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CyberAlert -- 11/24/1997 -- Nets Never Touched Arlington

Nets Never Touched Arlington; But Some Admit Believability

1) The White House scolded the media for highlighting the Arlington allegation, but total broadcast network time totaled 18 seconds. CNN ran a story, but it emphasized doubts.

2) Cokie Roberts and Susan Page acknowledged that given all the White House lies it was reasonable to buy the Arlington story.

3) Margaret Carlson insisted that the press is "addicted to scandal," but the networks haven't picked up on what the latest videotapes show related to Hubbell and to the Indian casino.


>>>> MRC in the Wall Street Journal. Friday's (November 21) Journal featured an op-ed piece by the MRC's Brent Bozell and Tim Graham titled "An NRA Victory? That's Not Fit to Print." If you subscribe to the WSJ you might want to check it out, but it should be up on our Web site in a few days. <<<<

Correction: As many of you let me know, Friday's CyberAlert mistakenly referred to the multiple births in Iowa as sextuplets. They are septuplets.

1

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry on Friday and some members of the media over the weekend condemned both talk radio and the "mainstream" media for relaying the Arlington Cemetery allegation. But there's one big problem with blaming the mainstream media for spreading the apparently disproved charge: The broadcast networks, with one 18 second exception, never reported it and three of the four most influential newspapers buried the story inside.

Friday night on CNN's Prime News reporter Bob Franken reviewed how the charge came forth and how Army Secretary Togo West refuted it at a press conference earlier on Friday. Franken then noted that "The White House is also incensed at the mainstream media." Franken showed a soundbite from White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry: "Shame ought to extend to people who failed to report and make editorial judgements about whether they want to pursue stories before they put them in print and put them on the air, too."
Franken concluded his story: "However, the White House feels that the story it believes did not deserve to be covered by CNN or the other media, nevertheless, needed to be brought under control because, fair or unfair, it has touched some of the nation's most fundamental emotions."

In fact, while CNN did air a story Thursday night on the allegation, none of the broadcast evening shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News) ever touched it. Neither did NBC's Today or CBS's This Morning. This 18 second item read by Good Morning America news reader Kevin Newman during the 7:30am news update represents the totality of broadcast network coverage through Friday night:
"The Chairman of the Senate Veteran Affairs committee is calling on President Clinton to prove he didn't sell burial plots at Arlington National Cemetery to political donors. Republican Senator Arlen Specter says his office has been flooded with calls for a probe of such charges. The Clinton Administration flatly denies selling plots at Arlington."

That was it for the networks. Of the four most influential dailies, on Friday only the Los Angeles Times played Arlington on the front page. And the LA Times had a local angle, a name revealed Wednesday night by Washington's WJLA-TV, not talk radio. The LA Times lead: "M. Larry Lawrence, the late owner of San Diego's Hotel Del Coronado and a major donor to President Clinton, is a focus of a House panel's investigation into whether the administration rewarded contributors with burial plots in Arlington National Cemetery..."
Like Thursday, on Friday the Washington Post kept the story in the "Metro" section, USA Today ran a piece inside, and the New York Times again buried a short story inside on page A28 under a headline favorable to doubters: "Army Secretary Denies Political Tie to Burial at National Cemetery."

But, as noted above, CNN did air a story Thursday night. The November 21 CyberAlert suggested that CNN did not have time for an Arlington story since a sextuplet -- just kidding -- a septuplet press conference went through the time for Inside Politics and a special on the septuplets replaced the World Today at 10pm ET. Well, I wrongly assumed the special would last an hour. It only aired for a half hour and during the shortened 10:30 to 11pm ET World Today CNN aired a piece from Bob Franken. But while Franken did relay the key charge made by Insight magazine, he heaped plenty of doubt on it and made sure viewers knew the story came from a "conservative" and "right-leaning" publication.

With the help of the CNN transcript Web page and MRC news analyst Clay Waters, here's Franken's November 21 story:

Bob Franken: "Arlington National Cemetery, the nation's hallowed resting ground for heroes felled in battle. Generally, only highly decorated military personnel, their families, and some very distinguished civilians are permitted burial at Arlington. So allegations made by a conservative magazine that the Clinton administration is trading precious burial space for political contributions has caused a political uproar, particularly on the volatile radio talk show circuit."
Caller to liberal Joe Madison's WWRC-AM in Washington talk show: "They don't have the depth of spirit to understand what it means for a young military soldier to go out and give his life in defense of this country."
Franken: "The story appears in Insight magazine, owned by the right-leaning Washington Times. Citing mostly unnamed sources, it charges, 'Clinton and company may have sold not only burial plots for recently deceased but also future rights.' Waivers from the usual tight restrictions at Arlington can be approved by the Defense or Veterans Affairs Departments, under certain circumstances. The magazine says the number of waivers has doubled under the Clinton Administration. Among them, an exemption for Larry Lawrence, who died while he was Ambassador to Switzerland. He was also a major contributor to the Democratic Party and to the 1992 Clinton campaign. The White House has defended that waiver, saying Lawrence qualified by having served in the Merchant Marine. The President's spokesman sharply attacked the story."
Mike McCurry, White House Press Secretary: "This is a story that appeared largely uncorroborated with anonymous sources in a conservative right-wing publication. It was picked up on the hate radio talk circuit and inflamed yesterday."
Franken: "News accounts of the increase in waivers began appearing last summer, prompting at least one congressional committee to promise an investigation. But Insight was the first to make a direct political link, causing Republicans to jump."
Senator Arlen Specter: "It is worth an inquiry. We have had so many very surprising items arise on contribution lines, that it is worth an inquiry."
Franken: "The responsibility for waivers rests with Army Secretary Togo West."
Togo West, Army Secretary: "It's just not true."
Franken: "West has been nominated by the President to head the Department of Veteran's Affairs. A top official of the Veteran's group AMVETS has sent a letter to Specter urging him to use every means possible to block this appointment because of his involvement in this 'disgusting, dishonorable event.' While thinly sourced, and contradicted at the highest levels, this story comes at a bad time for the White House. Democrats worry that skepticism over use of the Lincoln Bedroom by political contributors could easily translate into disgust, founded or unfounded, over the use of a national symbol as powerful as the Arlington Cemetery. Bob Franken, CNN, Capitol Hill."

2

cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) The weekend chat shows also brought some surprises on the Arlington front: ABC's Cokie Roberts and USA Today's Susan Page realized that people were so willing to believe the worst about Clinton and Arlington because the administration has lied so many times before.

At the very end of ABC's This Week on November 23 Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts reviewed how the Arlington story unfolded. Roberts concluded:
"The problem though Sam here is interesting. This administration hasn't got much credibility. You had instance after instance where they've said, 'no, no, no it's not true, how could you dare suggest such a thing.' And then a few weeks later they say 'oh well, yes, I guess it is true, but there's nothing wrong with it.'"

On CNN's Late Edition USA Today reporter Susan Page recalled another baseless story:
"People were really ready to believe it. It reminded me of that grocery scanner story with George Bush, which was not true but which people believed because they thought he was out of touch with people's daily lives. People are ready to believe that President Clinton would sell things, like the Lincoln Bedroom, for campaign donations. And that's what made this story really resonate even though as it turns out it's not true."

One difference between Arlington and the grocery scanner story: The February 1992 scanner story first appeared on the front page of the New York Times. And I don't recall any consternation about how a "liberal" or "left-leaning" publication had first publicized the tale.

3

cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Concluding her "Outrage of the Week" on the November 22 Capital Gang on CNN, Time columnist Margaret Carlson insisted that in the Arlington cemetery story, "Republicans succeeded in spreading this despicable lie because the press is as addicted to scandal as they are."

We wish. Some outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times and CNN, pick up on credible developments, but the broadcast networks refuse to cover them most of the time. Two examples from last week:

-- "Whitewater Prosecution Scouring White House Videotapes:
Investigators Seek Evidence of Clinton Arranging Employment for Hubbell, a Target of Probe. Films Show No Such Act, Spokesman Says," announced the headline and subhead over a November 19 Los Angeles Times story. Reporters David Willman and Alan Miller explained in their Wednesday piece:
"Prosecutors exploring why supporters of President Clinton hired former Associate Atty. Gen. Webster L. Hubbell for several lucrative private deals have obtained White House videotapes showing Clinton conferring with one of Hubbell's biggest benefactors.
"Administration officials confirmed that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr requested the tapes, which show, among other things, Clinton visiting in the Oval Office with Indonesian billionaire James T. Riady.
"The videotaped meeting occurred on June 24, 1994 -- about the same time Riady hired Hubbell through a Hong Kong company for unspecified services -- and paid him $100,000...
"According to people familiar with the Whitewater investigation, Starr's office is reviewing the videotapes to assess conversations between Riady and Clinton that are audible and to identify prospective witnesses...."

-- CNN caught the White House in another fib. On Friday's Inside Politics, Bernard Shaw intoned: "Now, the latest release of White House tapes. The videos don't seem quite as 'ho-hum' as the administration suggests. Our John King reports on the connection to a controversy involving Indian casinos and Democratic donations."
CNN White House correspondent King, in a piece that also aired later that night on the November 21 World Today, explained:
"It looks like just another campaign fundraiser."
Clinton in video: "I want to thank Tom and Cynthia for opening their home."
King: "But this July 1995 event is of interest to Senate investigators as they review a third batch of Clinton/White House videotapes. Mr. Clinton's host is lobbyist Tom Schneider. The next day, a group of Indian tribes represented by Schneider scored big: the Clinton administration rejected a rival tribe's plan to open a Wisconsin casino on the site of an old dog track. The White House says the timing is coincidental. But Congress and the Justice Department are now investigating whether politics swayed Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's Indian gaming policies.
"The White House is withholding tapes of 44 events requested by Senate investigators on grounds they're not relevant to the inquiry into 1996 fundraising abuses. Committee Republicans aren't happy...."

Coverage: Nothing on either item on any broadcast network show last week.

Final note: The November 21 CyberAlert said that the latest MRC Media Reality Check fax report, on coverage of the Teamsters, could be read on the MRC Web site. Unfortunately, it is not yet up on our site, but I hope it will be by sometime Tuesday.

-- Brent Baker