CyberAlert -- 12/03/1997 -- No O'Leary & No Conspiracy

No O'Leary & No Conspiracy; Reno's Image; King Rips Talk Radio

1. The evening shows all led with Reno, but ABC never mentioned O'Leary and neither CBS or NBC explained Freeh's interest in looking at a possible conspiracy. Peter Jennings whined: "No closure on this story as of yet."

2. A new fax report from the MRC details how the media built Janet Reno's reputation as a woman of integrity above politics.

3. Larry King complained about how talk radio spews "idiocy" and is full of hosts with an agenda. Just like King when he had his show.

1) Attorney General Reno's announcement, that she would not request an independent counsel to probe phone fundraising calls placed by Clinton and Gore, topped the three broadcast network shows Tuesday night. She also decided against an independent counsel for Hazel O'Leary, but ABC didn't mention the former Energy Secretary. Only CBS noted that though Clinton claimed he could not "recall" making fundraising calls, Reno determined that he had placed many.

Conservatives and FBI Director Louis Freeh point out that Reno took too narrow a view, offering a legalistic ruling about one aspect of the scandal while ignoring the need for further examination of the larger scandal swirling all around and detailed by the Thompson committee -- a possible conspiracy, involving the President, to subvert campaign finance rules. CBS and NBC alluded to this, but only ABC outlined Freeh's concern. Here's a summary of how the December 2 shows approached Reno's decision:

ABC's World News Tonight aired one taped piece followed by q & a between anchor Peter Jennings and White House reporter John Donvan. Reporter Linda Douglass began her piece by relaying how Reno said she will not give in to political pressure, saying she found no evidence of a crime since calls from Clinton came from private parts of the White House and Gore thought he was raising soft money. Douglass then offered the only complete summary of the evening of Freeh's contrary view:

"In making her decision, Reno battled fierce opposition from FBI Director Louie Freeh. Freeh argued Reno was wrong to focus only on the phone calls. Law enforcement sources say he urged her to turn the entire fundraising investigation over to an independent counsel on the grounds that there may have been a wide ranging conspiracy by the White House to violate campaign laws."

Douglass next noted that Reno insisted the Justice Department investigation is not over, so the scandal could "still ensnare" Clinton and Gore. After mentioning GOP support for Freeh and showing a clip of Senator Fred Thompson, Douglass highlighted how "Republican are eager to exploit this split" between Reno and Freeh, so Dan Burton has called them both to appear before his committee.

Jennings then turned to John Donvan for White House reaction. Jennings first asked about how Gore reacted. Second, about White House support for Freeh. Donvan reported that Mike McCurry was given several opportunities, but never said the President had full confidence in the FBI Director. Jennings offered this postscript: "So, part of the headline is, of course, no closure on this story as of yet."

He just can't wait until he doesn't have to report anything about this tawdry scandal. Indeed, neither World News Tonight or Good Morning America have yet uttered a word about O'Leary, a story broken in August by NBC Nightly News and briefly noted four weeks later by the CBS Evening News. (CNN aired several stories in September.)

CBS Evening News. Phil Jones opened with Reno claiming that she did not find specific and credible evidence. In her soundbite, Reno listed Clinton, Gore and O'Leary. Jones picked up on what ABC ignored: "Former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary was accused of soliciting funds for a favorite charity in exchange for a meeting with a group of Chinese businessmen." Leading into a clip of Congressman Dan Burton, Jones said the GOP was "ready to pounce."

After Burton Jones offered this limited explanation for why Freeh disagreed with Reno: "The Attorney General clearly tried to downplay what has turned into an open dispute with FBI Director Louie Freeh. Freeh had argued for an independent counsel to pursue an investigation beyond the phone calls." Jones concluded with a clip of Reno praising Freeh for doing "an outstanding job," before Jones told viewers that Burton will have them both before his committee.

Next, Dan Rather announced: "As for the reaction from the Clinton-Gore camp, CBS News White House correspondent Scott Pelley says you could almost hear the sighs of relief there tonight, at least for now." Pelley noted that Clinton said Reno based her decision on the law and facts, but earlier in the day Clinton showed his frustration about how the long investigation kept him from working with Freeh and Reno. Pelley concluded by explaining how Clinton says he can't remember making fundraising calls, but Reno's report says he made numerous calls, though they were legal.

NBC Nightly News. Pete Williams led by emphasizing how Reno made her decision against the advice of Freeh who wanted an independent counsel. Williams outlined how Reno said no laws were broken in the Clinton and Gore calls. After a soundbite from Reno, Williams led into a soundbite from Senator Bob Torricelli by relaying how Democrats applauded her ruling. Williams gave a sentence to Reno's decision on O'Leary, noted how Burton will convene a hearing, and concluded with an allusion to larger issues still undecided: "The FBI is still looking at possibly illegal Chinese contributions and influence and whether Democratic Party money was illegally used to buy campaign ads."

Up next, from the North Lawn, David Bloom asserted: "There's a sense of relief here at the White House, but as Pete said, it's tempered by the reality that no one here, from the President on down, is out of the woods. As one of Mr. Clinton's top aides put it, anyone who's gleeful tonight isn't speaking for the President."

Bloom showed reaction clips from Gore, Congressman Henry Hyde and Senator Orrin Hatch before reporting that the President charged that Republicans were inappropriate in trying to pressure Reno. Bloom concluded: "And tonight the White House is counting on the fact that many Americans still view her as an honest broker, someone unlikely to do the President's bidding."

2) Two new MRC Reality Check fax reports are now available on the MRC Web page:

The November 20 Media Reality Check on lack of network interest in the Teamster scandal, especially ties to Clinton and Democratic fundraisers. The direct address:

Today's (December 3) Media Reality Check, titled "Clinton's Apolitical Justice Department? Reno Puff Pieces a Marked Contrast from Partisan Attacks on Republican Attorneys General." Hours after Reno's Tuesday announcement the MRC sent this two-page report in which the MRC's Tim Graham documented how leading reporters were quick to condemn Ed Meese for partisanship during Iran-Contra, but helped build the image of Reno as being above politics. MRC Web manager Joe Alfonsi got it up on our site quickly. It's featured at the top of the home page. The direct address:

For a complete index with links to all of the MRC Media Reality Checks, go to:

3) In his Monday USA Today column Larry King managed to write an entire paragraph without any ... to separate his random "thoughts." The topic which fueled more than clause-length concerns from King: the "idiocy" of talk radio with its "amalgam of screaming, angry hosts with a daily agenda." Here's the first half of his December 1 column, followed by some "thoughts" from me:

Talk radio's sad metamorphosis - by Larry King

A confession...Almost 20 years ago I began hosting the first national network radio talk show for the Mutual Broadcasting System. The general thinking in the industry was that it wouldn't work because radio is a very local medium.

Well, we wound up with almost 500 stations, were heard around the world, did five hours nightly before my heart attack, then cut back to three (I also was doing my CNN show). We won a Peabody Award and were inducted into three halls of fame.

I left radio three years ago, although my TV show is simulcast on radio by Westwood One. I was very proud of that program. Now I apologize for what I might have started. Talk radio today is an amalgam of screaming, angry hosts with a daily agenda.

I love the First Amendment and think hosts have every right to spew what they spew. But in doing so they must open themselves to examination as well. The latest idiocy with the preachers to the choir involved the so-called "scandal" of making deals with the White House for burial of non-servicemen in Arlington National Cemetery. Rush Limbaugh, Ollie North and G. Gordon Liddy (patriots all and nice guys off the air) immediately accused or inferred or led listeners to believe it was hanky-panky.

They got everybody excited, only to learn that the story was untrue. Broadcasters who deal with innuendo or who jump to conclusions serve nothing but their own egos (a common trait in Radioville in the '90s).

I'm sorry for the way talk radio has developed and am encouraged by the fact that America is beginning to see the light. The constant barrage against President Clinton only proves what I said a couple of years ago. With enemies like this, he doesn't need friends.

Where to begin. All of the hosts King cited, to say nothing of the many conservative hosts I've heard around the country, display a lot more respect for the First Amendment than did King when he was on the radio.

As anyone who listened to King's late 1970s to mid 1980s original 12 to 5am ET show on Mutual will recall, King had no respect for callers and no interest in ideas. In his "Open Phone America" hours King never shied from disparaging conservatives or passing along innuendo from liberals about the evils of conservatives.

"Caller, what's the question" was the most heard phrase from King as he cut off any caller who tried to engage a guest in a discussion, thus producing not a "talk" show by a question show in which guests knew they would never get a follow-up from a caller. Even callers who would pass Rush Limbaugh's test for clarity and succinctness were quickly dismissed as King was usually unable to comprehend the simplest of ideas expressed by callers if they hinted at conservatism. Callers were often cut off after only a few seconds as King roared "Another right-wing wacko!" Of course, the phrase "left-wing wacko" never passed King's lips.

-- Brent Baker