Video Clears Clinton; Reno Not Castigated; "Blunt" Admission of Mistake
- Sunday night
and Monday morning the networks stressed how the video showed
Clinton did nothing improper; only one reporter raised a question
about Reno's competence and only NBC noted the audio gap.
is how ABC described a White House claim of an "honest
mistake." It's all a big game to Tom Brokaw: "The White
House said 'whoops' it turns out we have videotapes..."
"Top Ten Signs You're in Love With Janet Reno."
1) Time magazine's revelation about the existence of videotapes of the
White House coffees, which forced the White House to show the tapes to
reporters on Sunday, led the networks newscasts Sunday night, Monday
morning and Monday night. But for all the time devoted to the issue,
viewers were hardly well informed as only one or sometimes no network
highlighted some important implications.
The networks could have
played the story as an incident displaying obstruction of justice by
the White House. After all, the White House informed Attorney General
Reno of their existence on Saturday, the day after she announced that
the coffees did not violate any law. And, the White House denied they
had any tapes when congressional investigators issued subpoenas months
ago. Or, the networks could have portrayed the disclosure as an
example of Reno's incompetence given that the Justice Department never
realized the tapes were available.
Instead, Sunday night
(October 5) the networks emphasized how the tapes showed that Clinton
didn't do anything illegal:
ABC's World News Tonight. The
story by Linda Douglass, MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen noted, never
mentioned obstruction of justice or how the White House had ignored
earlier subpoenas, but Douglass did say that what the Justice
Department investigators "have not found is any evidence of the
President himself soliciting any money on federal property and that
really is the central issue that would trigger, possibly, an
independent counsel investigation."
CBS Evening News. Anchor John
Roberts introduced the day's big story by framing the issue on White
House terms, MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski documented. Roberts
- "There is a new
twist in the campaign fundraising controversy tonight. It turns
out there is a videotape taken at some of those now famous
coffees held at the White House. The big question: do the tapes
show that the coffees, held for big political donors, were
actually illegal fundraising events as Republicans are
The subsequent story from
reporter Sharyl Attkisson made no mention of how the tapes were
suddenly discovered just after Reno cleared the White House on the
coffee matter. Nor did Attkisson raise the phrase "obstruction of
justice." Attkisson told viewers:
- "The newly released
tape shows 100 minutes of edited video from 44 fundraising
coffees at the White House including one that was actually held
in the President's Oval Office."
But Attkisson failed to point
out how that contradicts White House assertions that the coffees were
always held in residential rooms. She continued by pushing the
- "But none of the
tapes appears to show blatant violations of law. There is video
of the coffee in which fundraiser John Huang allegedly made an
illegal pitch for money. But the camera stops rolling before
Huang's speech. And nobody in the administration is heard
illegally making promises in return for donations. Still the
release of the tapes is outraging Republican investigators who
subpoenaed all material relating to the coffees eight months
CNN's The World Today offered
the toughest story of the night, but CNN's John King still asserted at
the top of his piece:
- "Investigators say
there is no evidence so far that Mr. Clinton or anyone else
broke the law by directly soliciting campaign contributions on
King, MRC news analyst Clay
Waters noted, went on to raise the issue of Reno's incompetence, the
only reporter to do so Sunday night:
General Janet Reno didn't know about the tapes when she
concluded the coffees were legal. Some Republicans say this is
more proof that her investigation suffers from
King aired soundbites from
White House defender Jack Quinn, Senator Arlen Specter and Senator
Orrin Hatch who accused Reno of acting as a defense counsel for the
White House. King concluded:
- "Unlike Richard
Nixon's secret Watergate recordings, these tapes aren't likely
to provide direct evidence of wrongdoing within the walls of the
White House. But Republicans say this sudden discovery is proof
of Clinton White House stonewalling, and proof that Attorney
General Reno's investigation lacks credibility."
Monday's Washington Post
brought the news that of all 44 tapes one was missing the sound -- the
tape of the meeting at which John Huang, according to an attendee who
testified to the Senate committee, asked for donations.
Of the three morning shows on
Monday, only one noted this development:
ABC's Good Morning America
didn't mention the audio gap, but Ann Compton did stress how the tapes
failed to show any direct fundraising.
On CBS's This Morning Scott
Pelley relayed a similar spin:
- "...The tapes
are remarkable for what they do not show. Only the first few
minutes of each coffee was taped by the White House crew. The
camera appears to be ushered out before any business is
Pelley explained: "No
sooner is the word generous uttered as the cameraman finds
himself in the hallway. The distinction is important because
asking for money in the White House offices may violate the law.
No direct request for money is seen in any of the tapes but Mr.
Clinton is seen with John Huang...."
Only NBC's Today acknowledged
the sound gap. Claire Shipman explained:
- "Now some
sources say there actually may have been one occasion at a White
House coffee when fundraiser John Huang made an appeal for
contributions. That happened on June 18 we're told, but there is
no audio on that particular tape. This isn't good news for the
White House and another embarrassment for Janet Reno who just a
few days ago had said there were no grounds for further
investigation of the coffees."
night, October 6, ABC painted too much money as the cause of all the
fundraising problems; no network reported how the White House's excuse
is based upon looking up "fundraising" not
"coffees" when first asked for material on the coffees they
insisted were not fundraisers; and neither CBS or NBC highlighted how
video of an Oval office coffee contradicts the White House claim that
the coffees were legal since they all took place in residential rooms.
No reporter uttered a word about the missing audio.
ABC's World News Tonight.
Peter Jennings began by asserting that the video had sidetracked
attention from what's really important:
- "We're going to
begin tonight with money and politicians and videotape. This is
the week that we're supposed to see the first real attempt in
many years to reduce the influence of money in politics, but it
isn't going very well. We'll get to that in a minute."
But first, ABC ran three
stories on the videotape. John Donvan hailed as "more blunt"
a White House claim that it was all a big mistake:
Donvan played a soundbite
from Lanny Davis: "When we tried searching with another
type of word, in this case coffees, up came the information that
there were videotapes."
- "The President said
it was an accident that his lawyers didn't find those tapes
sooner. But one of his aides was more blunt, calling it quote
'an absurd, ridiculous, stupid, idiotic, but honest mistake.' If
it was a mistake, it was a series of them." Donvan noted
that the Senate asked in April for tapes, but the White House
said it did not have any tapes. Senate investigators asked again
in July and "last week, tapes were found."
Stop the tape! An alert
CyberAlert reader alerted me on Monday to this sentence, from an
October 6 New York Times story, on why the White House didn't find the
tapes earlier: "One official said aides mistakenly searched in a
database for material filed under the word fundraising and not under
the word coffee."
There's you lead. The White
House always claimed that the coffees were not fundraisers. But when
subpoenaed for material about them, staffers searched their computer
database using the term "fundraising." But none of the
broadcast networks Monday night pointed out the slip.
Back to Donvan. After a
soundbite from Senator Fred Thompson, he concluded with a spin that
surely made Peter Jennings proud by painting too much money in the
process as the culprit:
- "The White House
says the tapes exonerate the President because he is not see
asking for or accepting money. Whatever the White House says,
the tapes show how in politics people with money get through the
Next, Linda Douglass reported
that the Justice Department is now looking at whether the "White
House deliberately withheld the tapes from Attorney General Janet
Reno." And only Douglass Monday night spelled out the importance
of the Oval office event:
- "Reno wrote that
the coffees were legal in part because they were held in
residential areas of the White House where fundraising is
allowed. But the tapes show, for the first time, that at least
one coffee was held in the Oval Office where fundraising may be
Finally, before getting to
campaign finance reform, Peter Jennings asked Jeff Greenfield:
- "And do you think,
just based on what we've seen today, that they have real impact
because there's no evidence yet that they even resemble the
CBS Evening News. Dan Rather
- "A new caffeine
headache tonight for the Clinton camp. There may be many more
White House fundraising coffee videos yet to come. This on top
of the 44 pumped out in the last 24 hours, months after
congressional investigators issued subpoenas. The President's
aides say they released the tapes as soon as they discovered
them and that they show nothing illegal."
Scott Pelley's report began
with Clinton's claim that the delay was an accident. He showed some
clips of Clinton meeting Huang and an associate of Riady. Bob
Schieffer then relayed congressional committee reaction, noting the
interest in a man who says to Clinton that "James Riady sent
Next, Phil Jones began a
sidewalk interview with Harold Ickes:
- "Harold Ickes told
CBS News he knew nothing about the tapes and he scoffed at any
suggestions of White House cover-up." Skipping the
substance, Jones inquired of Ickes: "We're looking at these
videotapes now of the coffees. The appearance, is this going to
be a problem, here people are being escorted through the Oval
Office and is it going to look unseemly to the American
NBC Nightly News. To Tom
Brokaw the tape withholding was not a serious matter, but just part of
a big game. Brokaw opened the show:
- "It's one of those
rich, Washington moments. Just when it looked as if the White
House was winning the controversy over fundraising handily --
after all, the Attorney General had cleared the President on a
number of questions and the congressional Republicans were
making no headway politically -- just then the White House said
'whoops' it turns out we have videotapes of the President
meeting with contributors. These tapes are not in a league with
Richard Nixon's Watergate tapes, but for the moment they have
given the Republicans a major advantage once again."
Reporter David Bloom gave a
clause to saying that the GOP claimed it's an example of obstruction
of justice and concluded with a skeptical take on the White House
- "Keep in mind that
these coffees were videotaped by a White House camera crew which
follows the President around constantly, casting doubt
Republicans say on the White House explanation that no one here
remembered the tapes until last week."
3) From the
October 3 Late Show with David Letterman, a rather harsh "Top Ten
Signs You're in Love With Janet Reno." Copyright 1997 by
Worldwide Pants, Inc.
10. To simulate being with
her, you close your eyes and hug a minivan.
9. Typical entry in your
diary: "Today she wore the brown frames."
8. Every Christmas, you
send her a pair of her favorite size 16 pumps.
7. You become a notorious
drug lord just to get her attention.
6. You're the Vice
President, and you make illegal fundraising calls in the hopes of
5. You start a new web site
4. Your towels are marked
"His" and "Reno's."
3. Your favorite "In
Search Of..." episode: Sasquatch.
2. Instead of buying an
ordinary inflatable doll, you steal a balloon from the Macy's
1. Most of your sexual
fantasies involve a stepladder.
Hey, the network news
division's won't say anything bad about her so I had to fill in the
gap with other material.