jury
testimony in a campaign to get the Clintons at all costs, as they see it.
Tonight, as CBS News White House correspondent Scott Pelley reports, Starr
is boring in bigger, harder."
Pelley continued: "Then McCurry added,
quote 'God help them if they're not.' The prosecutors tonight say that the
techniques they are using are appropriate and traditional. But CBS News
has learned this evening there is another provocative move from Ken Starr.
He has subpoenaed Lanny Breuer, one of the President's principle lawyers
here at the White House."
"In Washington tonight, the charges and counter-charges between the White House and the office of Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr have reached now a new low. Is Starr overstepping his bounds? Is the White House snooping into the private lives of Starr's staff?"
Lisa Myers opened: "Today the war between independent counsel Ken Starr and the White House got nasty as critics warned both sides may have gone too far."
Myers told viewers that Starr hauled a private investigator and Blumenthal before the grand jury, though Blumenthal was never called into the room and left the courthouse angry. Myers then relayed the spin offered by both sides. First, those against Starr:
"Tonight Starr said he trying to find out who is spreading misinformation about his staff and whether they are trying to intimidate prosecutors, intimidate witnesses, or otherwise obstruct justice. But some lawyers say Starr is on shaky legal ground at best."
Professor Michael Seidman, Georgetown University: "This investigation has now really gone over the top. It's one thing to investigate the President, it's another thing to investigate those who criticize the prosecutor."
Second, those on Starr's side:
"But other lawyers say the White House
may have overreached too, with its use of private investigators. Tonight
an embarrassed White House had to admit that investigators have in fact
been digging into the backgrounds of Starr and his team. Just two days ago
the White House insisted that was not true. In a statement, presidential
lawyers now say only that they have not investigated the personal lives of
prosecutors. Some lawyers worry that Clinton's investigators also are
going too far in digging up dirt on witnesses in the case."
"We want to take a closer look at the legal tactics Ken Starr is employing. Joining us for that, CNN justice correspondent Pierre Thomas. By calling before the grand jury people such as Sidney Blumenthal, is Ken Starr acting illegally?"
Thomas replied: "I talked with a
number of Justice Department sources today, and they don't think what Ken
Starr is doing is illegal, but they ask questions about what is the end
game. How useful is this to his investigation? The other question they
have is he becoming too sensitive to criticism? One of the cardinal rules
of Justice Department investigations, they tell me, is when there is
criticism not to say anything."
Thomas again criticized Starr: "Again, I spoke with a number of sources today. They say that these might be a little bit unusual, but they raise the question of how does this affect his investigation? Is it helpful to his investigation? And they say they can't see how it's useful to his investigation, so why do it."
much talked about PBS documentary on Ronald Reagan has aired and while it
overall did not reflect Bryant Gumbel's take on Reagan, it did deliver
some Gumbel-like assessments. That is, long on ideological disgust, short
on factual information. The two-part profile, part of "The
Presidents" series produced by WGBH in Boston for PBS's American
Experience, certainly included much material laudatory of the former
President and as PBS goes it was better than you'd expect with a
respectful review of many of Reagan's accomplishments. But, PBS marred
their presentation by refusing to refrain from repeating liberal
assertions from the 1980s that have little basis in reality.
"The cuts fell most dramatically on
programs designed to help the poor. 'I'm trying to undo LBJ's Great
Society,' Reagan wrote in his diary. 'It was his war on poverty that led
us to this mess.' Reagan also called for a 30 percent tax cut across the
board. All taxpayers would benefit, but the wealthy would benefit the
most. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill vowed to fight. 'Reagan's program,'
he said, 'soaked the poor to subsidize the rich.'"
"The stock market crashed in October
1997, another setback for Reagan. Black Monday raised doubts about the
soundness of Reagan's economic policies. On Reagan's watch tax revenues
would double, but they never kept up with spending. The national debt
nearly tripled. Although most Americans benefitted, the gap between the
richest and poorest became a chasm. Donald Trump and the new billionaires
of the 1980s recalled the extravagance of the captains of industry in the
1880s. There were losers. Cuts in social programs created a homeless
population that grew to exceed that of Atlanta. AIDS became an epidemic in
the 1980s, nearly 50,000 died. Reagan largely ignored it..."
-- Brent Baker
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