Nets Refrain from Sex; How's Hillary "Coping?"; Awed by Prayer Address
1) The broadcast networks refrained from any details of the sexual episodes, though NBC came close, allocating more time to the abuse of power and obstruction charges. Network tone, anecdotes conveyed and subjects covered Friday night detailed at length below.
All the networks provided live coverage Friday morning of Clinton's prayer breakfast address at about 9:40am ET and the broadcast networks also spent much time in the afternoon with breaking news on the content of Starr's then just-released report. In the evening, Starr's report was the only subject covered on ABC's World News Tonight. The CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News squeezed in items about the Dow's rebound, Russia's new Prime Minister and Tropical Storm Francis. FNC devoted its entire 7pm ET Fox Report to the report and CNN ran hour-long specials at 8pm and 10pm ET.
All spent more time running through Starr's abuse of power and obstruction charges than on the sexual incidents and perjury recounted in the report. Since details of the specific sexual incidents are what may most threaten Clinton's public support by both proving he lied when denying sex and by upsetting the masses of morally if not politically conservative people, below I'll run through how each network treated the matter. (This is not to imply the other matters are not necessarily more important legally, but to show how network reluctance to offend viewers mean they were deprived of relevant information they could have used to judge Clinton's denial of sexual relations.) In short, the broadcast networks only offered vague references that failed to convey the absurdity of Clinton's denial of sexual relations. Only CBS's Bob Schieffer noted how Clinton had told Lewinsky he'd had hundreds of affairs, but was trying to cut back, and only NBC's Lisa Myers picked up on Clinton as a cad, raising Lewinsky's complaint that he might not have even bothered to learn her name.
FNC offered an edited with euphemisms version of one incident with a cigar. CNN read the definition of sex used in the Jones deposition, but then made no more a graphic citation from the report than to say it recounted "intimate touching."
CBS's Scott Pelley observed that "sex is only the foundation for the serious legal allegations that follow," but only he detailed a specific incident in which Clinton misused his power over the Secret Service to ensure his affair with Lewinsky remained secret. Otherwise, the networks all relayed the same basic impeachable charges from the Starr report and followed with stories on the rebuttal from Clinton lawyer David Kendall. Of the broadcast networks at least though, only NBC's David Bloom read a quote from Kendall about how the report had nothing on real matters like Whitewater or the travel office.
Here are highlights, including the openings from the anchors to give you an idea of the tone of the evening, from the Friday, September 11 evening shows. A note of thanks to MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens who stayed late with me Friday night to transcribe highlights from the evening shows.
-- ABC's World
News Tonight. Peter Jennings began:
Up first, Jackie Judd ran through Starr's charges, mixing in at one point a vague reference to the sexual incidents:
"The report concludes there is substantial and credible information that the President's lies about his relationship with Lewinsky were abundant and calculating. As evidence the report includes explicit details about ten sexual encounters Lewinsky said she had with Mr. Clinton. Including one in the Oval Office bathroom and another that occurred while Mr. Clinton was on the phone with a member of Congress. The details are necessary, prosecutors write, to prove the President perjured himself in the Jones case and again before Ken Starr's grand jury when Mr. Clinton denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky whatever definition is used."
Judd added later: "The report also claims that Mr. Clinton was not telling the truth when he suggested in the Jones deposition that he was hardly involved in helping Lewinsky find a job. According to the report when she got an offer from Revlon, Vernon Jordan notified the President and Currie with the news, 'Mission accomplished,' and the President said, 'Thank you very much.'"
Next, Peter Jennings introduced Sam Donaldson's piece with the White House response by highlighting how its legal emphasis conflicts with Clinton's earlier comments: "When the President spoke at that prayer breakfast this morning he said that legal language should not obscure the fact that he'd done wrong but legal language and legal argument are at the very heart of the President's defense strategy. In fact it began even before Mr. Starr's report was made public to everyone."
The rest of the show was taken up with a talk with ABC legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, a minute and a half excerpt of Clinton's prayer breakfast address, a quick roundtable with George Stephanopoulos, Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson and Jackie Judd and a story on public reaction. "Mostly we heard this," asserted Aaron Brown before this soundbite from one man: "I think the reality of it is what he did was deceitful to his family, was deceitful to the public. But did it cause us any real harm? No. Not that I see." Not a lot of stories, but that's because the first two pieces of the night by Judd and Donaldson lasted almost five minutes each.
CBS started with
Bob Schieffer on Capitol Hill. Over video of the boxes with the report
being opened Schieffer suggested: "It had been advertised as steamy
and you could almost see the steam rising as the boxes came open. It was a
tawdry tale told by a young woman who had become emotionally involved with
an older, married man...."
Schieffer uniquely added this little anecdote from the report: "When he decided to end the relationship, she says the President told her he had hundreds of affairs in his early part of his marriage, but after he had turned 40 he had tried to slow down."
At least he's cutting back on something if not cigars.
Scott Pelley then
took more than four minutes to explain all 11 charges. Pelley set up his
piece: "Dan, sex is only the foundation for the serious legal
allegations that follow..."
Next, Dan Rather introduced Bill Plante's story on the Clinton legal teams's retort: "President Clinton sought to counter the Starr report on two fronts: public contrition and repentance for his conduct apologies, but also a strong point by point rebuttal and legal defense."
After an ad break, Rather announced that a CBS poll found 13 percent believe impeachment hearings should be held, 21 percent think he should resign but 58 percent said "the matter should be dropped." CBS also played a minute and a half excerpt from the prayer breakfast (more on this in item #3) and Gloria Borger and Donald Baer talked to Rather about what Clinton backers want him to do: get back to real issues.
In the second half
of the show co-anchor Bernard Shaw warned that some viewers might find the
next story offensive. In it, Jonathan Karl examined the controversy over
the definition of sex. He read the definition Clinton reacted to in the
Karl explained that Clinton claims oral sex is not in that definition, but without getting into any offensive detail concluded by noting that "Lewinsky describes in graphic detail activity with the President that goes beyond oral sex."
Excellent presidential time management. Why do one thing when you can accomplish two simultaneously?
"What now, what next? Can Bill Clinton survive as President?"
Brokaw then opened the broadcast: "Good evening. It is a night to remember and a night to shudder. In the long history of the American presidency there's never been anything like this. It was a day that began with a President near tears saying, 'I have sinned.' It ends with the country reading detailed charges of a President's sex acts Monica Lewinsky. Reading detailed charges that he lied under oath, encouraged others to lie and tampered with evidence. It is only the beginning of what promises to be a long and contentious process that will determine whether Bill Clinton stays in office. We begin tonight with the details of the Ken Starr report. Here's NBC's Lisa Myers."
Lisa Myers ran
through the major charges of how he lied and obstructed justice in
conflict with his duty to enforce laws. Myers delivered the longest and
most detailed account of the broadcast networks of the sex and how it
counters Clinton's claim of no sexual relations:
Myers concluded by passing along this tidbit:
"And the report paints an unflattering portrait of the President as someone who instantly struck up a sexual affair with a 22 year old. Lewinsky testified that weeks into their sexual relationship the President still called her 'kiddo,' and she wasn't sure he even knew her name."
After a 27 second
excerpt of Clinton's prayer breakfast address, what Brokaw called his
"most complete apology yet," David Bloom checked in with the
legal counterattack on how it's "personal, not impeachable."
Unlike ABC and CBS, Bloom concluded by highlighting this broadside from
Next, Gwen Ifill provided Capitol Hill reaction, Brokaw talked with Tim Russert, Pete Williams compared Starr's charge of abuse of power with that which occurred in Watergate and Jim Avila looked at public reaction. For the In Depth segment, NBC provided a sympathetic peek at Hillary Clinton's plight, as if she's a victim. See item #2.
Hillary Clinton became complicit in her husband's lies when she went on the Today show in January to impugn Ken Starr and knowingly make a false charge about a "vast right-wing conspiracy." She then spent seven months attending meetings to develop strategies to use legal maneuvers to block the truth from coming out. But instead of suggesting she owes an apology to the public and conservatives, NBC continues to portray her as an innocent victim instead of considering the likelihood she's just playing the role polls say the public expects in any normal marriage.
On Friday's Today, MRC analyst Mark Drake noticed, co-host Matt Lauer enthused: "Extraordinary performance from the First Lady in the last couple of days. Last night she introduced her husband. We saw it in the Mik [Miklaszewski] piece but I think it bears watching again. Here's what she said with her husband sitting right next to her."
Before an ad break Friday night Tom Brokaw plugged the upcoming fawn: "What about Hillary Rodham Clinton? Still ahead tonight NBC News In Depth, how's she coping with this personal betrayal?...The First Lady, caught up in the President's lies. Now where does she turn?"
Brokaw led into the subsequent segment: "NBC News In Depth tonight. The First Lady: betrayed, lied to, humiliated. Undoubtedly these must be the toughest days of her life and her long relationship with President Bill Clinton. Now the First Lady of the United States is struggling in full view of the public, a very personal crisis. How does she handle it?"
played a clip of a minister at the prayer breakfast praising Hillary's
grace and courage. Mitchell picked up: "Enough grace and courage to
be her husband's chief cheerleader at a political event last
night." Following a soundbite of Hillary introducing Bill, Mitchell
worried: "How can she carry on now that the entire nation can learn
the sexual details? Friends and former aides who have been with the First
WHEN she finds out?
The networks bought it from Clinton too. The media were awed by Clinton's Friday morning prayer breakfast address, failing to consider the possibility it was more crass political maneuver forced by being caught than reflection of genuine repentance.
"At an extraordinary White House prayer breakfast this morning the President went beyond his recent round of apologies. He went to acknowledging sin and expressing remorse and repentance," declared Dan Rather on Friday's CBS Evening News before a 90 second clip from the address.
In live coverage at about 9:50am ET Rather had insisted: "The President of United States has given a solemn apology."
Over on ABC in the morning Peter Jennings recited Clinton's comments about how more than sorrow is required, need repentance, and he has a broken spirit. Jennings lauded his courage: "A unique circumstance to see the most powerful man in the world saying what he did before all of us." Cokie Roberts chimed in: "Quite an extraordinary speech."
Tom Brokaw asked
Tim Russert during live NBC News coverage, as caught and transcribed by
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens: "I don't think anybody will say,
except perhaps the most partisan adversary of the President, that what he
had to say was too little. The question is was it too late Tim?"
Brokaw then picked up on Russert's term, asking David Bloom: "David, the White House staff have any sense the President was going to make this remarkable confession to the country today?"
Later, after NBC's special ended, MSNBC anchor Chris Jansing: marveled: "It was an extraordinary speech from the President before religious leaders at the White House." Anchor John Seigenthaler agreed: "A very humble and contrite President Clinton this morning and the House is debating whether or not to release the Ken Starr report."
Russert remained dazzled: "John, mark this down. Friday, September 11th, 1998. You are witnessing history, we all are. A President of the United States, a leader of the free world, standing up and saying, 'I have sinned. I have a broken spirit.' These are extraordinary words, extraordinary times and the President finds it necessary to do that in order to save his presidency."
Over on MSNBC's competitor, CNN, MRC news analyst Paul Smith observed Wolf Blitzer telling viewers: "It was the most dramatic, the most emotional, the most poignant speech he gave on this subject." Blitzer insisted that beforehand "many of his closest advisers" said Clinton "was about to speak from his heart this morning." Blitzer agreed, describing it as "a poignant statement by the President begging the country for forgiveness, saying he is going to do his best never again to sin as he now says he clearly did sin."
A brief commentary on the media and Clinton: It's amazing how Washington reporters now realize that they must parse Clinton's words carefully on his Lewinsky relationship, but just assume he's being forthright and genuine when apologizing.
The disclosures of the past few months proves the assessments by conservatives in the Spring of 1992 about Clinton's character and dishonesty were correct. Then and since the media were largely complicit in Clinton's deceit by dismissing evidence like that raised by Gennifer Flowers, disparaging evidence brought forth by the American Spectator of misuse of authority to procure women, and giving authenticity to Clinton's demagogic lies about school lunch and Medicare cuts.
Before you conclude that the media's tough line of the past few days on Clinton's personal behavior and sex lines means they've really realized their errors, remember how they are promoting the White House spin on Hillary as innocent victim willing to forgive her husband, so therefore so should everyone else, and accepting as genuine and meaningful Bill Clinton's contrition crusade.
My profound thought for the weekend. -- Brent Baker
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