In This Issue
A Chronology of Embarrassing Error; NewsBites; Tossing Bouquets at "Humiliated Hillary"; Geraldo's Anchor Dreams; Turner Never Apologized
A Chronology of Embarrassing Error
Faced with the prospect of a President perjuring himself before a federal grand jury, media pundits sensed danger, and began wondering how to get Clinton out of it, composing drafts of a confessional speech to the country. But the President’s August 17 admission that he lied for seven months only underscored the need for a bucket of media mea culpas. From the day the Lewinsky story first broke in The Washington Post on January 21, some in the media chose to defend the President at all costs to their reputations for accuracy — or reverence for the truth.
- By 5 p.m. Eastern time on January 21, Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift had staked out the so-what defense on MSNBC: "Well, he’s been elected twice with people knowing he has had affairs. Now is the fact that this woman is 21. I mean, she’s still of age, I suppose. You know, I think that the distaste that people may feel for this will also be because of the fact that the probing into this person’s private life has occurred. I think past Presidents, Lyndon Johnson for one, certainly Jack Kennedy, these things went on, you know, libido and leadership are linked."
- That night, Bryant Gumbel tried a bolder attack, asking Scott Pelley on CBS’s Public Eye: "Scott, as you and I both know, a popular move these days is to make a titillating charge and then have the media create the frenzy. Given Kenneth Starr’s track record, should we suspect that he’s trying to do with innuendo that which he has been unable to do with evidence?"
- On January 25, weekend Today co-host Jodi Applegate took on Gennifer Flowers just days after The Washington Post revealed that Clinton admitted having sex with Flowers in his Paula Jones deposition. Applegate insisted the audio tapes Flowers played in 1992 were doctored: "Given that all of these are still only allegations against the President, why should people believe you now, even still?" Flowers replied: "Well, in the first place, he admits the relationship took place, so I mean the truth is out." Applegate snapped: "According to The Washington Post."
- As CNN’s Impact concluded that night, Bernard Shaw warned that Clinton could be wrongly accused: "A final thought on what you have seen and heard in this edition of Impact. A breaking news story is never the full picture. Remember speculation that Middle Eastern terrorists bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building? In fact, Americans did it. Remember first reports that Princess Diana was hounded to death by the paparazzi? In fact, we learned that the man driving her speeding limousine was drunk. And that investigation is not over. Remember Richard Jewell highly suspected in the Olympic park bombing? In fact, the FBI apologized for targeting the wrong man. And now we are in the middle of another breaking story; the President and his accusers. All the facts are not in."
- Morning show interviews with Hillary Clinton hesitantly skimmed the surface of Lewinsky’s allegations, but also suggested an innocent President. On January 27, Today co-host Matt Lauer asked: "So if what you have heard is something you can believe, and if what the President has told the nation is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then you’d have to agree that this is the worst and most damaging smear of the twentieth century." On the 28th, ABC Good Morning America co-host Lisa McRee inquired: "What is it about your husband, Mrs. Clinton, that seems to make him a lightning rod for these types of allegations?....You’ve also talked about your husband’s generosity and his warmth, and his, you know, his warmth with people even, you know, people he hardly knows."
- That evening, Bryant Gumbel tossed James Carville the very definition of a softball on Public Eye: "Where does Lewinsky fit into this conspiracy theory? Is she victimizing the President or is she too a victim?"
- NPR anchor and former weekend Today co-host Scott Simon laid another pompous commentary on Today viewers on February 1: "So over the next few weeks President Clinton’s most delicate relations may not be with an independent counsel who stones every turn of his life or an old intern spinning astounding stories, but with millions of Americans who’ve come to like and admire Bill Clinton and don’t want to feel foolish for believing in him. And to be sure prosecutor Kenneth Starr has also put himself on trial. If after all of the agony over these past few weeks it doesn’t produce a single plausible actual charge against President Clinton, and probably soon, it may be the independent prosecutor who could be dismissed by the American public."
- On the February 27 Dateline NBC, Josh Mankiewicz (son of McGovern campaign manager Frank Mankiewicz) deplored asking the Secret Service to testify: "But ever since agents began guarding Presidents after the assassination of William McKinley, the Secret Service has kept its secrets. Now the man investigating the President may want to ask agents in the White House what they know about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. And that’s made a lot of current and former agents wonder who they’re supposed to protect the President from — an assassin, or a character assassination?"
- CBS Sunday Morning host Charles Osgood took out his poet’s pen on February 28: "The jokes, the snickers, and the flippery/ The slope we’re on is long and slippery/ And there is something in the air which this country best beware/ for there is danger in the dirt and lots of people could get hurt/ And what we sow, we someday reap/ Last night as I laid down to sleep/ I dreamed an apparition swarthy/ the unshaved ghost of Joe McCarthy."
- On March 10, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter declared on Today: "I do think there is some value in [ex-conservative writer David Brock’s] apology because it does illuminate some larger facts about our times. I think when historians look back on all this, they’re gonna be less concerned about all the legal details of who said what to whom when, and more concerned about the way we drove this truck into the muck. And if David Brock, who helped drive the truck into the muck, wants to help push it out now, great."
- CNN’s Bruce Morton deplored what Monicagate was doing to the profession of politics on The World Today April 1: "Has anybody in the history of America, any President certainly, had his character so trashed, so publicly, for so long? I think the answer is no and I think Mr. Clinton is probably personally damaged by that and I think, if you were a young state representative, 28 years old, you’re sitting with your wife and kids thinking: do I want to run for President someday? What are you going to say? You're going to say good grief no, look what they do to them."
- On April 11, Eleanor Clift was still spinning for Clinton on The McLaughlin Group: "We don’t live in Salem and I think the country is sick of the witch hunt. The Paula Jones case was the gateway to Miss Lewinsky. Now that the Jones case has been thrown out, I think it’s going to be very difficult to go after a young woman and try to force her to answer questions about intimate matters."
- Bryant Gumbel took his latest shot at the scandal on the July 1 Public Eye, waving the white flag of European decadence: "Over five months have passed now since those first over-hyped reports alleged a sexual relationship between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Although Mr. Clinton has denied it and nothing has been proven, the mere suspicion seems to have obsessed a good number of media people and other Americans. What some view as high scandal in our country, is barely cause for concern elsewhere. Richard Schlesinger takes a look at the French connections."
- Monicagate didn't even rise to the level of a real scandal, the networks implied. On February 12, Tom Brokaw introduced: "In Depth tonight. More on the alleged White House scandal." On May 3, CNN Late Edition host Wolf Blitzer asked: "What is the White House strategy right now in dealing with all of these late breaking developments involving this so-called scandal?" The President’s admission should put any of that so-called analysis to rest.
In his "Last Word" segment for CNN’s Late Edition on August 9, Bruce Morton argued that in siding with Ken Starr, "the judges, from the Supreme Court on down, presumably got the law right, but common sense may be taking a beating. For instance, okay, there’s no legal reason Secret Service agents shouldn’t testify about the Presidents they guard, but it’s a bad idea" since if Clinton’s "successors think the agents are also spies, they’ll keep those agents at a distance."
Next, Morton used language out of the anti-Starr handbook, portraying his Lewinsky book-buying inquiry as an invasion of privacy instead of as an effort to confirm times when products were purchased: "Investigators asking bookstores what we read is presumably legal, but it’s ugly... And bright young people aren’t going to want to work at the White House if they think they’ll have to hire expensive lawyers as a routine part of the job." Morton failed to consider they’ll only have to get lawyers if the boss lands in a scandal.
Morton lamented how "this isn’t about politics and government, as Watergate was. This is about sex, lies and audiotape. It has lowered the tone of this place. Reporters don’t like writing this stuff. Many of us long for a little good, old-fashioned graft and crookedness." Like the DNC fundraising scandal the networks are largely ignoring?
Book the Liars Again
The same Clinton spokesmen who’ve spent seven months declaring Clinton’s innocence had no problem maintaining their credibility with the networks after Clinton confessed. Clinton aides Ann Lewis and Rahm Emanuel, as well as allies Lanny Davis and James Carville were invited onto morning shows the day after Clinton’s speech. On Today, Matt Lauer asked Carville: "How can the President, James, restore his credibility with the American people after this episode?" But how can the networks still regard these Clintonites as credible?
Carville insisted on CBS’s Face the Nation January 25 that "the American people know what improper means, the President knows what improper means, and yes, it means any kind of sex." The Today show also showcased Emanuel, who also said he believed Clinton back in January.
Lewis appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America where Lisa McRee asked "Has he personally apologized to you for misleading you?" But last January on the same show she said: "I can say with absolute assurance the President of the United States did not have a sexual relationship because I have heard the President of the United States say so."
CBS This Morning August 18 got comments from Lewis and Lanny Davis, even though Davis made this amazing statement on Good Morning America four days before Clinton’s admission: "I think he has a record of being candid on this subject." Yet the August 18 Nightline quoted Davis saying of Clinton’s earlier denials, "I don’t think I was misled." Apparently the networks feel the same way about these unbelievable talking heads.
Shills for Shays
Linda Douglass announced a liberal victory in the House on the August 3 World News Tonight: "Against all odds, they pulled off an upset, persuading a majority of the House to vote in favor of a sweeping campaign reform bill that would ban large, unregulated political contributions." Douglass included statements from the bill’s co-sponsor, liberal Republican Chris Shays. Democratic Rep. Sander Levin, House Minority Whip David Bonior and activist Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21. But Douglass did not allow opponents any opportunity for rebuttal.
Douglass never explained objections from groups like the National Right to Life Committee, which argued the bill would prohibit them from airing commercials that even mention the name or contain the likeness of a member of Congress, or candidate for Congress, 60 days before a primary or general election.
Later that night, Nightline also focused on Shays-Meehan, following Shays around Capitol Hill as he battled toward victory. The pro-reform saga at least allowed Sen. Mitch McConnell the chance to briefly explain his opposition to the bill and his concern for the danger it poses to free speech.
Tossing Bouquets at "Humiliated Hillary"
First lady painted as Hero Instead of as Complicit in Deceit
The impending arrival of the truth about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky spurred a wave of supportive TV coverage for Hillary Clinton. On August 14, the Friday before Clinton testified, CBS’s Eric Engberg and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell filed odes to the First Lady.
Mitchell poured this syrup: "Politician, strategist, lawyer, protector — in a marriage that friends say is based on brutal honesty and unconditional love." Mitchell asserted: "Close friends say she knew everything from Day One and still went on NBC in January to deny all." Instead of disparaging a lying First Lady, Mitchell worried: "So how does she cope? What other wife would tolerate so much embarrassment? Two clues to Hillary Clinton’s character: friends say she is deeply religious and incredibly angry, blaming Ken Starr, not her husband." Mitchell didn’t wonder: Is it a "deeply religious" activity to lie to millions of Americans?
The next night, ABC’s Juju Chang joined in, focusing on how Hillary’s "unflinching loyalty has earned her a new level of respect" in high approval ratings. "Hillary Clinton has used her fierce determination, which used to be seen as a negative, to turn what could have been a humiliating experience into a position of strength."
CBS’s Bill Plante declared on the August 17 Evening News: "Bill Clinton stands to be embarrassed by what he says today, but Hillary Rodham Clinton stands to be humiliated." He showed the January Today interview and claimed: "Friends of Mrs. Clinton say that she probably didn’t know back then whether Lewinsky’s story was true. Now, however, sources say the First Lady is aware her husband is changing his story."
Minutes before Clinton’s speech that night, CBS’s Eric Engberg noted: "Unlike any other scandal in memory, the country has been acutely aware that what it is witnessing is not just a political thunderclap, but a family tragedy. For seven months, she has been the first defender as well as First Lady. Had she not done her job so well, it’s not likely the President would have stood up so well in the opinion polls."
Over on NBC Mitchell revised her account from Hillary pals:
"Friends say she’s known all along something happened, but no
details, so chose to believe her husband’s early denials."
Mitchell did not explain how Hillary would have learned the
real story about Lewinsky from weekend leaks in the newspaper seven
months late if her marriage was based on "brutal honesty and
Geraldo's Anchor Dreams
Today’s Executive Producer has conceded that Geraldo Rivera "went too far" in defending President Clinton during an appearance detailed in the August 10 MediaWatch study. But Rivera hasn’t toned down his act and is now aiming to replace Tom Brokaw as anchor of the NBC Nightly News.
"Geraldo Rivera wants nothing less than to be ‘news anchor for the next millennium,’ a pronouncement that may not sit very well with the anchors of this millennium," reported J. Max Robins in an August 15 TV Guide story. promoting his new CNBC news program, Upfront Tonight. "Openly hoping that his new show will catapult him to a top slot at NBC News, Rivera brashly announces, ‘I’m running for the center chair at the desk of the wise men.’" (After the TV Guide story broke, Rivera retreated from the clear implication of his comments and praised Tom Brokaw.)
Robins discovered that "Some reporters suggest that Rivera, covering Bill Clinton’s recent trip to China for Today, snagged an exclusive interview with the President because of his partisan reporting, and even [Katie] Couric and [Today Executive Producer Jeff] Zucker thought Rivera went too far on a subsequent Today show when he called Clinton ‘the most maligned and assailed man in the history of the executive office’ and questioned how Congress could impeach Clinton for ‘doing something that virtually every member [of the House and Senate] has done at some time in their lives.’"
"Rivera’s concession that he ‘was too over the top’ in his Clinton comments probably won’t appease his competitors" Robins warned, "many of whom can’t or won’t think of Rivera as anything but the tabloid grandstander whose nose was busted by skinheads and who wrote a tell-all autobiography (unsubtly titled Exposing Myself ) that detailed sexual encounters with the famous and not so famous."
Indeed, in that book Rivera revealed some Clintonesque parallels to his life: "I was like a junkie when it came to women, an alcoholic, and even my best intentions were not enough to keep me faithful for long." In the September 1 National Review John Miller highlighted how the book "contains one of the most deeply confused sentences ever to appear in print: ‘My marriage was important to me, and so I made sure my outside encounters never became more than one-night stands.’"
Turner Never Apologized
CNN’s former military analyst, retired Air Force Major General Perry Smith, appeared August 10 on CBS’s Late Late Show with Tom Snyder and issued his first public comments since he quit CNN in protest about a week after the now withdrawn NewsStand: CNN & Time story on Operation Tailwind initially aired on June 7.
Among his observations:
- The Floyd Abrams report, written by the lawyer CNN brought in to check the story, was wrong in insisting producers only made honest mistakes: "I have problems with the Abrams report, not in its conclusion and that was the story was wrong, but in the early part of his report, and I just read it again tonight, he indicates that these people who put the story together were very honest journalists who just made a number of mistakes, when in fact they had been told by dozens of people who were knowledgeable that story was dead wrong. And I think he was much too kind. I think he was protecting CNN in the early part of that report."
- CNN’s on-air reporter, Peter Arnett, was more involved than claimed: "He knew there was no nerve gas in theater, yet he reported it. Now he said he didn’t do anything but read the script, and that is just flat wrong. He interviewed three of the key players, and when you do an interview and prepare for an interview and do follow-up as you are doing with me, Tom, you have got to be prepared as you have been. And so he was into that story big time and he lied about that to the CEO of, Tom Johnson of CNN, and a lot of other people. There are a lot of people at CNN who are very angry that Peter Arnett is still in the employ of CNN."
- Ted Turner never called to apologize: "Ted Turner was set up to apologize to all the people on the ground. They were all waiting for the phone call a couple of Tuesdays ago, and he never called any of them...."
Smith decried Turner’s avoidance: "He did major damage to those folks. He said it was the worst experience in his life. The least he could do was personally apologize to people who were involved in that mission. He has not done that. He’s done it by letter, a pro-forma Xeroxed type letter, but he has not done it anymore than that, so I have to fault Ted Turner on this also."