1) The President of the United States and the First Lady are caught in lies by the newspaper of record read each morning by all the network producers. Big news, right? Not exactly. Two of the three broadcast networks ignore it and the third gives 33 seconds to the news.
First, the story. "2 Advisers Knew of Hubbell Plight" declared the front page story in Monday's New York Times. Reporters Jeff Gerth and Stephen Labaton revealed in the May 5 story on who knew what about Webster Hubbell:
"According to documents and interviews, two of the President's closest confidants understood the seriousness of Mr. Hubbell's troubles even before he resigned as Associate Attorney General in March 1994."
"One of the confidants, James B. Blair, an Arkansas lawyer, went to the Clintons and warned them that Mr. Hubbell 'needed to resign as quickly as possible,' according to Mr. Blair's previously unpublished testimony before Senate Whitewater investigators....
"And Mr. Kendall, the Clinton's personal lawyer, received similar information about Mr. Hubbell in March 1994 and was also involved in the decision to persuade Mr. Hubbell to resign."
Gerth and Labaton then showed how their discovery contradicted the claims of the Clintons:
"In recent weeks, Mr. Clinton has dismissed the notion that his aides helped Mr. Hubbell find contracts to keep him from telling investigators what he knew of the Clintons' personal and financial affairs. 'Let me remind you of the critical fact,' Mr. Clinton said at a photo session at the White House on April 3. 'At the time that was done, no one had any idea about whether any -- what the nature of the allegations were against Mr. Hubbell or whether they were true. Everybody thought there was some sort of billing dispute with his law firm. And that's all anybody knew about it. So no, I do not think they did anything improper.'"
"A week later, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a radio appearance, described how disappointed she was in Mr. Hubbell's failure to be forthcoming with her and her husband."
How considerate of Gerth and Labaton. They not only provided a news story for their network colleagues to jump on, but they also cited two examples of when the Clintons lied about their knowledge. No need to spend time pouring through video to find the right Clinton comment, just cue up the tape from the days suggested by the Times.
So did the networks run with the latest evidence that the Clintons were well aware of Hubbell's problems and thus may have made moves to keep him quiet? No, they ignored it Monday morning:
-- ABC's Good Morning America: zilch -- CBS This Morning: nothing -- NBC's Today: not a hint about the revelation
As the day progressed the networks had plenty of time to realize the importance of the story and put together a piece. CNN aired a report on Inside Politics at 4pm ET. The broadcast networks:
-- ABC's World News Tonight: Nothing. With Peter Jennings in Mexico City, ABC devoted about three-fourths the show to Mexico.
-- NBC Nightly News: Not a syllable.
-- CBS Evening News: Like NBC, CBS led with the Florida jury decision that R.J. Reynolds was not liable for a smoker's death.
"The tobacco industry is exhaling," Dan Rather relayed.
But CBS actually alerted viewers to the New York Times disclosure, though not crediting the Times nor imparting the full implications of the story. Here's the CBS story in full as announced by Rather:
"In Washington, more Web Hubbell troubles tonight for the Clintons. At issue again: whether White House help to line up jobs for their old friend and Hillary Clinton's old Arkansas law partner was to buy his silence after he was forced to leave his Justice Department job. CBS News correspondent Phil Jones reports the new questions are about whether the Clintons knew how much trouble Hubbell was in at the time. Arkansas lawyer James Blair says the Clintons were warned early and personally. The Clintons have said all along and, repeated again today, they believed Hubbell's personal denials."
That item lasted 33 seconds and represented 100 percent of broadcast network coverage offered on Monday.
2) But that's 33 seconds more than Friday's Hubbell news generated on ABC, CBS and NBC. In response to a subpoena from Congressman Dan Burton's House committee, on Friday the White House released documents showing that they had misled the public about contacts with Hubbell. Washington Post reporter Sharon LaFraniere wrote in the May 3 edition:
"Webster Hubbell visited President Clinton or the First Lady at the White House four times in 1994 after he resigned from the Justice Department and before he pleaded guilty to charges of bilking his former law firm, records released yesterday show."
Later in her story LaFraniere summarized Clinton administration dissembling: "The White House had previously described only two contacts between Hubbell and the First Family in the months before his December 1994 guilty plea: the Camp David visit with Clinton and a phone call in late November 1994 after news reports that prosecutors would seek Hubbell's indictment."
On Friday and Saturday night's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News: Nothing, no mention of Hubbell. (NBC also skipped Hubbell on Today on both Saturday and Sunday, but on Meet the Press Tim Russert did ask guest Erskine Bowles, the White House Chief of Staff, about Hubbell's visits.)
The Post noted that "The White House has yet to release phone records that sources said show other calls between the President and Hubbell." Expect more revisions of recollections by the White House, revisions that TV network viewers will never learn about.
3) On Friday the White House announced that it would further stonewall independent counsel Kenneth Starr by appealing a federal court ruling that ordered that they turn over some notes of conversations involving Hillary Clinton. In Saturday's Washington Times reporter Jerry Seper's story explained the news hook:
"In a reversal of President Clinton's promise to cooperate in the Whitewater investigation, the White House yesterday took a first step to a Supreme Court showdown, saying it would seek an order to block the release of notes to prosecutors on talks its lawyers had with Hillary Rodham Clinton."
Stonewall? Cover-up? Deceit? (After all, on the April 27 Face the Nation the President insisted "All I can do is keep smiling, keep cooperating and answering the questions that are asked of me....I have told the truth, I will continue to tell the truth....When I'm required to do something, say something, testify I will do my best to cooperate as honestly and fairly as I can.")
Check out how the CBS Evening News spun the story on May 2. Dan Rather noted that "CBS News White House correspondent Rita Braver has more now on why the Clintons are still fighting tonight to keep from turning those notes over. Rita."
Braver explained: "Well, Dan the White House insists that there is absolutely nothing incriminating in the notes of those conversations between the First Lady and her lawyers. They include her conversations about her activities in the wake of the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster and also some talk about those mysterious billing records of hers that suddenly re-appeared. But this is really about the question of attorney-client privilege and whether it applies to government lawyers who are of course paid by the taxpayers. The White House insists that it does and if this ruling stands the President won't even be able to have private conversations with his White House counsel. So there really has been sort of a declaration of war against Kenneth Starr. They say he has gone too far and it is on to the Supreme Court, Dan."
Not quite the angle one imagines Rather took in his North Lawn reports from the Nixon White House.
Over on World News Tonight, Peter Jennings offered a spin not so favorable to the White House:
"There is one more piece of White House news today which the President and Mrs. Clinton cannot be happy to release. They are going to appeal to the Supreme Court a lower court order requiring them to give up the notes involving conversations Mrs. Clinton and two White House lawyers. One conversation was about the events that took place right after the White House counsel Vince Foster committed suicide, the other was about billing records from Mrs. Clinton's old law firm in Little Rock. The White House says the conversations are protected by attorney-client privilege. Not since Watergate has the White House gone to the Supreme Court as a result of a disagreement with a special counsel."
"Not since Watergate...." has a White House stonewalled so much. So how did NBC Nightly News play the story. They ignored it even though their top Washington executive acknowledged its importance. On Sunday's Meet the Press, Tim Russert, who is VP of NBC News and Washington Bureau Chief, asked Erskine Bowles:
"The First Lady is now in court, before the Supreme Court, saying that she does not want to make public notes that she gave after her testimony before the grand jury. Why not? If you believe in full disclosure, why not put it all out there?"
Indeed, that's a question Russert should ask himself. Why not put it all out there and have full disclosure? NBC didn't put the development on Nightly News or Today, the shows where people go to get the news of the day.