In This Issue
Ken Starr, Demented Puritan Porn Pusher?; NewsBites: Gore's Goofs; Perjurers Pay, Unless They're President?; Is Henry Hyde a Hypocrite?; 20/20 Tackles Missilegate
Ken Starr, Demented Puritan Porn Pusher?
After months of saying nothing but a few pleasantries getting into his car outside his house, independent counsel Kenneth Starr consented to an interview with ABC’s 20/20 airing November 25. But Starr must not have made a long list of demands for ABC to land the interview, since ABC promoted it as an opportunity to use Starr as a punching bag. The TV promos hyped Diane Sawyer’s harsh questions: "Do I have a right to ask you about your sex life?...Is this a witch hunt?...When are you going to wrap this up?"
ABC also touted its hostility in newspaper ads placed around the country: "Prosecutor? Or persecutor? Wednesday night, you’re the judge. Tomorrow night, in an exclusive interview, Diane Sawyer asks Ken Starr the tough questions: Is this a witch hunt? Was all the salacious detail necessary? What do you really think of the Clintons? When will it all end? No matter which side you’re on, the answers will surprise you." Sawyer’s queries could be placed in four categories:
PRUDE. Sawyer suggested Starr’s moral beliefs somehow disqualified him from investigating. "Tonight, an exclusive interview with independent counsel Kenneth Starr, a man accused of trying to impose his personal beliefs on everyone else." Sawyer then proclaimed we knew little about Starr: "We only knew that his investigation has polarized a nation and that most everybody says it’s time for him to stop. And something else — a question about him. Has he really been pursuing the President to enforce the law, or because of his private view of personal morality?"
She pressed strongly on Starr’s prudishness: "Someone said, who had worked for you, ‘He would just die if you told a dirty joke in front of him.’ True?...Do you hate R-rated movies?... You almost went in the ministry?" She asked of his upbringing in the Church of Christ, "No dancing, no movies?....So did you think it [dancing] was wicked?" Sawyer implied Starr is too religious to be trusted: "I think one of the things that makes people uneasy is the concern that your religious principles are an engine fueling your legal work. And they read that you jog and sing hymns and pray. And I think they wonder. Do you think God is on your side?...Because, again, people wonder if you understand human frailty.... in this area, this strange continent of marriages ....Can you separate the way you feel from the extent to which you think it’s important?" To underline how odd he was, Sawyer asked: "I cannot tell you how many people have said to me, ‘Ask him.’ Do I have a right to ask about your sex life?" Starr declared he could answer he has been faithful to his wife.
Sawyer implied all this proved he was too uptight for America: "So what happens when this man becomes independent counsel and begins investigating a President charged with covering up, lying under oath about a sexual relationship?" She asked Starr: "Do you think in that sense, you were out of touch with the political judgment of the American people, who say everyone was covering up sex. There was gambling in the casino in Casablanca and you are the only one who is shocked. We are not shocked." Sawyer didn’t ask if Starr’s job is to uphold the law, regardless of public opinion, or to be "in touch with political judgment."
PORNOGRAPHER. Then Sawyer’s logic completely collapsed upon itself. She suggested the American people are not shocked about the President’s Oval Office behavior, but were shocked that Starr included explicit details in his referral to Congress. Sawyer called the Starr report "a document denounced for its advocacy and, even more, its voyeuristic detail." Sawyer argued: "I’m trying to imagine you deciding to include in those footnotes, footnotes you will not hear on TV, that cannot be denied that they are there to outrage and they are there to shock." Starr disagreed, but she pressed on: "I think there were 62 mentions of the word ‘breast,’ 23 of ‘cigar,’ 19 of ‘semen.’ This has been called demented pornography, pornography for Puritans. Were there mistakes made in including some of this?"
Sawyer added: "I still don’t understand what a cigar has to do with whether the President should be impeached." Sawyer noted that the Starr team felt that to prove the perjury, they had to provide the intimate details. But she did not explain the President specifically and repeatedly denied a definition of sex which included contact with breasts or genitals. Part of Starr’s argument, made here more indelicately, is this: would the average adulterer have trouble recalling Monica’s creative tribute to the tobacco industry?
OPPRESSOR. Sawyer promoted the interview by calling Starr "The man who has held a country captive finally speaks." She did not bring up how Clinton’s aggressive court fights litigating "protective function privilege" and government attorney-client privilege held up Starr’s probe. Despite her later gibe that Starr lacked "fairness," she casually noted: "You’ve been compared to Saddam Hussein, Nero, to Torquemada, who was the head of The Inquisition."
Sawyer saw a persecutor when Lewinsky was confronted with her attempts to get Linda Tripp to lie under oath at the Pentagon City mall: "People see a young girl who was in tears, who was threatened with 27 years in prison possibly, who was told that her mother might be prosecuted based on things she had said about her mother, who was to wire herself or tape the President or Vernon Jordan. And they say this isn’t John Gotti. This isn’t Timothy McVeigh."
She even suggested that prosecutors are unfair if they act to insure that existing sexual harassment law is enforced: "But people believe that if Bill Clinton misled in that deposition, it was because he was being asked about something he shouldn’t have been asked about in the first place.... It doesn’t matter that it was legally correct....But fairness. Fairness to be asked about all of the people that you slept with?"
Ambiguity and humanity were synonyms to Sawyer, in contrast to Starr’s scandalous certitude: "You know, you have been cast in the role of a moral crusader in an ambiguous world, that you are self-righteous, sanctimonious, that you have moral certainty into areas where other people have doubt and humanity. What do you think about extramarital sex?" Later, when Starr defended the explicit nature of his referral, Sawyer suggested: "It seems to me, listening to you, that you have no doubt that what you did in the referral was the right thing. You have no doubt that proceeding against the President in the way you have proceeded is the right thing. There is something about certainty that scares a lot of people."
RIGHT-WING CONSPIRATOR. ABC had to ask: "Are you part of a right-wing conspiracy?" Sawyer explained that Linda Tripp "is now a recognized soldier in the army of Clinton haters" and also mentioned "millionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who hired people to dig up dirt on Bill Clinton and funded a chair at Pepperdine University for Ken Starr." It didn’t matter that Starr’s never talked to Scaife. Sawyer asked: "This one degree of separation, lawyers in your firm to the Paula Jones attorneys, Richard Mellon Scaife and Pepperdine University, and these are the President’s enemies. And they’re just outside your door, some people think inside. Do you at least see what that looks like?"
Sawyer didn’t feel the need to provide any evidence behind these suspicions — for example, to prove Scaife is lying when he said for the record that neither he nor his staff has met with Starr or had anything to do with his Pepperdine appointment. Just like the President’s team, merely raising the charge is the point. But for Sawyer or other TV stars to rail against Starr’s lack of objectivity is bizarre. Starr could have answered with a question: "And since you, Ms. Sawyer, have been listed as a ‘major individual contributor’ to the National Organization for Women — do you at least see what that looks like?" Sawyer looked as partisan as one of the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee in her attacks on Starr. Humane ambiguity was not on her agenda.
NewsBites: Gore's Goofs
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."
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.
Perjurers Pay, Unless They're President?
Hearing Forces Networks to Dwell (Briefly) on Clinton Parallels
Former Veterans Administration psychiatrist Barbara Battalino and former college basketball coach Pam Parsons stood before the House Judiciary Committee December 1, telling their stories of how lying about sex in federal civil suits cost them their livelihoods and their freedom.
Battalino’s case carries striking similarities to President Clinton’s. Battalino lied about having oral sex with one of her male patients, who had filed a malpractice suit against her. Although the civil case was later dismissed, Battalino still faced the perjury charges because the patient produced secret phone tapes of conversations with her. This year, Janet Reno’s Justice Department prosecuted her and she was sentenced to six months of home detention and a $3,500 fine.
Even with so many parallels to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, reporters have been slow to cover Battalino’s case. After first being uncovered by David Tell in his June 22 Weekly Standard editorial, Battalino’s story aired on Dateline, Today, 20/20 and NBC Nightly News — all of them four months later, after the election.
The networks and news magazines could have jumped at the chance to examine Battalino’s case, and others like her, when she testifed before Congress. The networks all included at least one clip of their testimony in the news shows that evening, but ABC’s and CBS’s evening shows have yet to air full stories about people like Battalino and Parsons who have faced punishment for lying under oath about sex in a civil case.
On the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer referred to Battalino this way: "A woman under house arrest for lying under oath said if she had to be punished, so should the President." No mention of any of the parallels between Battalino and the President, not even that she lied about sex. On ABC’s World News Tonight, Linda Douglass also quickly passed over the hearing as a partisan demonstration: "Republicans charge there is evidence Mr. Clinton lied under oath, a crime for which ordinary citizens can be convicted. To make that point, they showcased two women, convicted for lying in court about sex." By contrast, NBC’s Pete Williams led off his story with the women’s testimony.
Some national media outlets continue to ignore the 115
people now serving time for committing perjury in federal court
proceedings. Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report
ignored the Battalino-Parsons testimony the following week, as
they’ve ignored all these perjury precedents for the past ten months.
Is Henry Hyde a Hypocrite?
CNN, MSNBC Ignore Gore Flip-Flop
The December 4 Los Angeles Times article "Hyde’s View on Lying is Back Haunting Him" was lapped up by CNN and MSNBC, which painted Henry Hyde as a hypocrite for condemning lying now but defending it in Oliver North’s Iran-Contra case. CNN at least let North try to explain how the two cases were fundamentally different, but the stories all focused exclusively on Hyde while ignoring the fact that the same point could clearly be made about scores of Democrats who denounced lying then and seem unfazed by it now.
The same day the Los Angeles Times hit on Hyde appeared, a fax from the Republican National Committee arrived in media offices around Washington. It highlighted a June 30, 1987 story in the very same newspaper about Al Gore announcing his presidential candidacy. The Times quoted Gore as vowing to "restore the rule of law and respect for the truth and common sense to the White House." But the all-news networks ignored that.
CNN anchor Joie Chen noted Hyde’s words from the Iran-Contra days were "coming back to haunt him." Following two soundbites from Hyde from the Iran-Contra hearings, Frank Sesno posed this question: "Oliver North and Bill Clinton. Are the cases that different? Have the rules changed? Or is Henry Hyde a hypocrite?"
Sesno then let North respond to the charges and provided some context to the events, leaving the viewer with some sense that the cases were possibly different. North argued there was a major distinction between lying to protect the country’s national security interests and lying before a grand jury simply to protect oneself.
Meanwhile over on MSNBC, Gwen Ifill skipped over Hyde’s side of the story and offered none of the background Sesno presented, although she did acknowledge that Clinton aides "made sure reporters knew about the story." She added: "When Hyde was a member of the 1987 Iran-Contra committee he said lies should be judged quote ‘in the murkier grayness of the real world’ and he quoted Thomas Jefferson." In his coda performance on MSNBC’s The Big Show, Keith Olbermann gleefully ridiculed Hyde, at one point musing that "politics makes strange bedfellows. The Henry Hyde of 1998 must sleep with the Henry Hyde of 1987 — if he can."
20/20 Tackles Missilegate
Beginning in early April and cresting in May and June, The New York Times and other newspapers developed the story that Chinese companies were gaining access to sensitive missile technology through the weakening of export controls by the Clinton administration, which in turn took large contributions from software and satellite companies. Since April, ABC has aired only three stories, but the December 2 20/20 offered the best television story yet on how China is exploiting American business contacts in its quest for military modernization.
Reporter Chris Wallace explained: "Tonight, you’ll hear a story you’ve never heard before: how U.S. aerospace companies may have helped China build better rockets at the expense of America’s national security." Wallace asked Al Coates, a recently retired monitor of overseas launches: "As a routine matter, are American companies giving sensitive information to the Chinese?" Coates replied: "I believe they are." Wallace inquired: "What has the effect of all this been on U.S. national security?" Coates answered: "They have a better capability at striking us." Wallace replied: "You mean we’re less safe?" Coates: "We’re less safe."
Wallace explained: "Coates has been warning the government for years about what American companies have been doing in China. Last month, frustrated by the lack of response, Lieutenant Colonel Coates quit after 29 years in the Air Force. Tonight, he’s going public about the aerospace industry for the first time."
Coates told of constant problems with security lapses with Hughes Electronics, from being able to break into their Chinese plant to literally stopping meetings because too much technical information was being given away. ABC couldn’t get comment from Hughes, but did use footage of congressional hearings this summer where Hughes Chairman Michael Armstrong and Vice Chairman Steven Dorfman testified. Wallace explained that while candidate Clinton supported cutting back on Chinese satellite deals, "Over time, the White House made it easier than ever for satellite companies to do business in China. And guess who the President put in charge of his export advisory council? Hughes’ Michael Armstrong."