CyberAlert -- 04/07/1998 -- Reporters Buy the Champagne
Reporters Buy the Champagne; Starr the Peeping Tom of Salem
1) CBS complained that independent counsels hurt the innocent; for weeks the networks ignored how taxpayers are picking up the tab for Clinton's personal lawyers, then NBC's John Palmer obligingly relayed the White House spin blaming GOP arsonists.
-- On Monday night, April 6, all the networks led with the new breast cancer prevention drug and ABC, CBS and NBC did not run anything on the Clinton scandal front. All featured full stories on the Clinton move to ban importation of some types of weapons. On the CBS Evening News, after Scott Pelley pointed out how many loopholes Clinton's proposal still allowed, reporter Jim Stewart came at the issue from the left: "Pick almost any scene from a slaughter in recent U.S. history and at the core of it you'll find a madman and his assault weapon..."
On CNN's The World Today anchor Joie Chen took a few seconds to note that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments about whether the lawyer for Vince Foster must turn over to Ken Starr his notes of conversations with Foster. Only FNC's Fox Report at 7pm ET aired a full story. David Shuster ran through how Starr was in Little Rock Monday, how the Supreme Court is expected to hear the Foster case in June and rule by July, how Newt Gingrich said Clinton is trying to confuse the public by claiming the Jones dismissal vindicates him, and how people are waiting to see if Jones will appeal.
-- Last Friday night, April 3, ABC, CNN, FNC and NBC aired stories on the status on Starr's investigation and how the White House claimed vindication and demanded the Congress act on its agenda.
-- On Saturday night ABC gave a few seconds to the scandal, NBC skipped it entirely and CBS showcased a story on how independent counsels have harassed people beyond their original scope while Starr too might do no better than catch people lying.
CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson examined how little people have been hurt by other independent counsels straying beyond their mandate. As examples Attkisson cited two people convicted of lying to a federal official: the sister of the woman with whom Henry Cisneros had an affair and the chief-of-staff to Mike Espy. Noting how all the Clinton-related ICs have cost $53 million so far, Attkisson bemoaned:
"All that power, time and money has netted little in the way of major charges against top officials. That has people wondering whether Kenneth Starr will end up with serious findings against President Clinton, or merely bring charges of lying against associates like Monica Lewinsky."
In his Saturday GOP radio address, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell complained about the excessive number of taxpayer-paid lawyers working on Clinton's personal matters. That generated this brief item from ABC anchor Aaron Brown on World News Tonight Saturday: "Republicans today accused President Clinton of using tax dollars to deal with his personal legal problems. In the GOP radio address, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell said there may be as many as a hundred lawyers and legal assistants paid with tax money defending the President against allegations about his personal behavior."
On the CBS Evening News Paula Zahn gave Campbell's point 16 seconds while NBC ran two full stories tied to Clinton's radio address about the tobacco deal, but ignored the Republican response. Those two brief network mentions are all the network news the lawyer controversy has generated so far despite multiple Washington Times stories by Paul Bedard about Republican complaints and congressional hearings looking into the matter. "White House Lawyers May Get the Ax: Hill GOP Balks at Taxpayer Funding" announced a March 19 Washington Times headline. A March 25 headline revealed: "White House Has Twice the Lawyers it Stated Earlier." And just last week a Times headline declared: "White House Stonewalls on Work of Lawyers."
But none of that led to a single ABC, CBS, NBC morning or evening news show story, nor a CNN report in prime time, reported MRC analysts Geoffrey Dickens, Eric Darbe, Gene Eliasen and Steve Kaminski.
Though NBC Nightly News skipped the lawyers Saturday night, on Sunday's Today (April 5) MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed that John Palmer did mention the controversy, only to emphasize the sarcastic reaction from White House, not to pursue the misuse of taxpayer dollars. Wrapping up a week in review type story Palmer asserted:
"A Republican Senator claimed that as many as one hundred lawyers and legal aides may be working at taxpayer expense to defend President Clinton against sex charges."
After a soundbite of Senator Campbell, Palmer continued: "Well, the White House called that charge absolutely reckless, said there's no where near that number of lawyers and they say the Republicans in Congress are to blame because they've requested so many documents from the White House. They say it's like an arsonist saying the that Fire Department costs too much money."
Palmer chuckled through the last line. But in the analogy he relayed it's really Clinton who is the arsonist insisting others pay to put out his fire.
"Repairing to a French restaurant here for a late dinner, some of the President's senior advisers wondered over champagne -- ordered and paid for by journalists -- whether this development in the case might cause the news media to stop panting after salacious details about public officials."
How many times would you guess these reporters bought champagne for Reagan aides celebrating a victory?
On Jones, Alter declared: "She's obviously a footnote to history now. But she also, when there's summary judgment, that's another way of saying 'You're a nuisance.' That's what summary judgment means, that it's a nuisance lawsuit, a frivolous lawsuit. She's been a professional litigant for the last five years, so now she'll have to get on and get a life. She has shown an interest in acting. Doubtful that the Royal Shakespeare Company will be seeking her services, but she might get a guest spot or something like that on [the redneck sitcom of Jeff] Foxworthy. That's about what her future holds."
On Starr: "Thumbs down for him. It really makes his job a lot more difficult. What is he gonna do? Subpoena Judge Wright and charge her with obstruction of justice because she's gotten in his way? I think he should be winding down investigation, putting his cards on the table. If he doesn't come forward very soon with credible evidence of lawbreaking, he will go down in history as the Peeping Tom prosecutor."
Compare those condemnations to what Alter penned in the October 21, 1991 Newsweek:
"C. Thomas (down arrow): He's lying (Isn't he?) Effective denials, but stop crying racism."
"A. Hill (up arrow): She's a brave truth teller (Isn't she?) Her details, lack of motive tip the balance."
Alter's colleague at Newsweek Eleanor Clift also got another shot in at Starr, intoning on this past weekend's McLaughlin Group:
"We don't live in Salem and I think the country is sick of the witch hunt. The Paula Jones case was the gateway to Miss Lewinsky. Now that the Jones case has been thrown out, I think it's going to be very difficult to go after a young woman and try to force her to answer questions about intimate matters. We do recognize in this country rights of privacy. And the notion that Ken Starr would indict this woman for a possible consensual relationship if it existed is a public relations disaster and I think a legal disaster also in the terms of how this country operates and what we stand for..."
Hollywood backs another Democrat. Today (April 7) Sonny Bono's widow Mary faces off against Democrat Ralph Waite in an election to see who can finish Sonny Bono's term in the House. The March 16 Roll Call newspaper listed some of those who have contributed to the campaign of Waite, who played the father on the Waltons, to win the Southern California seat: Al Pacino, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Rob Reiner, Richard Dreyfuss and Larry Hagman.
I'd add: a very favorable media eager to move on to anything but scandal as soon as they can. Why else buy champagne to help your aides celebrate your ability to escape another scandal?
-- Brent Baker
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