MediaWatch: April 20, 1998

In This Issue

Clinton Communion Condoned; NewsBites: Harsh Truth; Revolving Door: Jabbing Jones; Today Paula Jones, Next Kenneth Starr; Peter Jennings: Al Gore is Our Savior

Clinton Communion Condoned

Catholics may have been upset by President Clinton taking communion at a Catholic church in South Africa, but no network ran a full story on it and NBC contended Clinton did nothing wrong. In the week after the March 29 incident, 30 seconds on the CBS Evening News was all the network time the controversy earned.

On Palm Sunday, April 5, New York’s Cardinal O’Connor condemned Clinton’s action, but ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN all skipped the dispute. By April 7 ABC’s Good Morning America caught up, but couldn’t have given it lower priority: 22 seconds at 8:30 am.

On April 8 Today showed Father Andrew Greeley a clip of O’Connor calling Clinton’s action "legally and doctrinally wrong." Greeley argued that "a lot of priests in this country and in other countries too push the envelope. They say at weddings and funerals they invite people to receive communion so that those in mixed marriages, the families of the non-Catholic spouse won’t be offended or feel excluded. This happens... everywhere."

Co-host Katie Couric put the burden on O’Connor: "President Clinton has been really severely criticized in this whole thing. Do you think some of that criticism is fair or what do you think is motivating Cardinal O’Connor?" Greeley attacked another President: "I wouldn’t try to guess the Cardinal’s motivations. I do know that when Ronald Reagan who was technically a fallen away Catholic in a marriage the church wouldn’t recognize, when he received communion back in the early 1980s nobody protested. So maybe there’s special rules for Republicans."

Clinton offends millions of people of religious faith, yet NBC managed to turn that into an opportunity to denounce Ronald Reagan.

NewsBites: Harsh Truth

Harsh Truth. When House Majority Leader Dick Armey called the President "shameless" and suggested he should resign, the media dropped its mantra that the GOP wants nothing to do with impeaching a popular President, and uniformly labeled Armey’s remarks "harsh."

On NBC’s Today show April 7, anchor Ann Curry declared: "House Majority Leader Dick Armey says he stands by his harsh comments about Bill Clinton." On ABC, Good Morning America’s Kevin Newman put harshness on both sides: "House Majority Leader Dick Armey and the White House are trading some harsh words." But Newman didn’t cite any White House quotes.

On CNN, The World Today’s Jim Moret began a report on the story: "House Majority Leader Dick Armey says he stands by his harsh comments about Bill Clinton."

Four days earlier on The World Today, CNN’s Bob Franken broadcast comments from William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky’s attorney, noting "Ginsburg is pressing hard on Starr to end his probe altogether." Ginsburg said Starr was shameless: "How ‘bout the will of the American people, Mr. Starr? Have you no shame sir?" Franken never used the word "harsh."

Sympathetic Little Crooks? During Watergate, reporters hardly complained that prosecutors were putting minor participants on trial to build a case against bigger fish. Not so with Bill Clinton. On the April 4 CBS Evening News, Sharyl Attkisson took up the cause of crooks with Clinton Cabinet ties: "Patsy Wooten was prosecuted after an Independent Counsel caught her and her husband lying on a house loan application for her sister, Linda Medlar, who had an affair with former housing secretary Henry Cisneros. The counsel was investigating Cisneros, but when he came upon the Wootens, he prosecuted them....When former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy became the target of an Independent Counsel, so did everyone else in Espy’s life. Last month, his chief of staff, Ron Blackley, got a prison sentence for lying about his income." (Actually, Blackley received $22,000 from Mississippi friends with business before the Agriculture Department.)

Although prosecutors commonly press tangential actors to gain cooperation against high-level officials, Attkisson suggested new indictments by Whitewater counsel Ken Starr would be regrettable: "All that power, time and money has netted little in the way of major charges against top officials. That has people wondering whether Kenneth Starr will end up with serious findings against President Clinton, or merely bring charges of lying against associates like Monica Lewinsky."

Bill’s Big Guns. Gun rights groups protested that Bill Clinton blatantly bypassed Congressional authority when he issued an executive order banning importation of assault weapons. CBS actually attacked him for it — but from the left. On the April 6 Evening News, Scott Pelley worried the ban didn’t do go far enough. "Dan, the assault gun ban bans the importation of 58 kinds of military style weapons. Now that sounds impressive but the ban actually has a loophole in it that is big enough to drive a tank through." Pelley dutifully aired Clinton’s announcement capitalizing on the recent Jonesboro shooting, but ignored gun-rights advocates.

Right after Pelley’s report, Jim Stewart blamed guns not criminals for recent tragedies: "Pick almost any scene from a slaughter in recent U.S. history and at the core of it you will find a madman and his assault weapon." Stewart went on to recount infamous shootings at a Stockton schoolyard, a Texas McDonalds and a Hollywood bank robbery. Stewart ended by warning that large-capacity magazines "turn your average semi-automatic assault gun into its full blown military cousin. And in the blink of an eye turn an otherwise ordinary crime scene into a virtual war zone."

The National Rifle Association’s Tanya Metaksa noted the guns Clinton banned "conform in every way to the law he himself wrote, signed, and pledged would rid the streets of violence in 1994." But CBS didn’t bother pointing out how the already existing law failed to prevent the violence Stewart cited.

Revolving Door: Jabbing Jones

Jabbing Jones

Clinton lawyer Bob Bennett drew upon a former AP reporter to help him draft soundbites to discredit Paula Jones. Amy Sabrin, the Washington Post relayed February 23, "crafts the briefs — long, detailed-laden analyses of case law and issues spiced with soundbite quality lines suitable for a media-intense case." Sabrin left the AP for Bennett’s firm in the early ‘80s after an assignment in Washington. But Sabrin goes both ways. In the late 1980s she toiled on Bennett’s team when he defended Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger against IC Lawrence Walsh.

Clinton Team Moves

Ginny Terzano, a researcher with the CBS News election unit in 1988 and most recently Press Secretary to VP Al Gore, has taken a Senior VP slot at Dewey Square Group, a political consulting firm. In 1987 she put in a stint as a press aide in Gary Hart’s campaign. Soon after the election she left CBS and took over the DNC’s press office, joining the White House in 1993 as Deputy Press Secretary....

Victor Zonana, a Los Angeles Times reporter when he jumped to the Clinton team in 1993, has left to join the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, a UN and World Bank-funded operation. Until April Zonana had served at HHS as Deputy Assistant Secretary for public affairs.

Baer’s New CBS Bearings

CBS News has brought aboard a Clinton insider. The Washington Post’s John Carmody reported in February: "Don Baer, who left the White House in August after 3½ years, most recently serving as Director of Communications, has signed on as a consultant for CBS News. He’ll give his perspective on several regular CBS News programs about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ activity in the administration...But network sources say ‘he won’t be shilling.’" Baer held the title at U.S. News of Assistant Managing Editor when he jumped to the White House.

Is he a shill? Check out this excerpt from a September 23, 1996 Weekly Standard profile by Christopher Caldwell: "One New Democrat who met Baer at a dinner last year described him as ‘bland beyond description, a fount of cliches. ‘Clinton was the moral leader of the Universe,’ and all that.’"

Caputo Kaput at CBS

Just as Baer signed up with CBS his former White House colleague Lisa Caputo stepped down as Vice President for corporate relations. Caputo pushed Hillary Clinton’s agenda as Press Secretary to the First Lady until late 1996. Since leaving CBS in March Caputo has moved in front of the camera, filling the liberal chair for a week on CNBC’s Equal Time.

Today Paula Jones, Next Kenneth Starr

After the Jones Dismissal, Media Say "Put Up or Shut Up"

Judge Susan Webber Wright’s dismissal of the Paula Jones case on April 1 caused media jubilation both on and off the air. The next morning, New York Times White House reporter James Bennet filed from Senegal: "Repairing to a French restaurant here for a late dinner, some of the President’s senior advisers wondered over champagne — ordered and paid for by journalists — whether this development in the case might cause the news media to stop panting after salacious details about public officials."

John McCaslin of The Washington Times later fingered the bubbly-buyers: New York Times Washington reporter R.W. "Johnny" Apple and columnist Maureen Dowd. (Dowd later denied paying.)

The networks took shots at the Jones case the night the dismissal broke. ABC’s Peter Jennings suggested to Clinton spin controller Mandy Grunwald the Jones case was little more than a tool of Clinton-haters: "Mandy, who do you think is now going to carry the water, briefly, for the anti-Clinton clique in the country or the anti-Clinton people in the country?" On CBS, Dan Rather said "The accuser in this case, Paula Jones has been variously described as a victim, a woman wronged, and a political pawn of the Republican far right."

Many reports quickly turned the corner from the Jones case to putting the pressure on Whitewater counsel Kenneth Starr. Dan Rather asked reporter Scott Pelley: "Scott, is there any doubt there that this increases the pressure on Ken Starr to put up or shut up, to show whatever cards he has and do it fairly soon?"

Newsweek put Starr’s picture on the April 13 cover with the words "Put Up or Shut Up." Evan Thomas and Daniel Klaidman reported "public patience with Starr is running out. Starr is increasingly regarded as an uncomfortable, politically biased figure, an oddly jolly Captain Ahab ...By nearly two to one — 57 to 38 percent — voters think that it’s time for the Whitewater independent counsel to give up his investigation into Monica Lewinsky, according to the latest Newsweek poll."

Next to a cloying photo of the President holding Hillary’s hand to his cheek, Time Senior Editor Nancy Gibbs cheered the Wright decision as "an antidote to a poisonous winter of scandal." Time put the Jones charges, along with Willey’s and Lewinsky’s, into the second half of a summary titled "The Legal & The Loony." That’s quite a change from Gibbs’ 1991 Time piece comparing Anita Hill to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks.
 

Peter Jennings: Al Gore is Our Savior

The year 2000 may seem distant, but ABC News logged its first infomercial on behalf of Al Gore’s presidential campaign on April 11. "The Apocalypse and Al Gore," a one-hour Saturday Night program hosted by Peter Jennings, declared Al Gore is trying to save us from a disaster we’re all too short-sighted or selfish to realize. The plug on the abcnews.com Web site reflected what aired:

"The ferocity of this year’s El Nino, which spawned deadly tornadoes in Florida, devastating storms in California, and brought the fury of Hurricane Pauline to Acapulco, may be an omen of a more permanent climatic disaster — global warming. In a new ABC News special, Peter Jennings reports on one man’s 30-year crusade to put global warming on the national agenda."

The show assumed Gore’s fears are correct and disparaged contrary views when they were mentioned. The program had four parts. First, the evidence for how man causes global warming and how Gore has been out front on the issue, including the TV weathermen’s seminar last year. ABC gave extensive time to Miami meteorologist Brian Norcross, who warned of higher seas and deadlier hurricanes. Second, how self-interested industry corrupts science, just like the tobacco industry. Third, how recent weather in the Midwest proves global warming has a disastrous impact. Fourth, how union members have joined with industry to fight environmentalists because they are scared more by the loss of jobs than by climatic change, a very short-sighted view.

More Disasters? Explaining that what Gore "fears most is how unstable" the Earth is becoming, Jennings cited the 1995 Chicago heat wave, the 1996 fires in the Southwest and floods in Eastern Europe and the 1997 typhoon in China. Jennings asserted: "Many scientists fear that global warming will cause these record-breaking disasters to become more frequent and even more extreme. However, scientists cannot say yet with any certainty that any single weather disaster is in fact caused by global warming....Vice President Gore’s critics exploit this scientific uncertainty."

MediaWatch asked Candace Crandall of the Science and Environmental Policy Project to provide the response ABC didn’t broadcast. On natural disasters, she replied:

"1) A research paper presented in December 1997 by U.S. Geological Survey researchers Harry Lins and James Slack looked at flood patterns in the U.S. since 1914 and saw no unusual patterns or increasing trends. It seems that floods just happen. And they happen with some frequency. 2) The intensity and frequency of hurricanes, however, have gone down over the last 50 years, according to the most recent report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

Prophet Motives. Jennings didn’t bother presenting the case from critics. Instead he discredited them by portraying them as self-interested, a concern never raised with global warming believers. Jennings intoned: "Bill O’Keefe is a lobbyist for a coalition of oil, coal, and car companies. They call themselves the Global Climate Coalition, but they are some of the largest producers of greenhouse gases."

Jennings asked O’Keefe: "Why do you think it is that the industries most responsible for global warming are the most skeptical about the science?" O’Keefe said most CO2 comes from natural sources, to which Jennings shot back while smirking: "Are you suggesting that the climate change is affected by the plants rotting and us breathing?"

Jennings proceeded to ridicule the scientists cited by the coalition: "University of Arizona climatologist Robert Balling is the kind of scientist the fossil fuel industry likes to fund and Balling concedes that some of his financial backers have an agenda."

After a soundbite of Balling saying a coal company can’t control his science, Jennings insisted: "But the work of some industry-funded scientists is sometimes used to create what amounts to propaganda. Listen to this coal industry video which claimed that a doubling of carbon dioxide is a good thing."

The video claimed: "Crop plants will continue to grow more productively, forests will extend their ranges, grasses will grow where none grow now and great tracks of barren land will be reclaimed." Jennings countered: "Al Gore calls this junk science, reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s efforts to persuade Americans that cigarette smoking didn’t cause lung cancer."

Refusing to Believe. To illustrate the impact of global warming and how the public just isn’t smart enough to realize how Gore is trying to save them, Jennings looked at Smith Island in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay: "On Smith Island we find two of the most certain effects of global warming. One, the sea level is rising, in this case causing Smith Island to drown. And two, the residents here, like most Americans, refuse to believe that global warming is the problem."

After clips of two locals saying they don’t believe global warming is shrinking the island, Jennings scolded: "This kind of indifference drives Gore crazy and is why many people think the United States will never solve the problem of global warming. Influenced by industry, or perhaps just resistant to change, Americans are reluctant to confront an environmental problem where no one can tell them precisely how or when disaster will strike."

Concluding a segment that included some rare criticism of Gore (from the left for compromising too much at the UN climate summit in Kyoto), Jennings declared: "Which is not bad news for the fossil fuel industry. More debate, more opportunity to delay action. 1997 was the hottest year on record."

Jennings concluded the show with this dire warning: "We leave you with one additional thought. More greenhouse gases are being spewed into the atmosphere than ever before, particularly from the developing world and it takes the Earth more than 100 years to recycle every pound of carbon dioxide that man puts up there. So if the world puts off doing something until all the scientists agree, it may be too late to fix the problem."

More Malaria? With every individual report highlighted with an Al Gore quote, the abcnews.com Web site continued the hype: "There is mounting evidence that we have begun changing Earth’s climate," including "the spread of tropical diseases like malaria." Crandall told MediaWatch: "The spread of malaria, dengue fever, and other tropical diseases has more to do with poor sanitation and breakdowns in public health measures than with increases in temperature. In 1995, for example, dengue fever rolled up through Mexico and stopped dead at the U.S. border. The reason for that should be obvious."

Crandall noted that network staffers called, not for their arguments — just for their funding sources. "Peter Jennings Reporting producer Sara Silver contacted us (and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and other groups) last summer about our funding sources. I sent her a ton of documentation about Gore’s efforts to smear Fred Singer and this Project [including a 1994 edition of ABC’s Nightline]...and said we’d be happy to show her our Form 990 funding statements, as we are required by law as a non-profit, and that we would welcome her and her camera crew into our offices. Come on down, I said! I never heard from her again."