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CyberAlert -- 05/19/1996 -- Wishing Away Whitewater

Wishing Away Whitewater

Two items today:

1) Quotes from media stars over the last few months and years predicting (or hoping) that Whitewater would go away.

2) An update to our study on the lack of TV network coverage the trial has received. In short, the networks continued to ignore the trial into the middle of this month.


1

On Friday's Washington Week in Review (May 24) on PBS they discussed the RNC ad attacking Clinton for invoking the Soldier and Sailor Act, prompting New York Times columnist Tom Friedman to note the ad was created "Right when Whitewater seems to be grinding to a halt as a legal issue." A few minutes later, moderator Ken Bode (also a CNN analyst), offered his view of why Republicans decided to run the ad: "Whitewater is sort of diminishing, sort of fading away, it's kind of a shadowy thing now, it's going away."

How prescient.

After Tuesday afternoon's convictions, MRC analysts Steve Kaminski, Clay Waters and Geoffrey Dickens identified some very wrong wishful thinking from media stars who predicted Whitewater wouldn't amount to anything. Here are eight quotes, from oldest to newest:

-- NPR's Nina Totenberg on Inside Washington, January 15, 1994: "You said there is no proof of criminality, there's no evidence of criminality! This is sort of, one of those incidents where the protagonists fed the fire by refusing to say 'Look, here's exactly what happened.' I suspect, in fact I think I know, that in the White House most people do not know what exactly happened in the Whitewater investment. They haven't pieced it entirely together yet. The Clintons didn't think, until a couple of weeks ago perhaps, this was really important...."

-- Sam Fulwood, Los Angeles Times Washington bureau reporter, on Inside Washington, December 9, 1995: "I can't get excited by this Whitewater thing any further. I mean, we have had all this conversation, nobody's shown a shred of evidence about anything that's inappropriate or illegal other than just the smoke that maybe something's going on. We had in the bureau, at the L.A. Times, Lamar Alexander, who is not a right wing nut or a liberal lefty saying that he's traveled across the country, 50 cities in Florida, for example, and nobody has asked him about Whitewater or Newt. I don't think anybody cares except the circle in Washington."

-- Margaret Carlson, Time magazine columnist and former White House reporter, on CNN's Capital Gang, December 23, 1995: "Well paranoids actually do have enemies some of the time and Senator D'Amato looks like an enemy the of First Lady there's no doubt about that. I mean any time you assert privilege it looks bad. Once these things get going all it looks like you're doing is saying, 'I don't wanna to turn that over.' And the whole idea in Washington, you know, since Watergate is you take the papers and you put them on the table. That's what you have to do public relations wise. But, you know, there are embarrassing things in notes and unfortunately you gotta hand them over. But what, Al [Hunt] is right about this. As the curtains keep getting lifted there's nothing there! There's no big, you know, there's no big smoking gun. There's no Mogilla! And they keep going and not finding anything."

-- Juan Williams of the Washington Post on CNN's Capital Gang, January 7, 1996: "There's no way possible to defend Hillary on exactly what she's doing in terms of this, what looks to be a coverup. I think that it is possible however to say that when we look at exactly what we're talking about with Whitewater you can say there's nothing there! I mean if D'Amato and if all these rest of the guys have something, bring it forward. All we're involved in is saying that Hillary Clinton has been very slow to bring forward documents that Hillary Clinton has to some extent shaded the truth, if you will, in trying to present herself in the most favorable light to get this behind her. And I think it's been a real mistake. She's behaved badly. But you would think by the kind of flares going up in this town from Republicans and Mona. You would think that the woman was out there beating children!"

-- Eleanor Clift of Newsweek on The McLaughlin Group, February 10, 1996: "Yes. If Ken Starr is a credible prosecutor he will bring this to a conclusion and the Clintons will be exonerated."

-- Margaret Carlson on CNN's Capital Gang, February 24, 1996: "Clinton is doing well. 10,000 people in Keene, New Hampshire standing three hours in the cold....Presidential trip to Long Beach giving out government contracts. He's looking good. Whitewater via D'Amato is out of steam. I don't think that's going to hurt him. D'Amato's done everything he can. But the independent counsel if it hits at the right moment could do some damage but at the moment David Hale doesn't look to be a good witness. In a mock trial he failed against Jim Guy Tucker. So who knows? But I think the steam is out of Whitewater."

-- Carlson on Capital Gang, March 16, 1996: "Let me give [Blood Sport author] Jim Stewart another plug. He's a fine reporter. Alice Mayhew is editor, a fine editor. But it would take Oliver Stone to pump political life into Whitewater. He just hasn't really done it. Alfonse D'Amato has had all these months to do it and all this money and he really hasn't done it."

-- Carlson and U.S. News & World Report Editor-in-Chief Mort Zuckerman on CNBC's Cal Thomas show, March 24, 1996: "The only way Whitewater can hurt is if the Independent Counsel issues an indictment, that's it. We've had a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter now, doing everything he could to write an interesting book and there's no smoking anything in that book, it shows the Clintons to cut corners, be ethically questionable in their conduct."
Cal Thomas, host: "And that's OK now?"
Carlson: "No, it's not OK, but it's out there, it's been out there, it's not going to have any more impact than it's already having."
Thomas: "Quickly, Mort, then we'll go to a phone call."
Mort Zuckerman, US News & World Report: "Yeah, I mean, I think we also have to remember that there have been three independent studies, one recently from the FDIC, which was a follow-on after Hillary Clinton's billing records came about, that followed on the RTC report. They have exonerated the Clintons on Whitewater, they have exonerated Bill Clinton's wife on her role in the Rose Law Firm. I don't think there's anything there unless Kenneth Starr does come up with anything, and the fact that there is a trial going on I think is not going to be relevant to what the elections going to be all about, you can't run an election based on attacking the President's wife."

2

Last week I reported that the May MediaWatch includes a study titled "McDougal Trial, Senate Hearings Filibuster, and Other Whitewater News Downplayed: Trial? What Whitewater Trial?" We reviewed Arkansas Whitewater trial and related stories on network morning news and evening news programs on ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC from February 29, a few days before the trial began, to April 30, as the trial neared its end. Analysts also reviewed corresponding news magazine coverage in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report from issues dated March 4 to May 6.
We found: "In nearly two months of the trial, the four networks aired only 16 reporter-based Whitewater stories on the evening news shows -- an average of less than four per network over a two-month period. Seven of the 16 (44 percent) were on the President's testimony. Although Time carried a long cover story excerpting James Stewart's Whitewater book Blood Sport, the news magazines devoted fewer pages to the Whitewater trial than to the Jackie Onassis auction."

After the verdict Tuesday, Tim Graham reviewed coverage from May 1 to May 15 and discovered that "the Big Three have done only one additional reporter-based story each, all on the evening of the 9th and the morning of the 10th, on the jury seeing Clinton's testimony. (NBC's May 9 story was the first reporter-based story of the entire trial period aired on Nightly News.) CNN had four reporter-based stories on its The World Today (10-11pm ET) -- on the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th."

But of course, as Dan Rather keeps assuring us, Bill Clinton was not on trial.

-- Brent Baker

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