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MediaWatch: April 20, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 5

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.