Media Reality Check

K enneth Starr arrives on Capitol Hill to finally speak in public. For years he's quietly refrained from answering trash-talking Clintonites like James Carville, and for years he's been handicapped by the media's Carvillesque incantations that he's a partisan Republican. This year, the media added regular polls asking if he was partisan and then asked for an approval rating for him, an unprecedented step for an officer of the court. If there's any doubt about how the media will spin his testimony, consider some highlights so far: "New disclosures are fueling questions about whether or not Starr is an ambitious... continue reading
L ooking back at Newt Gingrich, Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday noted the media "hated the guy. Thought he was poison. Thought he was evil." In case anyone had any doubt, here's a fraction of the proof: "So how do you put an end to what Jim Wright called mindless cannibalism? Do you put a muzzle on Newt Gingrich?" - CBS's Kathleen Sullivan, June 1, 1989. "I think he's looking at a more scientific, more civil way of lynching people." - NPR reporter Sunni Khalid on C-SPAN, October 14, 1994. "Rejecting the House's gentlemanly ways, he waged such constant... continue reading
T he national media's repetitive suggestions that the Republican Party could improve its electoral chances by abandoning conservative ideas and politicians continued on Election Night. Tom Brokaw prodded Trent Lott: "As you know, the Republican candidates for Governor who were successful tonight ran away from the presidential scandal and concentrated on more pragmatic and practical solutions to everyday problems out there. Do you think congressional Republicans need to learn something from their brethren in the state houses?" The next morning on Today, Newsweek and NBC analyst Jonathan Alter insisted: "So this is a bad election for extremists in both parties... continue reading
O ne of the finest election-year traditions to watch is the hypocrisy of major media outlets which simultaneously smear politicians and disdain negative campaigning. In this case, at the same time they were attributing the deaths of a gay college student and an abortionist to Trent Lott and the Christian Coalition, the networks on Monday night denounced the nastiness of the New York Senate race between Sen. Al D'Amato and Rep. Charles Schumer, all noting that D'Amato had called Schumer a "putzhead" in a private meeting with Jewish supporters. Peter Jennings on ABC: "This is probably the meanest campaign in... continue reading
T he networks loved Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler's floor speech against an open-ended impeachment probe, presenting all the world's problems as overlooked because "we're talking about Monica Lewinsky!" (MSNBC played a clip again Tuesday night, with Keith Olbermann praising Wexler for his eloquence.) But when The New York Times reported again on the Clinton administration's near-elimination of export controls to China, the networks yawned again. So far, the national media have totally ignored Monday's front-page scoop in The New York Times headlined "Chinese Said to Reap Gains In U.S. Export Policy Shift." (Web browsers could not find the article on... continue reading
N ational Public Radio legal reporter Nina Totenberg is the White House's favorite journalist of the week. She quoted an unnamed Justice Department official on Wednesday's All Things Considered saying it was "breathtaking" that independent counsel Kenneth Starr did not tell Janet Reno that he'd had six conversations with Paula Jones lawyer Gilbert Davis in 1994. Totenberg's source maintained this would have caused Attorney General Janet Reno to disallow his request to investigate the Monica Lewinsky affair. Totenberg appeared on Good Morning America Thursday (in her role as an ABC News "contributor") to repeat the anonymous revelations. This official clashed... continue reading
O n February 26, White House aide Sidney Blumenthal stepped outside the courthouse and blasted Ken Starr for focusing on his contacts with reporters. But by reading the grand jury transcripts, Nightline discovered Blumenthal misled reporters. ABC replayed Blumenthal: "Today, I was forced to answer questions about my conversations, as part of my job, with, and I wrote this down, the New York Times, CNN, CBS, Time magazine, U.S. News , the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune , the New York Observer and there may have been a few others, I don't remember right now. Ken Starr's prosecutors... continue reading
With the Fed-engineered bailout last week of the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management (LTCM), the press suddenly discovered the concept of "moral hazard." This term refers to the effect bailouts of bad investments have on future investment decisions: With the precedent of bailouts in their minds, investors are more likely to take imprudent risks. While the news weeklies picked up on this theme with LTCM, most still haven't connected it with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its role in bailing out investors worldwide. "Washington and Wall Street buzzed last week with outraged talk of 'moral hazard,' and for... continue reading
The House Judiciary Committee released almost 3,000 pages of evidence, but the media are culling only the angles that reflect badly on the President's targets of rage. CBS, CNN, NBC, and the Fox News Channel have all reported that Kenneth Starr could find Linda Tripp guilty of perjury if her tapes of phone calls with Monica Lewinsky were altered, as well as noting Lewinsky's tales on her role in preserving the DNA dress and other matters. (NBC's Andrea Mitchell noted she's been compared to "the Wicked Witch of the West.") The networks have regularly skipped pro-Tripp angles: May 1: Pentagon... continue reading
T he Starr report quickly drew media fire for being too sexually graphic. "It's so salacious. It's so graphic. There will be many people who will feel it's disgusting, wonder what they'll tell their children. It might cause a backlash for Ken Starr," warned ABC's Barbara Walters on 20/20 the night of September 11. USA Today reported Thursday that ABC, CBS, and NBC will air excerpts of Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony and "probably bleep out salacious language." CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said: "This is an instance where it may not be best to be first." But are the... continue reading