MediaWatch: December 14, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 22

NewsBites: Gore's Goofs

Rather Agnostic
For months the networks have relentlessly polled the American people on the Lewinsky matter and then proclaimed the public’s continuing approval of Clinton’s job performance. CBS has added how the people want Ken Starr to wrap up his investigation. So it came as a surprise when Dan Rather went agnostic on the justice-by-opinion-polling strategy.

On the November 25 CBS Evening News, Rather ended a story on Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s push to challenge euthanasia laws with a new poll: "A CBS News poll out tonight suggests that by more than two to one Americans do not consider what Kevorkian did, injecting a terminally ill patient with legal drugs at the patient’s request, to be the same as murder." Then Rather warned that bowing to poll results is not the equivalent of justice: "You may want to note that laws are not supposed to be enforced on the basis of public opinion polls."

Faulty Follow-Up
Back on August 7, when a federal appeals court ruled against Ken Starr’s office and allowed Judge Norma Holloway Johnson to proceed with an investigation of whether the independent counsel’s office illegally leaked information, every network ran a story that evening. Fast forward to Friday, December 4. A New York Times headline announced: "Judge Finds Starr’s Aides Did Not Abuse Lewinsky." A complete vindication for the Starr team? Yes, but the networks were mum.

None of the Big Three networks mentioned the Holloway decision. Not even CNN’s Inside Politics noted the revelation, which invalidated a favorite Clintonista talking point. The Fox News Channel was the only television network to do a story, on Special Report with Brit Hume. In the December 4th New York Times, Don Van Natta Jr. reported what other papers picked up on Saturday. Not even that widespread print coverage generated a syllable on the weekend broadcast network shows.

Van Natta detailed the Holloway finding: "Kenneth Starr’s prosecutors did not forbid Monica Lewinsky to call her lawyer when they first confronted her at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Jan. 16, and in fact they gave her several opportunities to call anyone she chose, a federal district judge ruled in a finding unsealed this week." The decision, issued on April 28, said Starr’s staff "acted within the ethical rules in questioning Ms. Lewinsky without her attorney present."

All ABC News shows ignored Holloway’s clearing of Starr, even though Diane Sawyer railed about it in her 20/20 interview with him on November 25. She demanded at one point: "Which brings us to the question of the team’s highly criticized tactics. Did they cross the line? First with Monica Lewinsky, when nine federal officers took her to a room at the Ritz-Carlton and put pressure on her to turn on the President?" Will 20/20 add an update or compound the interview’s imbalance?

CNN Would Hire Monica?
Wall Street Journal editorial writer John Fund came across a nugget on page 4,293 of Linda Tripp’s grand jury testimony. Tripp recalled how Bill Clinton told Lewinsky that CNN President Rick Kaplan would jump at the chance to help him out by hiring Lewinsky. Kaplan is a long-time Clinton friend who stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom and while with ABC News in 1992 advised Clinton on how to spin the media in order to overcome the Gennifer Flowers revelation.

In the grand jury room a prosecutor asked Tripp: "Did Monica Lewinsky and the President discuss the possibility of other jobs, particularly in the media?"

Tripp replied: "Yes. The President suggested when he wanted a list of — a wish list of where she wanted to go — and she had vague ideas, but nothing specific enough to allow him to have a specific clear idea, they talked about networks. And he instantly said that someone who would do anything he asked was someone named — I think his first name is Richard, but Kaplan at CNN, who had recently, I believe, gone from ABC to CNN who he said was a very, very close friend and was heading up CNN in Atlanta. He could make that happen with a snap of his fingers." Monica could have brought Kaplan pizza.