CyberAlert -- 06/27/1997 -- Tarring Starr

Tarring Starr; Letting Gore Off; Hushing Up Hubbell's Fraud

All the articles in the June MediaWatch can now be read online from the MRC's home page, or more directly at:

Your Friday morning newspaper may include a story by the AP's Lynn Elber distributed on Thursday about the MRC's "Businessmen Behaving Badly" study on prime time portrayals. Read the full study at:

  1. The White House hopes Starr's look at Clinton's "personal life" hurts Starr more than Clinton. The networks are doing their part.
  2. From rewards for donors to new info about the Buddhist temple, there's plenty to ask Al Gore about. But two morning shows avoid that and press him on why he isn't doing more on the environment.
  3. The LA auditor determined that Hubbell ripped off the city and urges a criminal prosecution. The networks ignored the development, just as a new MRC study showed they have all year.

1) Concluding a June 25 World Today story on reaction to the Washington Post story on how Kenneth Starr's office has questioned Arkansas troopers about Clinton's extramarital affairs, CNN's Bob Franken concluded:

"...President Clinton was tight-lipped, allowing supporters and lawyers to condemn the tactics, using words like desperate -- evidently hoping that Starr's looking into his personal life harms Starr more than the President."

The media are doing their part to fulfill Clinton's wish. As detailed in the June 26 CyberAlert, Wednesday night's NBC Nightly News portrayed investigator Starr as the bad guy in a story that featured three soundbites denouncing Starr but not one in support.

Wednesday night neither ABC's World News Tonight or CBS Evening News mentioned the controversy and both shows again skipped the story on Thursday night. (The June 26 CBS Evening News did include a piece by Phil Jones on a payoff to a big Democratic donor. Thursday's Washington Post reported that the White House had asked Florence Griffith Joyner to relinquish her co-chair title on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports so that Jake Steinfeld could take her place. "Body by Jake" Steinfeld gave $100,000 to the Democrats last year. Jones noted that in the wake of the publicity the White House had backed down.)

Thursday morning's Today and GMA, however, featured discussions about the Starr news. Today brought on James Carville and conservative commentator Susan Carpenter-McMillan. Matt Lauer opened with this question to Carpenter-McMillan right out of the White House playbook:

"The fact that this line of questioning from Whitewater investigators has turned personal to the President's, or then Governor's sex life, does it show you that this investigation is desperate?"

Lauer did later ask Carville a "hypothetical" question about whether Clinton may have discussed politics and investments with women with whom he had affairs.

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff served as Good Morning America's expert. Isikoff found Starr's approach to be prudent, getting him into a bit of a debate with GMA co-host Charlie Gibson who opened by asking:

"What is the relevance to Whitewater in asking questions about then Governor Clinton's sex life?"

Isikoff explained that it's legitimate to look at Clinton's activities in 1984-85 when the Madison deals occurred and his relationship at the time with Susan McDougal, a key player in those deals. Gibson countered: "But Michael, these questions range all through the '80s, they range into the '90s. These troopers are saying they are being asked questions like did you ever see the Governor perform a sex act, did some woman bear a love child of the Governor's. What does that have to do with land deals?"

Nothing, those are out of bounds replied Isikoff. But he suggested the FBI agents were assigned to ask legitimate questions and then the prurient interests of "over zealous" agents led the questioning astray. Again, Gibson disagreed:

"But Starr's office yesterday was defending this. Starr himself says we're not looking into the then Governor's sex life, but the office defended the questions as saying it is appropriate to establish circumstances of contact of potential witnesses. Well I'm not sure what that means but it sounds like they're looking for pillow talk."

Gibson's implication was that "pillow talk" is somehow out of bounds and unfruitful. About 40 minutes later during the 8am news break, ABC reporter Bob Zelnick concluded a story on the controversy:

"....Starr's prosecutors still want to find out whether Mr. Clinton knew of the illegal dealings of the Madison Guaranty Bank. Their concern is not whose head was on the pillow, but what was revealed during pillow talk."

2) In just the last two weeks questions have arisen about Al Gore getting the Energy Department to award contracts to a big donor, some Buddhist monks involved in the big fundraiser featuring Al Gore have admitted that they were reimbursed for their donations in a money laundering scheme and the Senate investigating committee has battled over whether to provide immunity to the monks.

So, when Al and Tipper Gore were interviewed on Good Morning America and CBS This Morning these matters were raised? No, none were even hinted at. The Gores appeared Wednesday morning to discuss their annual family reunion conference in Nashville. On CBS Jane Robelot tossed up some easy questions, such as:

"Mrs. Gore you have always been one who's been very active in family issues and parent-children involvement. Look back at the past five family conferences, what fruits have you seen from those?"

On ABC's June 25 Good Morning America, Charlie Gibson also asked some easy questions, as transcribed by MRC intern Jessica Anderson: "Do you like the new [TV ratings] system, by the way? Do you like the new letters that are going to be added? Do you think it's going to help?"

Morning show guests are regularly invited on primarily to discuss one matter only to be quizzed on other subjects in the news. Indeed, Gibson did offer up one challenging question off the family values topic. But it wasn't about fundraising or how Al Gore pushes environmental beliefs considered scientifically baseless, it was about how the administration had become too conservative:

"Mr. Vice President, just one other subject I want to ask you about, and that's the Earth Summit, the renewed Earth Summit at the U.N. The report card was not very good on a what's happened in the five years since the first Earth Summit. Other nations are willing to commit to specific timetables for cutting back on greenhouse gases. Why aren't, why isn't the United States willing to?"

3) The network reluctance to cover Webster Hubbell continues as shown by the avoidance of another revelation this week and by a study conducted by the MRC.

"Hubbell Cheated L.A., a City Audit Claims," announced a front page story in the June 24 Los Angeles Times. The Tuesday Washington Post and New York Times ran stories inside. LA Times reporter David Willman explained:

"Webster L. Hubbell, the former No. 3 official at the U.S. Justice Department, lied two years ago to win consulting payments totaling $24,750 from the city of Los Angeles and should face the prospect of renewed criminal prosecution, according to an audit report made public Monday. The report concluded that a July 19, 1995, letter Hubbell sent to the city itemizing his supposed work 'was materially false.'" City Controller Rick Tuttle decided: "Mr. Hubbell defrauded the City of Los Angeles."

Coverage: Nothing on any of the broadcast networks Tuesday morning through Thursday night. Not a word on ABC's World News Tonight or GMA, CBS Evening News or This Morning, nor NBC Nightly News or Today.

This lack of interest matches the pattern documented in the June MediaWatch Study conducted by Associate Editor Tim Graham. The study of January-May newscasts demonstrated how the networks skipped more than a dozen major disclosures and the broadcast networks ran just ten full stories in total on Hubbell. Here's the opening of the study:

Networks Shrug at Clinton White House Campaign to Enrich a Convicted Felon

Hush Little Hubbell, Don't You Cry

Think back to the unfolding of Iran-Contra ten years ago. Imagine that instead of testifying before Congress, Oliver North suddenly made $500,000 in "jobs" from Reagan-friendly corporations and announced he would not cooperate with Lawrence Walsh or congressional investigations. Would the liberal media have yawned?

Not exactly. So where is the media firestorm around Webster Hubbell? One of Bill Clinton's best friends, the former number three official in the Justice Department resigned in disgrace in early 1994. Months later, he pled guilty to embezzling almost a half million dollars from the Rose Law Firm, where he worked with Hillary Clinton, including work on Whitewater deals. Hubbell might have considered telling all to Ken Starr to lighten his legal woes. Instead, as national newspapers have pieced together, the White House campaigned to enrich Hubbell with phony "jobs" during this crucial period. White House denials of a fund-Hubbell campaign crumbled with each new story in print outlets -- but the networks ignored most of them.

To document network Hubbell coverage, MediaWatch analysts reviewed evening news on four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN's The World Today), as well as the morning shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC. From January 1 through May 31, the Big Three networks combined aired only 10 full reports and eight anchor briefs on the Hubbell story. CNN didn't do much better, with six full reports and ten anchor briefs. The morning shows followed with only four full reports, two interviews, and 14 anchor briefs combined. Among the underplayed print revelations:

To learn which revelations were underplayed or ignored, read the rest of the study online. Thanks to the MRC's Web Manager, Joe Alfonsi, you can read the entire June MediaWatch off the MRC home page:

The direct address to the study:

Finally, the June 26 CyberAlert quoted Tom Brokaw referring to "Wong Joon, the suspected arms dealer." His name should have been spelled Wang Jun. The intern who mis-transcribed this and I shall be attending a Chinese spelling re-education camp.

-- Brent Baker