MediaWatch: August 24, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 14


Bruce Broods
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.