CNN: Looking More Pro-Clinton Every Day
by L. Brent Bozell III
August 12, 1997
We heard the shrieks of horror from the national press corps when CBS had the audacity to hire perky Republican Susan Molinari to anchor their Saturday morning show. Why, there's a line between politics and journalism! So how do you suppose these sophisticates reacted when one of their own, who clearly has been working on both sides of the line, has now been named President of a major network? ABC executive Rick Kaplan, ongoing adviser and Friend of Bill, has just been named president of CNN/USA. And the Molinari-must-go crowd is nowhere to be found.
What in the world was CNN thinking? It's bad enough that they damaged their reputation for objectivity by almost completely ignoring live coverage of the Thompson hearings. After the first day of testimony, they dumped the hearings - until former Republican Chairman Haley Barbour appeared. Hey, we'll put on the Democratic National Committee's highest officials if and when they appear, CNN declared. That somehow constituted objectivity: though we're looking at the most egregious modern example of Democratic Party corruption, equal time should be focused on both parties.
Kaplan is the modern era's most blatant example of a news executive who repeatedly fails to hide his political preferences, either in public, or in the news shows he oversees. Kaplan's career begs the question: why just be a referee when you can be a player?
In 1992, Kaplan, then-Executive Producer of ABC's "Prime Time Live," was crucial to helping Clinton through a difficult set of primaries. He did not deny Laureen Hobbs' July/August 1992 Spy magazine report that he boasted of attending Clinton campaign staff meetings and helped set up the campaign's press office while working for ABC.
In his 1993 inside-ABC book "Strange Bedfellows," Tom Rosenstiel explained how Clinton repeatedly called Kaplan as the Gennifer Flowers story broke, desperately seeking advice on how to handle the story, and which interview request to accept. He didn't find Kaplan's name in the Yellow Pages. Kaplan had called their mutual buddy Susan Thomases: "Bill has to come out and do something about this," he said, offering his show "Prime Time Live" as an outlet. When Clinton accepted "60 Minutes" instead, Kaplan coached him on how to handle CBS.
When Clinton's campaign was floundering in the New York primary, Kaplan rode to the rescue again, getting Clinton booked on the Don Imus show. Kaplan not only arranged the interview, he prepared him for it - and ABC cameras taped both ends of the conversation and aired it on "Nightline," which Kaplan had headed before "Prime Time."
Kaplan was still at in the fall of 1992. In a very rare exploration of liberal bias (call it penance) on the March 11, 1993 "Prime Time Live," Sam Donaldson explained he had added a positive remark at the end of a pre-election interview because Kaplan "expressed concern that the tone of the Clinton interview was too hostile." In a Washington Post Magazine story, reporter David Finkel quoted Kaplan as he watched Donaldson's interview: "I'd just like to do this one over again...I'm getting angry watching this...You're making fun of him...You didn't treat Bush this way."
(On an unrelated front in 1992, Kaplan's "Prime Time Live" aired an expose of the Food Lion supermarket chain using union activists for advisers and undercover producers who falsified their employment records and staged events to smear the nonunion chain. In addition to assessing a multimillion-dollar judgment against ABC News, the North Carolina jury slapped a $35,000 judgment on Kaplan personally. But CNN Chairman Tom Johnson made no mention of that fiasco when he claimed that "Rick has been involved with shows that have set new standards of excellence in television news.")
In 1993, ABC fired "World News Tonight" Executive Producer Emily Rooney shortly after she told media writers "the old stereotype of the liberal bent happens to be true." In her place, ABC brought in - Kaplan, who suffered almost no media buzz from the stunning contrast in journalistic approaches. He had "played golf with Bill shortly before the inauguration and watched movies with both Clintons at the Governor's mansion," Jacob Weisberg reported in The New Republic.
While he was running "World News Tonight," he stayed at his buddy's house in the Lincoln Bedroom. When his sleepover was exposed a few months ago, Kaplan gave this full explanation to Electronic Media magazine: "It's nobody's business." Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz summarized his view: "Kaplan said his visit did not create an appearance problem because it was never made public until now. He said his ties to Clinton had no impact on his work." He assured Kurtz: "The idea that you could suddenly decide to gild the lily or twist the news, it's a non-starter." Kaplan hadn't suddenly decided to twist the news: he's been at it a long time. And now he's running CNN.