Slogging Through A "Swamp Without End"

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt became the highest ranking Clinton administration official so far to testify before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday. Babbitt had claimed his decision to cancel plans for a Chippewa Indian casino were not influenced by White House or DNC officials. Lawyer Paul Eckstein, an old friend and political supporter of Babbitt's, testified Babbitt had told him of being pressured by top White House aide Harold Ickes. Indian casino operators wishing to stop the Chippewa tribes subsequently gave $270,000 to the DNC.

CNN carried roughly three hours of live coverage in the morning and afternoon. MSNBC carried only 45 minutes of Babbitt before ducking out for an hour-long pre-verdict focus on the nanny trial. All the networks provided evening stories, but the morning shows aired nothing, dwelling instead on the nanny verdict.

Evening news, October 30:

ABC's World News Tonight led with Iraq, and after two ad breaks, turned to reporter Linda Douglass, who Jennings announced "reports tonight that Mr. Babbitt's integrity was also at stake. Douglass reported that since Eckstein told of their discussion of Ickes, "Babbitt has changed that story," though "Babbitt stubbornly insisted his first story wasn't a lie." Douglass ended: "Most of the Senators weren't buying it, but it won't end here. The Justice Department is looking into Babbitt's story to see if an independent counsel is needed."

Fifteen minutes into the show, after the stock market, railroad safety, the nanny trial, Iraq, Jiang, and a full report on expected septuplets in Iowa, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather noted: "Bob Schieffer reports this was one of the most important days of the hearings so far." Schieffer ended: "So whether it was the White House that got the project killed depends on whether you believe Babbitt or Eckstein. What is not in dispute is that the Indians who lobbied to get it killed wrote these letters of thanks to the White House and went on to give the Democratic Party $270,000."

After two segments on Jiang and a Pete Williams report on Paula Jones, NBC Nightly News arrived first on the Babbitt story last night, but Tom Brokaw's introduction sullied both parties [see box]. Reporter Lisa Myers, who scooped the other networks with the story on October 7, filed a story noting Babbitt is "now under investigation by the Justice Department." (Williams reported records prove Jones got a merit raise despite receiving a low score on a written merit test. Williams also revealed Jones now claims female state employees who slept with Clinton got job benefits like raises and promotions.)

CNN's The World Today was blocked out for nanny-verdict coverage, but Prime News aired a repeat of Brooks Jackson's hearings report for Inside Politics.

Morning shows, October 31:

ABC's Good Morning America focused on the nanny trial, as well as Dr. Tim Johnson explaining new medical uses for leeches, but aired nothing on fundraising.

CBS This Morning devoted its floating first-hour newscasts and its entire first full half-hour at 8am to the nanny trial, and split the second half-hour between entertainment stories and Halloween features.

On NBC, Today devoted the 7am half-hour to the nanny trial. Later, the co-hosts donned Halloween costumes: Al Roker and Matt Lauer were Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, and Katie Couric played Mae West, complete with cigarette holder. Does this glamourize tobacco use? Katie might be getting a call from Hillary's office today. - Tim Graham and Brent Baker