CyberAlert -- 05/28/1997 -- Avoiding Clinton's Demand

Avoiding Clinton's Demand; Conservative Basher; Memorial Priorities

  1. All the networks led with Paula Jones, but none told what she accused Clinton of demanding. Only NBC mentioned how insurance is paying for his defense, but the American Spectator had much more.
  2. Tonight on PBS: a series from a man who considers Time magazine "fascist" and thinks that conservatives will "depress the quality of cultural and educational life for everyone."
  3. ABC scolds public for forgetting the reason for Memorial Day, but they lead with....weekend movie box office numbers.

1) The Supreme Court decision that a President cannot avoid a lawsuit brought for acts not related to his officials duties, thus allowing Paula Jones' case to proceed, led all three broadcast network evening shows Tuesday night, followed by stories on the NATO meeting. Plus, Nightline devoted its May 27 broadcast to the development.

None, however, told viewers what, specifically, she charges that Bill Clinton demanded as none used the terms oral sex or fellatio. But NBC's Jim Miklaszewski did tell viewers a couple of facts ignored by ABC and CBS, such as how insurance companies are paying for Clinton's defense.

-- ABC's World News Tonight led with a full piece by Tim O'Brien followed by a series of three brief Q&A sessions between Peter Jennings and: John Donvan in Paris, Sam Donaldson and law professor Jonathan Turley.

Description of the complaint. Peter Jennings: " which she accuses him of pretty overt sexual harassment..." Tim O'Brien got close: "President Clinton has denied Paula Jones' charges that when he was Governor of Arkansas he had her brought to a Little Rock hotel room where she says he exposed himself and asked her to perform a sex act."

-- CBS Evening News led with a full report from Jim Stewart followed by a stand-up from Rita Braver in Paris.

Description of the complaint: Dan Rather: "The case: Paula Jones lawsuit against President Clinton." Jim Stewart: "She has charged that, as Governor of Arkansas, Clinton invited her to a room in this Little Rock hotel in 1991 and made sexual advances..."

-- NBC Nightly News, which has devoted the least time of the three this year to Clinton scandals, dedicated the most time to the Jones decision. NBC led with a full report from Pete Williams followed by a story from David Bloom in Paris which was about half NATO and half Paula Jones reaction. Later, NBC devoted its "In Depth" segment to the Jones matter with a lengthy piece from Jim Miklaszewski before Tom Brokaw discussed the implications with Tim Russert.

Description of complaint: Tom Brokaw: "Paula Jones wants to sue Bill Clinton for sexual harassment..." Pete Williams: "...her claim that at this hotel in Little Rock six years ago, then Governor Clinton had an Arkansas state trooper escort her to a room where Mr. Clinton made a crude sexual advance."

In his "In Depth" report, Jim Miklaszewski offered the most suggestive description of what Clinton did, speculating that if the case were to go to trial "Ms. Jones would relate in detail her allegations that then Governor Clinton summoned her to a Little Rock hotel room, exposed himself, and asked her to perform a sex act." Miklaszewski noted that "Ms. Jones also claims the President has a distinguishing physical characteristic. Jones' attorneys could demand the President undergo a humiliating physical examination, as lawyers did in the case against singer Michael Jackson..."

ABC and CBS failed to tell viewers about that possibility, or another bit of information that Miklaszewski relayed, an item the networks have hardly emphasized:

"Meanwhile, this case is running into some big money. The President's lawyers have already billed more than a million and a half dollars, most of it paid by the President's insurance companies."

It's nice that Miklaszewski finally squeezed in a network mention of the insurance payments, but he barely touched the potential scandal it encompasses. In a June 1996 American Spectator story the networks ignored, Byron York revealed that two insurance companies are paying the legal bills generated by the Jones lawsuit, but are violating their rules to do so. York discovered that Clinton purchased "personal liability umbrella policies" with Pacific Indemnity, a division of the Chubb Group, and when that expired in 1992, with State Farm.

York explained the oddity of the insurance companies agreeing to pay:
"How could two big insurance companies decide that a client's umbrella policy covered a case in which he is accused of coming on to an unwilling woman in an overtly sexual fashion? The decision seems all the more curious when one looks at the several legitimate reasons State Farm and Chubb had to turn Clinton and [lawyer Bob] Bennett down.

"First....'Sexual harassment is clearly not covered under any insurance policy I'm aware of,' says Richard Giller, a Los Angles attorney who specializes in representing insurance companies....

"Second, the policies specifically do not cover any intentional act...

"Third, insurance companies routinely deny coverage to clients who do not make claims in a reasonable amount of time. Jones filed suit on May 6, 1994; State Farm says it received a notice from Bennett on June 8, 1995...."

With all the media excitement about how Newt Gingrich would pay his penalty and whether Dole's loan would create a conflict of interest because of the tobacco companies represented by Dole's firm, it's interesting to note the media's lack of concern about this insurance maneuver. Clinton's defense fund will not accept contributions from corporations, but York observed:

"Yet when two giant corporations pitch in $900,000 for the same cause -- Clinton's legal defense -- no such ethics rules apply. Given the highly unusual circumstances of the payments, a close reading of ethics standards in today's Washington might view the money as little more than a gift from State Farm and Chubb to the President."

But it's a story the networks have avoided. Even NBC. Back on May 15 when the Clinton's released their financial statements, NBC made no mention of insurance payments, as Tom Brokaw declared:

"From the White House tonight we have a detailed look at the President's personal financial status, and he is deep in the red. The numbers show the high cost of being the target of so many legal investigations."

2) Starting Wednesday night (May 28) most PBS stations will carry "American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America," an eight-part series produced and narrated by Robert Hughes, art critic for Time magazine. Knopf has published a companion book and Time has just released a special edition with excerpts. Hughes told the May 26 Boston Globe that he considers the TV series and book "a love letter to America."

MediaWatch and Notable Quotable readers will recognize Hughes as a liberal who has used the pages of Time to blast away at conservatives, especially anyone who dares to suggest cutting a dollar from the National Endowment for the Arts. But Hughes was so far to the left when he interviewed for his Time position that he considered the magazine "fascist." As recounted by the Boston Globe's Fred Kaplan in his May 26 profile of Hughes:

"'One night in 1970,' he recalls of the job offer, 'they rang me up -- or, actually, they rang up the guy in the flat next door because my phone had been cut off, owing to nonpayment of bills. I was, at the time, fairly stoned. I thought it was the CIA on the line. This was at the time of the Vietnam business, and I was indignantly marching a lot. They didn't identify themselves, they just said, 'I want you to come work for us.' So I said, in my somewhat deranged state, 'I wouldn't work for you, you bloody fascists!' And I hung up.'

"'Very luckily,' he goes on...'they called again and I figured, 'Why not?'"

Not so lucky for Time readers. More than 20 years later his political take hadn't changed much. Here are a couple of quotes plucked from back issues of Notable Quotables that may provide a preview of the tone Hughes will take in his PBS platform:

-- In the February 3, 1992 Time: "We are seeing a public recoil from formal politics, from the active, reasoned exercise of citizenship. It comes because we don't trust anyone. It is part of the cafard the '80s induced: Wall Street robbery, the savings and loan scandal, the wholesale plunder of the economy, an orgy released by Reaganomics that went on for years with hardly a peep from Congress -- events whose numbers were so huge as to be beyond the comprehension of most people."

-- Also from February 3, 1992: "Meanwhile [in the 1980s], a considerable and very well-subsidized industry arose, hunting the lefty academic or artist in his or her retreat. Republican attack politics turned on culture, and suddenly both academe and the arts were full of potential Willie Hortons. The lowbrow form of this was the ire of figures like Senator Helms and the Rev. Donald Wildmon directed against National Endowment subventions for art shows they thought blasphemous and obscene, or the trumpetings of folk like David Horowitz about how PBS should be demolished because it's a pinko-liberal-anti-Israel bureaucracy."

-- Hughes, concluding August 7, 1995 cover story on plans to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities:

"The conservatives' agenda, if it goes through, is going to depress the quality of cultural and educational life for everyone in America, young and old, black, brown, male or female. This is one of the most ill-conceived, profoundly anti-democratic ideas ever to get loose in Congress. Private philanthropy will never be able to restore what seems about to be taken away. Some will not notice it; others won't care; given the shortness of American social memory, perhaps the next generation won't know what happened. Partial lobotomies work that way. They favor Beavis and Butt-head. Is that the business of American government?"

3) Introducing the very last story on Monday's World News Tonight, a series of video clips from Arlington Cemetery and Vietnam Memorial ceremonies, anchor Forrest Sawyer observed:

"Finally this evening, remembering their sacrifice. It is perhaps too easy on Memorial Day to think of the holiday as just another long weekend. Easy to forget that a holiday which originated after the Civil War now honors all those Americans who sacrificed their lives in all the wars this nation has fought."

Just who forgot? Here's Sawyer at the top of the show, 25 minutes earlier:

"Good evening. It has been a most quiet Memorial Day across the country with people coming together to enjoy cookouts, parades and the great outdoors. And, this holiday weekend, millions of Americans have something new in common: dinosaurs, financially successful dinosaurs. So successful, they opened this weekend in what is certain to become the most profitable movie in history."

Cookouts, parade and the outdoors. No mention of those who sacrificed their lives.

In addition to reporter Bill Redeker's lead piece on the box office success of the movie the Lost World, ABC aired stories on:
-- efforts to get black women to detect breast cancer earlier
-- the Cumberland, RI police getting parents permission in advance to enter their home when parents are away if police suspect a teen drinking party
-- a look at the controversy over "adventure vacations" to Papua New Guinea to see natives battle.

All legitimate stories, but hardly ones that had to run on Memorial Day or were more relevant than Memorial Day ceremonies.

It's "easy to forget" that the holiday "honors all those Americans who sacrificed their lives in all the wars this nation has fought" when the most watched network evening show leads with movie box office results and doesn't get around to the meaning of the holiday until the very last story.

-- Brent Baker