Book & Debt Discredit Willey; Clinton's Orchestration Barely Touched
So, which story do you guess got picked up by the morning shows and the evening newscasts and which was ignored in the morning and buried in the evening, if raised at all? Wednesday's Good Morning America and Today featured interviews with book publisher Michael Viner, the man supposedly approached by Willey's lawyer. On CBS, This Morning did not touch the book deal. None of the three morning shows uttered a word about how Clinton is orchestrating the impugning of Willey, reported MRC news analysts Gene Eliasen, Steve Kaminski and Geoffrey Dickens.
ABC's Kevin Newman didn't even get to it in a lengthy discussion with Time's Margaret Carlson.
In the evening:
## CNN and NBC refused to mention Clinton's personal role. ABC called it "limited involvement" while CBS described Clinton as "deeply involved."
## ABC, CNN and NBC highlighted how in a 1995 statement Willey did not say she discussed her financial woes with Clinton that day, a conflict with her current story. This is the angle pushed Tuesday night by Bryant Gumbel when he interviewed the lawyer representing a company suing Willey. (See the March 18 CyberAlert.)
## ABC and NBC ran stories dedicated almost entirely to relaying White House attacks on Willey's credibility. ABC, CBS and CNN all raised the quest for a book deal.
## CNN delivered a piece packed with soundbites from Clinton touting his economic successes and union members saying he's doing a great job, but couldn't squeeze in a mention of Clinton's orchestration.
## Only the Fox News Channel portrayed Willey as the victim of White House dirt digging and only FNC mentioned Jim Guy Tucker's appearance before a grand jury.
Here are the details on how the networks handled Willey Wednesday night, March 18:
-- ABC's World News Tonight opened with a report from the Pentagon's Inspector General which found excessive costs for airplane spare parts, followed by anchor Forrest Sawyer citing two fresh examples of computer hacking.
ABC then aired a story right in line with the agenda preferred by the White House, running through all the reasons to not believe Willey while maintaining that Clinton has had only "limited involvement" in coordinating the anti-Willey strategy. Jackie Judd asserted:
"The President flew to Las Vegas, leaving behind the controversy over Kathleen Willey which gets more complicated every day. Her credibility was challenged with the release today of testimony she gave back in 1995. In a lawsuit connected to her family's financial problems Willey swore 'she did not talk with anyone at the White House' about money her late husband owed a client or a note she had signed to cover the debt. But three years later Willey told lawyers for Paula Jones she had talked to the President about the financial note during the Oval office meeting where she now says he made the unwanted advance.
"Another salvo came today from a publisher approached by Willey's lawyer regarding a book project. Michael Viner says he was told it would have been positive about the President."
Michael Viner of New Millennium Press insisted that she proposed a positive book about Clinton, just the opposite of the tone displayed in her 60 Minutes interview.
Judd continued: "The most serious challenge to Willey still remains the friendly letters that she sent the President even after he allegedly groped her. Aides said today that Mr. Clinton had very limited involvement in the decision to release them, though he was not entirely passive."
Judd ran a clip of Carville, in a March 16 deposition video, recalling Clinton calling him to ask whether he should release the letters.
Concluded Judd: "The letters, the book project, the testimony, none of it helps Willey, but none of it goes to the core issue: Did Mr. Clinton make an unwanted pass at her in the Oval office and later deny it under oath."
Of course, the networks aren't spending much time on that "core issue."
-- CBS Evening News. More than halfway through the show, after the lead piece on how falling oil prices are hurting U.S. producers and another on Al Gore announcing an IRS reform plan, CBS got to Clinton. Bill Plante began by noting that Clinton is happy to be out of Washington and in Las Vegas for a union convention. Plante quickly got to relaying attacks on Willey:
"Back in Washington the President's supporters continue to raise questions about the credibility of Kathleen Willey. His lawyer suggested she had accused Mr. Clinton of unwanted sexual advances because she was trying to make money by selling a book."
After a soundbite from publisher Viner, Plante contradicted ABC's Judd who claimed Clinton had "limited involvement" with the attacks on Willey:
"Even before Willey's story appeared last Sunday, the President himself was deeply involved in preparing a defense. On Friday he talked about releasing her letters to him. On Saturday he called his friend and consultant James Carville to ask his advice. Carville described the conversation in a deposition he was forced to give in another case."
CBS viewers saw a clip of Carville before Plante said Bennett will release on Friday more negative material about Willey. Plante concluded:
"Other friends of the President are offering a different kind of spin. They're suggesting that if something did happen between the President and Kathleen Willey it was with her consent because that they think makes it easier for people to accept."
So, Plante is now just repeating spin not based upon any reality but just made up to match what people will swallow.
-- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. John King checked in with a glowing report from Las Vegas on how the economic boom means the public is excusing the President's personal behavior:
"Far away from Washington, the President had reason to smile...Another new report shows the nation's economy is thriving, and the President traveled to Nevada for a firsthand look at the boom times...."
After a clip of a worker praising Clinton, King continued:
"Kathleen Willey and Monica Lewinsky are the big stories back in Washington, but when the President met with workers Las Vegas, he says they asked about things like health care, Social Security and raising the minimum wage."
Following another Clinton clip King introduced a lengthy third soundbite from Clinton: "It's obvious Mr. Clinton would also like Americans to remember more than questions about his personal character when they assess his presidency."
Clinton: "We are going to have the first balanced budget in 30 years and 15 million new jobs in five years, the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years, the lowest crime rate in 24 years, the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years, the lowest inflation in 30 years, and the highest home ownership in the history of the United States of America."
King drew his piece to a close by illustrating the President's popularity with a carpenter who "says a union job with health insurance is what shapes his opinion of the President." The carpenter gushed: "Anything in his private life is his concern, it is not a public concern. Public concern is whether he is running the country right. And the man is doing a damn good job at running our country."
Later in the show Wolf Blitzer ran through the doubts the White House has raised about Willey: the book deal and her 1995 statement about not discussing her financial plight with Clinton.
Blitzer ended by observing that some in the White House are worried about going too far and generating a backlash from women's groups.
-- FNC's 7pm ET Fox News Report delivered a very different spin than the other networks and was the only network to mention Jim Guy Tucker. Willey has been under three straight days of White House assaults relayed by the media and Wednesday night Fox actually broke from the media pack and portrayed her as the victim.
As the show opened co-anchor Todd Connor declared: "When the going gets tough the tough gets personal."
Co-anchor Uma Pemmaraju picked up: "And that's just what the White House is doing with its spin campaign against Kathleen Willey, digging up any dirt it can and making sure the public hears all about it. And guess who's calling the shots?"
Reporter Rita Cosby answered: "Now, for the first time, there is evidence that the President himself was heavily involved in the White House campaign to attack Willey's credibility, which includes releasing these letters..."
After a brief summary of the letters, Cosby elaborated on Clinton's role: "In this taped deposition given to the conservative legal watchdog group Judicial Watch, longtime presidential adviser James Carville said he got a call from the President the day before Willey did her explosive interview on 60 Minutes."
Next, David Shuster checked in with an update on the real investigation front, noting that Jim Guy Tucker testified about Castle Grande before Starr's grand jury in Little Rock while the jurors in Washington, DC had the day off and Monica Lewinsky popped in on a basketball game.
-- NBC Nightly News. Like ABC, NBC put the Pentagon cost overruns at the top of the show. Then NBC went with a story on Al Gore announcing an IRS reform plan and a story on how the IRS selects who it audits. After the first ad break Tom Brokaw told viewers about the enthusiastic greeting Clinton got in Las Vegas:
"The President is far from Washington headaches tonight. He's at an AFL-CIO meeting in Las Vegas and he did get a very warm reception from a friendly union crowd. At one point someone shouted 'four more years.' The President said he would run for another term if the 22nd amendment, which limits Presidents to two terms, didn't exist."
Without a word about how Clinton orchestrated the attack on Willey, NBC moved to a piece from Andrea Mitchell on the history of Willey's "tangled finances." Picking up on what Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel focused on Tuesday night, Mitchell described how before her husband committed suicide Willey co-signed with him a promissary note for more than $250,000 to a Richmond produce company, but she still has not paid the money. Mitchell's on-camera source: Joseph Kaestner, lawyer for the produce company.
Pointing out that Willey has an affluent lifestyle, Mitchell pondered: "How can she live well to this day and not pay her debts? Her chief creditor says by hiding her assets, making sure her husband's million dollar insurance policy went to her son and daughter instead of to her. Financial problems aren't the only questions being raised about Willey. This sworn deposition from Willey three years ago seems to conflict with her latest account of what happened between her and the President in November of 1993..."
Mitchell outlined the discrepancy before concluding: "These apparent contradictions raise questions about Willey's background, but do not speak to what happened in the Oval office that day."
So why so much more on Willey's disparities than on Clinton's contradictions?
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens recently came across this telling comment in a February 27 Dateline NBC story on the controversy over whether Secret Service agents should be forced to testify. Reporter Josh Mankiewicz intoned:
"But ever since agents began guarding Presidents after the assassination of William McKinley, the Secret Service has kept its secrets. Now the man investigating the President may want to ask agents in the White House what they know about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. And that's made a lot current and former agents wonder who they're supposed to protect the President from -- an assassin, or a character assassination?"
It's Kathleen Willey who needs protection from character assassination.
-- Brent Baker
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