CyberAlert -- 07/22/1998 -- Starr Leaker

Starr Leaker; Catholics Worse Than HMOs; Pentagon Condemns CNN

1) Every network but NBC Tuesday night focused on Starr's fight against charges his office improperly leaked grand jury information. CBS tied Starr's trouble to Brill's hit piece.

2) "This is not about cost. It's about ideology. What happens when a Catholic hospital is the only one around." Nothing good, ABC's World News Tonight argued on Tuesday.

3) CNN didn't shy away from the Pentagon report condemning its Tailwind story and CNN has made a financial settlement with one aggrieved party, but a Fox poll found few have lost respect for CNN.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Every network but NBC devoted a full report Tuesday night to the hearing before three appeals court judges on the parameters of an examination of whether Ken Starr's office improperly leaked grand jury information. NBC didn't mention the day's gathering of lawyers. CNN and FNC featured full stories, and CBS aired a brief mention read by anchor Dan Rather, on the Pentagon report which concluded there's no evidence to support any of the allegations made in CNN's NewsStand story on Operation Tailwind. Neither ABC or NBC mentioned the findings. (See item #3 today for coverage of the Pentagon report on CNN's original story.)

ABC News discovered a health threat even greater than HMOs: hospitals owned by the Catholic church. Peter Jennings warned the upcoming story "is not about cost. It's about ideology. What happens when a Catholic hospital is the only one around." See item #2 below for more.

Clinton administration proposals for further nursing home regulations topped ABC's World News Tonight. The CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News led with the investigation into the cruise ship fire while FNC's Fox Report opened with the probe of Starr and CNN's The World Today went first with an explanation of how the government tracks temperatures.

Tuesday's Washington Times front page showcased two exclusives: First, that by adding six new intercontinental ballistic missiles, China has implemented a one-third increase in its ICBM arsenal. Second, following up on its Monday story about how the White House got 1,000 FBI files, how the White House conceded that it had improperly obtained hundreds of files. Bill Sammon reported: "A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said new Filegate documents list more than 400 people 'whose files we should not have requested.' The official explained that the White House was updating its security files from an outdated Secret Service list that contained both existing employees and those who had left the White House. 'We were working from a list that was not an accurate one, but there was certainly nothing intentional about this,' the official said."
CNN allocated a few seconds to the China story, but the other networks ignored it and no network uttered a word about the FBI files.

Here are some highlights from the Tuesday, July 21 evening shows. A look at the Pentagon report on CNN's story is in item #3 today.

-- ABC's World News Tonight led with Sam Donaldson on a 900 page report from the Health Care Financing Administration on how laws passed four years ago didn't do enough to improve nursing homes. Next, from San Francisco, reporter Judy Muller highlighted nursing home abuses, charging: "This weekend the Government Accounting Office will release the results of its investigation into California nursing homes. Sources say the language of that report is unusually strong and critical. While many nursing homes do offer adequate care, critics say that the elderly residents are too often at the mercy of a profit-driven industry."

On the Monicagate front, Jackie Judd explained that Starr and lawyers for all the parties appeared at the courthouse. Judd asserted:
"ABC News has learned that back on June 26 Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who is presiding over the Lewinsky matter, gave the go ahead to the President's lawyers and others to obtain documents from Starr and to interview people who might know about leaks, perhaps even Starr's prosecutors. An agitated Starr has managed to hold off the investigation so far by making three different attempts to have the court of appeals overrule Judge Johnson."
Judd concluded: "If Starr loses and he and his staff find themselves under investigation it would at a minimum be a severe embarrassment. It would also give his opponents another opportunity to challenge the credibility of Starr's case against the President."

-- CBS Evening News began with the cruise ship fire, what Dan Rather dubbed "agony on the Ecstasy." After pieces on improving safety at railroad crossings and the fragility of some SUV models, Rather turned to Scott Pelley, who explained:
"This evening the President's attorney's are trying to turn the tables on Ken Starr. Sources tell CBS News that in a closed court hearing today the President's defense team demanded sworn testimony from Starr and one of his deputies."
They are alleging prosecutors have leaked secret grand jury to media, Pelley told viewers before linking the attack on Starr to Steve Brill's hit piece. Over a picture of Brill's Content magazine, Pelley recalled: "Starr has been under pressure since a controversial magazine article that alleged his office was the source of news reports on grand jury evidence. Four weeks ago, an angry Judge Norma Holloway Johnson ordered a hearing on the allegation, but Starr filed a series of appeals claiming the President's lawyers were trying to wreck his investigation."

Pelley concluded by noting the appearance of some Secret Service officers before the grand jury and how another just retired agent on the presidential detail had been issued a subpoena.

-- CNN's The World Today. Wolf Blitzer provided a summary of the battle over leaks between Clinton's lawyers and Starr.

-- FNC's Fox Report at 7pm ET began with David Shuster's look at Starr's trip to the courthouse to try to dismiss the case against him over leaks. Shuster also relayed how the Secret Service officers are being forced to answer before the grand jury questions they had earlier refused to answer, such as what steward Byani Nelvis had told them he saw.

Later, in a Fox Files report Carl Cameron previewed an audit due Wednesday showing how the Social Security Administration employs workers who toil solely for a labor union, a practice which cost $15 million in 1996. Cameron explained: "President Clinton's executive order in 1993 made it all legal, creating labor-management partnerships in which federal employees become taxpayer-salaried labor representatives."

-- NBC Nightly News ran three stories on the cruise ship fire, but held Monicagate to a brief "Hot Spots" item on the appearance by two Secret Service officers before the grand jury. Not a word about the leak battle.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) What's more threatening and dangerous than an HMO? A community with only Catholic-controlled hospitals, ABC contended Tuesday night. Plugging the upcoming segment on the July 21 World News Tonight Peter Jennings asserted: "When a Catholic hospital is the only one nearby are patients losing some of their options? We'll take A Closer Look."

Introducing the "A Closer Look" segment, Jennings explained:
"We already know with the advent of health maintenance organizations, unless we're able to pay for all the services we like, most of us give up a certain degree of choice in medical care. Our report tonight is about the most controversial of choices. This is not about cost. It's about ideology. What happens when a Catholic hospital is the only one around."

From Manchester, New Hampshire Michelle Norris looked at complaints about what happened when the Catholic owned hospital entered into a management partnership with the other hospital in the Queen City, "a partnership formed to help cut costs, but because of the Catholic church's rules about birth control and abortion, there have been severe consequences for patients."
Relaying the complaint of Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice about how bishops are making medical decisions instead of doctors, Norris recounted an anecdote about a woman denied an "emergency abortion" her doctor found medically necessary.
Norris ran two soundbites from Kissling and a clip from an upset OBGyn, but just one soundbite from the head of the Catholic Hospital Association. With more hospitals merging their managements to save costs, Norris warned in her conclusion, in 76 communities across the country the Catholic church now controls all the hospitals so the public has no other choice.

Thunderstorms and a power outage in DC briefly knocked Washington's ABC affiliate WJLA off the air for a bit less than a minute immediately after the Norris piece, so I missed the beginning of a follow-up interview. Jennings talked with a Catholic expert I recognized, but at the risk of getting his name wrong I'll not guess at it here. The signal cut back in just as the guest expert was suggesting there's nothing wrong with a hospital owner running it as they see fit.
In his final question, what I believe was the second of two questions posed, Jennings countered: "A cynic on the other hand might say that here is the Catholic church trying to get around the abortion laws in the country and force its will on an increasingly larger number of people. What do you say to that?"


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)singlau2.jpg (25564 bytes) MSNBC and FNC late Tuesday morning carried part of the Pentagon press conference with several military leaders announcing the results of their look into the CNN story on Operation Tailwind. CNN carried it live, in its entirety, without network commercial break. Tuesday night CBS gave the Pentagon report a few seconds while ABC and NBC skipped it. CNN and FNC offered full stories, but a poll result relayed by FNC suggests the whole incident has not really hurt CNN's credibility.

On CNN's The World Today Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre didn't sugar-coat the findings:
"The Pentagon investigation concludes the two central allegations of CNN's now-retracted report on Operation Tailwind were wrong. Investigators found no evidence that during the Vietnam War deadly sarin nerve gas was used on a secret foray into Laos, and no evidence the mission was to hunt down and kill U.S. defectors."
McIntyre introduced a clip of Defense Secretary William Cohen: "Cohen said he wanted to send a message to the world that the U.S. has not and does not use lethal nerve gas, and to tell veterans of the 1970 mission that their names have been cleared."
Cohen: "I can assure you and your colleagues and your families, you did nothing wrong and quite to the contrary, you did everything right."

McIntyre's piece closed:
"Investigators concluded it would have been highly improbable for all 16 U.S. troops to have survived the extraction operation if the gas used had been deadly sarin."
Lt. Colonel Eugene McCarley, former company commander: "The very fact that these two seats right here are filled today should be all the evidence anyone should ever need that sarin gas was not used."
McIntyre: "As a result of its investigation, the Pentagon will now re-examine the records of the once-secret operation to see if the forgotten heroes deserve more recognition. In particular, it will look at the actions of a medic, Michael Rose, whose fellow veterans say should be considered for a Congressional Medal of Honor."

Not quite the attitude toward the military expressed by NewsStand producers April Oliver and Jack Smith. But McIntyre's willingness to thoroughly rebuke CNN's original story is no surprise when you recall his anger at Oliver and Smith. As cited in the July 8 CyberAlert, in the July 7 Washington Post Howard Kurtz reported:
"In a widely circulated July 4 memo, McIntyre, the Pentagon reporter, said he was 'angry' at Smith and Oliver for the 'multitude of journalistic sins they committed' in pursuit of their 'conspiracy theory.' He said the two producers owe an apology to 'their colleagues at CNN, whose reputations and credibility have been grievously wounded by this shoddy piece of journalism.'"

But it may not have harmed CNN all that much according to a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll result featured on Tuesday's Fox Report. Asked if they had "lost respect for CNN and Time because of the report?" the respondents answered:

55%: No, not lost respect
16%: Yes, lost respect
29%: Not sure

FNC's Gary Matsumoto proceeded to summarize how the Pentagon "didn't find any evidence to support the allegations." After noting the non-use of sarin, Matsumoto added:
"The report also concluded there was no evidence to support the other charges, that the mission was organized to hunt down and kill American defectors, that a village was destroyed and that women and children were killed in the process. The author of this book called SOG, an acronym for the Green Beret unit that fought behind enemy lines, is himself a former SOG commando. He believes the men of Tailwind deserve more than an apology."
After a soundbite from Major John Plaster, former head of SOG, Matsumoto raised an issue CNN didn't touch: "Lt. Colonel McCarley has rejected a cash settlement with CNN that he says was around $250,000. McCarley says he plans to sue the network on behalf of himself and 14 other veterans of the Tailwind force."

In Tuesday's Washington Times Rowan Scarborough disclosed that CNN rejected a demand for $6 million from McCarley, but has issued an apology to retired Admiral Thomas Moorer and, last Friday, agreed to a financial settlement with Moorer for an "undisclosed sum."

CNN has posted the full Department of Defense report on its Web site. As of Tuesday night at least it could be accessed at:

-- Brent Baker

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