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MediaWatch: December 14, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 22

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.