CyberAlert -- 04/01/1999 -- Dan Rather Goes Gentle on Clinton; Spared Reagan/Bush Treatment

Dan Rather Goes Gentle on Clinton; Spared Reagan/Bush Treatment

1) Dan Rather's exclusive interview with Bill Clinton avoided Chinese espionage, Broaddrick and Lewinsky, but gave Clinton plenty of time to portray himself as defender of the Constitution against partisan conservatives. Rather wondered about Clinton's "feelings" on Kosovo and what he'd do as the husband of a Senator.

2) A just-released Media Reality Check fax report: "Suddenly Hawkish on Humanitarian Wars: Clinton Team Spared Quick-Trigger Negativity of News Coverage of Grenada, Libya, Panama, Gulf War."

>>> April 1 NQ Delayed. An unexpected bounty of biased bombast from Dan Rather led me, in the interest of getting the real bias out to everyone while avoiding confusion, to delay the CyberAlert distribution of the April Fools edition of Notable Quotables. The April 1 issue of NQ will be distributed in a separate CyberAlert later today and it will also be posted on the MRC home page by late Thursday morning. Go to:


rather0401.jpg (10668 bytes)cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Dan Rather plays nice with Bill Clinton. Forget Chinese espionage or Juanita Broaddrick or Monica Lewinsky's assertion that Clinton satisfied her, which undercuts his basis for his claim about not having sexual relations. No, instead in an exclusive interview CBS News landed, after some questions about the war in Kosovo, Dan Rather tossed kiss-up questions, such as light-heartedly promoting the Hillary for Senate distraction: "Could you describe for me what you believe to be the responsibilities of the husband of a United States Senator?"

And even some of his Kosovo questions were hardly tough, as he wondered about Clinton's "feelings" about the situation: "I'm told by those close to you that you have a lot of pent up feelings about what's happening in the Balkans, what we're doing there. Can you share some of that with us?"

Wednesday night, March 31, the CBS Evening News aired three sets of highlights from the interview totaling about six minutes. Later, 60 Minutes II allocated two segments, more than half the program, to a lengthier showing of the interview Rather conducted at the White House Wednesday afternoon.

There's a lot worth taking in here from an unrepentant Clinton who used his CBS air time to portray himself as a victim defending the Constitution against partisan conservatives. During the interview:
-- Clinton declared: "I am very careful in the words I use not to mislead one way or the other."
-- Asked about stopping the bombing in respect to Easter, Clinton cited Milosevic's killing spree, asserting: "We can't observe Easter and honor the resurrection of Christ by allowing him another free day to kill more innocent civilians."
-- He insisted he did not consider resigning because "I wouldn't do that to the Constitution....I would never have legitimized what I believe is horribly wrong with what has occurred here over the last four or five years."
-- Clinton contended: "I do not regard this impeachment vote as some great badge of shame."
-- When Clinton insisted "I have no lingering animosity, I don't wake up every day mad at those people," Rather suggested he has good reasons for ill will: "You've got to be bitter about some of it."

Now, to the details. Rather began the interview as shown on 60 Minutes II at 9pm ET/PT with some questions about Kosovo, starting with the genocide there, whether Clinton has authorized bombing Belgrade, to "go downtown," as Rather put it. After asking if any targets have been ruled out, Rather got to one of his few challenging questions, sort of, suggesting Milosevic could now agree to talk since he's achieved his goal of cleansing Kosovo of Muslims, "So doesn't that leave us defeated, or does it?" Clinton replied that he would not accept the status quo as all the Kosovar people must be allowed to return to their homes. Next, Rather asked Clinton to react to the suggestion that members of the military say we're not employing our full force, that the U.S. is not going all out.

Now we get to the interesting part. In asking about sending ground troops Rather insisted Clinton respond to the complaint that he "parses" his words, but Rather couldn't refrain from setting up the question by gratuitously saying "everybody acknowledges you have a brilliant mind."

Here's the exchange, with Clinton's remarkable retort that "I am very careful in the words I use" and that complaining about parsing is a trick by political enemies to divert him from helping the American people, an argument Rather bought:

Rather: "With all respect, but also directly, everybody acknowledges you have a brilliant mind, you're an excellent speaker. But sometimes people, and people who support and like you say well he parses words too closely. What is is argument, all of that. I want to discuss ground troops in the context of speaking as directly as you possibly can. When you say you have no intention to commit ground troops to accomplish the mission in Kosovo, does that mean we are not going to have ground troops in there no way, no how, no time?"
Clinton: "It means just what it says. You know, I'll come back to the point, but you say people say I parse words too closely. That's what they said about President Roosevelt too and he made a pretty good President. And when people say you parse words too closely it usually means they want to ask you a question and get you to give an answer which is inconsistent with the objective you're trying to pursue for the American people and so you don't do what they want you to do. So normally they criticize not for what you're doing but for what they wish you would do."
Rather: "Fair enough."
Clinton: "Now, I have used those words carefully. I am very careful in the words I use. Now on the merits of it, the thing that bothers me about introducing ground troops into a hostile situation...." He went on to say he's concerned about the "prospect of never being able to get them out."

(The miracle of editing. Here's the Clinton answer CBS showed on the Evening News in response to the same question. After the first sentence CBS plugged in an answer from somewhere else that did not appear on 60 Minutes: "It means just what it says. I have used those words carefully. I am very careful in the words I use not to mislead one way or the other. And the reason is I think I have embraced a strategy here that I believe has a reasonably good chance, a reasonably good chance of succeeding....")

Back to 60 Minutes, Rather moved on to the Pope's request that Clinton suspend the bombing for Easter. Citing Milosevic's killing spree, Clinton countered: "We can't observe Easter and honor the resurrection of Christ by allowing him another free day to kill more innocent civilians."

Rather followed up that this is the most important week in the Judeo-Christian calendar, so some say it's "obscene" to carry on the bombing. Clinton maintained he's "acting in defense of the defenseless."

Enough with tough policy, Rather moved on to Clinton's "feelings," as if they should have any impact on policy decisions:
"Mr. President, as you always try to do, you're talking in measured tones. As President of the United States you have to be careful of what you say. But I'm told by those close to you that you have a lot of pent up feelings about what's happening in the Balkans, what we're going there. Can you share some of that with us?"

Clinton let out a big sigh, took a breath, and proceeded to pontificate about how the world is "bedeviled" by people unable to get along with people who are different. Clinton insisted that's the "dominant problem" in the world today.

How profound. As if people not getting along and going to war is a new phenomenon.

Following an ad break, Rather progressed to a more pleasant topic for Clinton: "Could you describe for me what you believe to be the responsibilities of the husband of a United States Senator?" Clinton, laughing, explained that he'd be willing to be a caseworker in Hillary's New York office.
Clinton ruminated about how after Hillary aided his career for 22 years he will spend the next 22 years helping her, prompting Rather to seek reassurance: "And you expect to do that together as man and wife?"
Clinton: "Oh, absolutely."

Up next, instead of demanding Clinton address what he put the country through, Rather sympathetically inquired about how "our First Family" is doing: "Mr. President, you know Americans like to know that the First Family is okay, that they're doing alright. Given the year plus what you and our First Family have been through, tell us what you can about how the three of you are doing." Clinton assured Rather they are "doing reasonably well" since "we do love each other very much," adding that Hillary's trip to Africa has been good for the country.

Rather's next question: "How about yourself? We're here in a room with pictures of Lincoln, Washington, Continental Congress. When you look back over this year plus, what's the moral of it? Does it have a moral?"
Clinton outlined his four lessons: First, every person must bear the consequences of heir conduct; Second, "the Constitution works" as it prevented partisan passions from getting out of hand; Third, the American people "almost always get it right"; and Fourth, people expect officials to work for them and those who do will be rewarded.

Rather pressed the President about whether he ever considered resigning, leading to this retort in which Clinton portrayed himself simultaneously as a victim and a heroic defender of the Constitution: "I wouldn't do that to the Constitution. I wouldn't do that to the presidency, I wouldn't do that to the history of this country. I would never have legitimized what I believe is horribly wrong with what has occurred here over the last four or five years."

Moving along, Rather posed this seemingly uncomfortable question, but did not follow it up when Clinton deflected it by using it to denounce his opponents: "Mr. President, I get a lot of letters, not as many as you do, but I get a lot of letters from parents who say, some of them say 'Listen, I like President Clinton, I like what he's doing for the country.' Some even said 'I'd vote for him again but I don't know what to tell the children on the worst aspects of what happened last year.' Let's try to give these parents some help. What can they tell their children?"
Clinton claimed that letters he receives from 11, 12 and 13-year-olds show "some of them, on this very point, offended that they're being used in that way."

Finally, but not quite, Rather reluctantly queried:
"Last question, if you'll indulge me. You agree that whatever you do, however this situation in Kosovo turns out, whatever else you do in the first paragraph of your obituary is going to be a reference to what you consider among the worst things that's ever happened to you. Only President in the 20th century to be impeached, one of only two Presidents to be impeached. Give me some sense of how you feel about that within yourself."
Clinton answered with a diatribe showing he has no remorse and really believes he is a victim: "Well, first of all I'm not at all sure that's right that it will be in the first paragraph of the obituary. And secondly, if it is, if the history writers are honest they'll tell it for just exactly what it was. And I am honored that something that was indefensible was pursued and that I had the opportunity to defend the Constitution. That doesn't have anything to do with he fact that I did something that I shouldn't have done which I'm ashamed of and which I've apologized for but it had nothing to do with the impeachment process. And I think that's what the American people, two-thirds of them, knew all along. And I determined that I would defend the Constitution and the work of my administration and those who did not agree with what I had done and were furious that it had worked and the country was doing well and attempted to use what should have been a constitutional and legal process for political ends did not prevail. And that's the way I saw it. I have no lingering animosity, I don't wake up every day mad at those people."
Rather helpfully chirped in: "You've got to be bitter about some of it."
Clinton: "I'm not..."
Clinton proceeded to say that he realized that if he wanted forgiveness had to extend forgiveness, that to be a good President he had to rid himself of bitterness. He maintained: "I do not regard this impeachment vote as some great badge of shame, I do not because I do not, because I do not believe it was warranted and don't think it was right."

He recalled how most now believe President Johnson was unjustly impeached and the proceeding now reflects well on him. The piece ended with this scolding from Clinton:
"I just think that it's past us and we need to put it behind us and we need to go on. We owe that to the American people to let it go and all of us owe it to our families and our personal lives. All the great players here, they need to let it go and go on with the business of the country."

CBS and Dan Rather are certainly willing. They not only have moved on past Lewinsky, they won't move to the next scandal: Chinese espionage.

+++ Watch Rather and Clinton. Thursday morning the MRC's Sean Henry and Kristina Sewell will post about a three-minute clip, in RealPlayer format, of Rather's most felicitous questions to Clinton. Go to the MRC home page or to the MRC's video page:


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) How Rather treated Clinton is a significant departure from how major media outlets reacted to humanitarian-prompted military action by Presidents Reagan and Bush, a new fax report researched by the MRC's Tim Graham demonstrates. Prominent figures in the media characterized those Presidents as bullies launching misguided and dangerous military operations that could boomerang on the U.S.

"Suddenly Hawkish on Humanitarian Wars: Clinton Team Spared Quick-Trigger Negativity of News Coverage of Grenada, Libya, Panama, Gulf War," reads the title of the April 1 Media Reality Check fax report. You can read it below or go to the MRC home page where a more graphically-appealing version will be posted Thursday morning. To read this edition and previous fax reports, go to:

Here's the text of the April 1 edition:

The NATO air strikes against Yugoslavian targets may be the subject of some confusion, but already the Clinton administration has been spared the quick-trigger media negativity that's been common in the first days of several Republican military actions:

When the Reagan administration authorized the liberation of Grenada, The Washington Post wouldn't call it liberation. It reported on October 27, 1983: "The United States, its military conquest of Grenada complete..." Two days later: "The officials said the Marines would probably depart within a week, leaving an occupation force of about 5,000 Army soldiers."

-- NBC commentator John Chancellor on Nicaragua, January 15, 1987: "The Duke of Wellington, one of England's greatest soldiers, once said 'There is no such thing as a little war for a great nation'....The Johnson administration became obsessed with Vietnam, the Kremlin became obsessed with Afghanistan and the Reagan administration became obsessed with Nicaragua. That led to bad troubles for the Reagan administration. Big countries have to pick their fights very carefully. Victory has to be certain in a fight with a small enemy. If not, things can get out of hand."

-- CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews covering the Panama invasion, December 21, 1989: "Having launched one of the largest invasion forces since the days of the Vietnam War, Mr. Bush is erasing his old image of being timid, but the new question now, almost overnight, is whether this President is exhibiting signs of being reckless."

-- Los Angeles Times reporter Barry Bearak in a December 18, 1989 news analysis on Reagan's 1986 air raids on Libya: "Democrats by and large remained uncritical of this occasional gunplay. After all, Sheriff Reagan mostly fired in the air, harmlessly busting up the bullies on a weekend drunk. And besides, in the heat of a national pep rally, any downbeat voice was easily scored as whiny and defeatist."

-- CBS reporter Bob Simon on the Gulf War, August 7, 1990: "While Americans say they're moving tonight in support of little nations, that's not how it will be perceived or described over here. From the poor people in these little nations, Americans will hear these old phrases, old accusations: gunboat diplomacy, imperialism, the arrogance of power."

-- Bryant Gumbel on the August 7, 1990 Today: "The Persian Gulf crisis is already resulting in higher gas prices at the pump, exposing the [Bush] administration's lack of an energy policy. We'll talk of just how much that figures to cost him."

-- Lisa Myers on the August 15, 1990 NBC Nightly News: "The problem is that slow but steady progress on energy conservation came to a screeching halt in the mid-1980s, which is a big reason Iraq has us over a barrel today...What derailed the conservation effort? Two things: a sharp drop in oil prices, and the Reagan administration." Myers eight days later: "Almost daily, the President is out on a gas-guzzling cigarette boat which gets one and a half miles to the gallon. Saving energy is not something he likes to talk about.... Energy analysts call the lack of action irresponsible."

-- Gumbel to a Saudi Arabian editor on August 20: "I need not elaborate on the differences between your culture and ours, but how much of a threat to the Saudi way of life do you think the presence of American forces represents?"

-- Dan Rather to Saddam Hussein on August 29, 1990: "Mr. President, do you think this is a Vietnam in the sand for the United States?"

END fax report

I'll send the April 1 Notable Quotables at about noon ET. -- Brent Baker


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