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CyberAlert -- 05/06/1998 -- CNN Dedicated Special to Disparaging Burton

CNN Dedicated Special to Disparaging Burton; "So-Called Scandal"

1) CNN took on Dan Burton, an unfair menace to Clinton, in a prime time special. "Burton's own marks for integrity suffered when he released some -- but only some -- of the Hubbell tapes."

2) Nightline also focused on Burton's misdeeds and how, as Ted Koppel put it, "evidence of a cover-up may be lost amid political squabbling."

3) Executive privilege led all but FNC. CBS pushed how GOP leaders want "to clip Burton's wings." Peter Jennings warned there's "no regulations" for Internet gambling, "no way to control" the Internet.

4) CNN's Wolf Blitzer referred to "this so-called scandal."


Corrections. Since in the Clinton era everything is done "for the children," I don't want to be blamed for promoting bad English. So two grammatical errors pointed out by readers. First, the April 27 CyberAlert reported that the MRC Web site was down, noting "it hopefully will be" up soon. I should have written: "I don't know when it will be up again, though I hope it will be by the time you read this." Second, the May 1 CyberAlert stated: "Donaldson showed another soundbite in which Clinton insisted his enemies, like Newt Gingrich, can't effect his character." That should have read "can't affect." Effect is a noun; affect is a verb. Lesson complete for today.


1
cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)One advantage of being a Clintonite: Whenever a political opponent presents a threat CNN will come to your aid and devote a hunk of prime time to giving credibility to your effort to discredit the pesky enemy. Back on February 5 CNN aired a prime time special, "Ken Starr: Investigating the Investigator." Tuesday night, May 5, CNN pitched in again for the White House with a 10pm ET/7pm PT special dully titled "Burton Versus Clinton." The hour-long show followed the premise that President Clinton is the victim of unscrupulous attackers, running through a litany of grievances about Burton, blaming Republican bumbling for letting the White House change topics and insisting that the media gave Burton's initial tape release too much time and credibility.

-- Anchor Judy Woodruff's opening revealed CNN's priorities as she painted Clinton as the victim of attacks and Burton as the one in need of scrutiny:
"We'll take a look at the facts and the omission of facts at the center of Washington's latest partisan battle. Tonight, a CNN special report, Burton versus Clinton. Thank you for joining us. It is a remarkable political and personal battle, even for a President who has been under attack from day one, even for a Congressman known for harsh words and partisan hardball. As we will explain in the next hour, Burton versus Clinton is about the Webster Hubbell tapes and so much more, including Dan Burton's power, his tactics, and even his personality."

-- Up first, a "profile of Burton and his mission" from Bruce Morton, who asserted: "Burton is an unusual Congressman, less like a politician than like the puritan Oliver Cromwell, convinced of his righteousness and determined that the king must fall. What he sees as a cover-up fuels his anger."

After running through some of Burton's anti-Clinton statements, Morton charged: "Burton's anger makes him overstate his case, as when he called the President a scumbag and was burned himself." Burton acknowledged: "Perhaps I could have used different and more diplomatic language to describe how I feel, but the fact is I do not believe that the President of the United States is a man of integrity." To which Morton countered: "But Burton's own marks for integrity suffered when he released some -- but only some -- of convicted Clinton friend Webster Hubbell's phone calls from prison."

Looking at how Burton supposedly distorted the tapes, Morton played this soundbite from a tape originally released by Burton.
Suzanne Hubbell: "I'm hearing the squeeze play."
Webster Hubbell: "So I need to roll over one more time."

Noted Morton: "Which sounds like cover-up. This was not in what Burton released."
Webster Hubbell on over billing: "Hillary's not, Hillary, the only thing is people say why didn't she know what was going on, and I wish she never paid any attention to what was going on at the time. That's the gospel truth."

Huh? In the first clip Hubbell is suggesting he hasn't told all he knows, which could encompass any number of issues from Hillary Clinton's billing records which show what she worked on to her involvement to obtaining an illegal loan to her role in illegal schemes in setting up Castle Grande. And that's just the Whitewater stuff. Hubbell knows plenty about many other topics too. In the second clip all Hubbell says is that she did not falsely bill clients. That hardly contradicts the first soundbite.

Morton concluded with this shot: "Oliver Cromwell bent on bringing down a king. On Congressman Burton's Web site, there's a heading called inspirational poetry. One of poems is Rudyard Kipling's 'If,' which begins, 'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,' and that may decide whether Burton can make his case. Can he, in fact, keep his head?"

-- In the second segment Brooks Jackson relayed his review of the unedited tapes. After he aired clips implicating the Clintons in wrongdoing and some portions favorable to them, he decreed: "So those hours of tapes are certainly intriguing, but hardly incriminating."

-- Third, Candy Crowley focused on efforts by Democrats to remove him from the investigation and discomfort amongst Republicans about his actions.

-- Fourth, Wolf Blitzer ran through the White House strategy:
"In hammering their critics, White House officials are on very familiar turf. As depicted in the film The War Room, Clinton associates have been doing it since the '92 campaign....The counterattack is designed to change the subject, put the opponent on the defensive, and then get him to overreact."

Blitzer concluded by conveying an insult from the White House: "Privately, White House officials call Burton quote 'the tape doctor, unscrupulous, and stupid.'
AEI's Norm Ornstein chirped in: "Putting Clinton into the ring with Dan Burton is like putting Muhammad Ali in against Pee Wee Herman. It is no contest here."

-- In the fifth slot Woodruff talked with CNN political analyst Bill Schneider who proposed that Republicans are on the attack because they are frustrated by Clinton's political success. Like Blitzer, Schneider credited White House success in getting the media to switch subjects not on the media itself but on bad Republican public relations:
"Dan Burton pulled a stunt that was so outrageous it enabled Democrats today -- this week to seize the initiative. They were able to distract attention from Starr's campaign to build a case for a cover-up and have enabled Democrats to try to discredit the whole investigation as partisan and unfair. Starr and Burton and Gingrich have been doing that all along. Their behavior has allowed the White House to depict them as zealots and partisans out to get the President, and Democrats hope that discredits anything they could turn up."

Of course, no matter how misleading Burton's tape release, nothing is stopping the media from focusing on the actual content now that all the hours are coming out.

-- Avoiding a totally one-sided production, in the sixth segment viewers heard a report about how popular he is in his Indiana district. Marveled Woodruff: "Despite the controversy surrounding him, Dan Burton has been elected to Congress eight times."

-- Seventh, John King highlighted the First Lady's ties to Hubbell. King gave voice to some of Burton's concerns: "Mrs. Clinton is a central figure in several unsolved mysteries. Burton leads Republican criticism of the First Lady's role in firing White House Travel Office workers, and her ties to controversial Democratic donors like Johnny Chung." But he also made sure her side got in their hit: "The First Lady's friends accuse Burton of leading a campaign of smear and innuendo over suspicions that can't be proven in a courtroom are recycled in the political arena."

-- Eighth, CNN worried about the propriety of Burton's tape release. Woodruff wondered: "Dan Burton and his Democratic opponents might agree on one thing: both have raised concerns about Webster Hubbell privacy. Did Burton cross any legal or ethical lines when he released tapes of Hubbell's prison phone calls?" CNN's Pierre Thomas ran soundbites of those questioning Burton's ethical judgment, but concluded he did nothing illegal.

-- After a Bill Press versus Pat Buchanan Crossfire joust, CNN turned to media coverage. But instead of exploring why journalists are so easily sidetracked from substantive information damaging to Clinton because they are so eager to tear down his critics, CNN's story relayed just the views of those upset by a news value being assigned to the tapes. Reporter Linda Pattillo began:
"In this tale of truth, lies and audiotapes, the media is smack in the middle of a confusing, complicated and constantly changing story. Critics say journalists were too late to question being handed only a one-hour edited version out of 150 hours of recorded jail house conversations."
Several soundbites from professor Larry Sabato (claiming there was a frenzy because the tapes remind reporters of Nixon) and from columnist Jack Germnond (bemoaning the lowering of journalistic standards), Pattillo ended by scolding her profession:
"News organizations argue that there is intrinsic news value when the chairman of a major congressional committee releases information, but there is no doubt that some are somewhat uncomfortable with the role they played in this episode. But are they uncomfortable enough to change the way the media is covering this continuing saga in the nation's capital?"

-- Finally, Woodruff prompted Schneider: "You were just telling me you thought Linda Pattillo had a point just a moment ago about the press here." Schneider: "I do. I think the press was far too quick to use these tapes without proper warnings that they were not complete and they came from a partisan source. I think Burton tried to put one over on the press, and the press was too eager to buy it.

Well CNN has certainly gotten even.


2

cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)Tuesday night featured even more Burton-bashing. At the end of World News Tonight Peter Jennings declared: "Later on Nightline, were the Webster Hubbell tapes deliberately edited to make the Clintons look bad?"

Ted Koppel opened the May 5 broadcast: "Tonight, the bumbling of the Hubbell tapes. How evidence of a cover-up may be lost amid political squabbling."

Reporter Chris Bury knocked down the Democratic claim that the tapes had been doctored, then closed his story: "In appearing to manipulate the Hubbell tapes for partisan advantage Congressman Burton has given the White House plenty of ammunition. Now the tapes will be remembered less for what they reveal than for the controversy they generated and the President once again has been blessed by the bumbling of his enemies."

And blessed by the cooperation of a media more concerned about bumbling than criminality.

Interviewing Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, after running through Burton's misdeed, Koppel did actually get back to the substance of the tapes, propounding: "You have had a chance now, I assume, to look at much, if not most, if not all of the transcripts of those 150 hours of telephone conversations. Is there not material in there that troubles you too?"

3
cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC led Tuesday night with the judge's decision denying executive privilege while the Vatican murders topped FNC's prime time newscast. ABC's Jennings worried about the lack of regulation in place to "control" the Internet. Some brief highlights from the May 5 evenings shows:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Jackie Judd handled the executive privilege story, noting that Bruce Lindsey, Nancy Hernreich and Sidney Blumenthal had all refused to answer and that Blumenthal had even "made the unprecedented claim" of extending the privilege to talks with Hillary Clinton. But there was "better news for White House out of Little Rock" where the grand jury disbanded without indicting a Clinton.
Sam Donaldson checked in with the White House reaction which was they haven't decided whether to appeal, but the notoriety of Nixon's appeal may dissuade them.

Plugging an upcoming segment, Peter Jennings intoned: "And we'll take A Closer Look tonight at gambling in America. Betting on the Internet. No regulations and as of now no way to control it."

We can't let the Internet escape government control.

-- CBS Evening News: Dan Rather in Washington, DC introduced he lead piece from Scott Pelley: "Breaking news tonight here in the nation's capital. Score another one for Ken Starr. A federal judge has ruled that two close aides to President Clinton are not entitled to presidential executive privilege and cannot decline to answer at least some questions about the President's personal life and personal conversations."

Next, Bob Schieffer delivered a story about the GOP leadership's lack of faith in Burton. Schieffer began with this lengthy bite from Speaker Newt Gingrich: "Those who are covering up the crimes and those who participated in the crimes are doing all they can to smear anybody who seeks the truth. Rather than focus on Dan Burton why don't you go and ask the White House doesn't it worry them that Mrs. Hubbell thought she was being squeezed by a White House staffer, doesn't it worry them that Web Hubbell was going to quote 'roll over one more time'? Why the focus on Burton? Why isn't there a focus on the crimes and the criminals?"

Schieffer contended: "For all the fury we've learned there may be more to this than Gingrich is letting on." Noting the decision to release all the tapes, Schieffer went on:
"When Burton aides got the tapes and literally threw them to waiting reporters yesterday, the spectacle appalled even some Burton supporters, especially since Democrats were pointing out the content of the tapes had been altered. So Gingrich is feeling the heat too and for all that public support he voiced for Burton, we understand he and other Republican leaders in the House are now actively looking for ways to clip Burton's wings and shift part of the investigation to other committees. One Republican told us it's gone beyond being a matter of concern in the House, this is a problem now for all Republicans, Dan."

-- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. Jeanne Meserve filed a report on executive privilege, followed by Wolf Blitzer with the lack of White House reaction and Bob Franken on the shutdown of the Little Rock grand jury. Anchor Martin Savidge then introduced a soundbite from Richard Gephardt followed by the same clip of Gingrich as played by CBS.

-- FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report. Carl Cameron ran down the "major blow to the President's defense." From Little Rock reporter David Shuster offered this unique take on the difference between Starr's two grand juries: "The grand jury here had a very difficult task, dissect complicated financial transactions and Whitewater evidence described as complex. The issues in Washington will be much simpler, focusing on whether the Clintons or their associates tried to keep any of this under wraps."

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw opened: "A major setback for the President. A judge rules no on executive privilege. Clinton's aides must reveal what they know about Monica Lewinsky....As Richard Nixon learned, when a President is under investigation on serious charges this is a tough claim to get by the judiciary."
Lisa Myers explained: "It was one of the most sweeping claims of executive privilege by any President and the first time it was claimed for the First Lady. Legal scholars were not surprised the President lost."


4

cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes)When is scandal not a scandal? MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this question from CNN's Wolf Blitzer to colleague John King on the May 3 Late Edition: "John, what is the White House strategy right now in dealing with all of these late breaking developments involving this so-called scandal."

Enlist so-called journalists in their strategy to undermine Ken Starr and all GOP congressional committee chairmen who dare to disclose harmful information.

-- Brent Baker


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