MediaWatch: February 22, 1999

In This Issue

No Valentines for Tripp "The Betrayer"; NewsBites; Clinton Won, So the GOP Must Go Left?; Networks Nix Newt News; MSNBC's Business As Usual

No Valentines for Tripp "The Betrayer"

Over the Valentine’s Day weekend, Linda Tripp made a "series of media appearances she has scheduled in an effort to rehabilitate her image," as The New York Times described it. But the media outlets she selected were not about to allow her to rehabilitate the negative image they worked so hard to create.

None of Tripp’s questioners brought up the news stories that might complicate the picture: the White House’s look at her FBI file or the Pentagon’s leak of her personnel file to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, which is still under investigation by Kenneth Starr.

The New York Times. On February 12, Times reporter Don Van Natta Jr. began his summary of a two-hour interview: "Linda R. Tripp, the woman whose secret tape recordings made her the reviled symbol of a double-crossing friend, now says her deepest regret is the pain she caused Monica S. Lewinsky...Mrs. Tripp said she betrayed Ms. Lewinsky to save the young woman from being abused by the President of the United States." But Tripp never described her behavior as betrayal, saying instead, "I would hope some other mom would do for my daughter what I did for Monica, despite the fact that it looks horrible, that it looks like betrayal."

The Times kept reinforcing Tripp’s negative image inside the paper, where the subhead above her interview read in capital letters: "THE BETRAYER." Van Natta reiterated his lead paragraph: "Americans view Mrs. Tripp as the villain in the Clinton sex scandal and see her as an archetype of a girlfriend betraying a girlfriend. They were incensed at Mrs. Tripp’s advice to Ms. Lewinsky not to dry clean that stained navy blue dress from the Gap."

NBC. Katie Couric implied Monicagate wasn’t Clinton’s fault on the February 12 Today: "This morning, Matt, front and center, the woman who started it all. For the past year or so, four words have described Linda Tripp’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky: perhaps those four words are ‘with friends like these.’ Well, Linda Tripp knows full well that her reputation proceeds her, that many people think of her as the ultimate betrayer, so she’s, in an effort to rehabilitate her image, is speaking out and she’s done so with our national correspondent Jamie Gangel."

Gangel badgered Tripp, first about her treatment of Lewinsky: "The one thing that no one can understand is why you did this. How you could betray a friend?...Linda, people just don’t think it’s right for girlfriends to tape girlfriends....people don’t think what you did was right. They think you betrayed her....Why didn’t you leave this to her mother to take care of? Why was this your role?...How would you feel if someone did to your daughter what you did to Monica?"

Then Gangel started knocking Tripp’s motives: "Let’s talk about motive. Most people think one of two things about you. That you did this to write a book and make money....Or you did it to bring down President Clinton, or both?" She noted Tripp felt that Clinton’s behavior with women "has to stop, or should at least be exposed," and claimed: "That sounds like you’re trying to bring down the President." Then she added: "Your pal in all this is Lucianne Goldberg, who is a self-proclaimed Clinton-hater. You put on a wire for Ken Starr, to try to get Monica to implicate the President. How can you say you weren’t out to get him?" After asking a series of questions about how Tripp felt her life was in danger, Gangel came back around: "You say you wanted this exposed. What did you think would happen once it would be exposed, if it wasn’t going to take down the President?"

The one piece of tape Gangel played was Tripp urging Lewinsky to save the Gap dress: "It sounds like you’re setting up Monica. You tell her to save the dress. You make suggestions to send the President a suggestive audio tape. You tell her to push the President to help her get a job. It sounds like you’re manipulating Monica to implicate the President."

Finally, Gangel hit on Tripp's unpopularity: "After you testified to the grand jury, you said...’I am you.’ And I think America resoundingly said, ‘No, you’re not.’ Your name has become synonymous with betrayal. You’ve been vilified. Your poll ratings last fall, your approval ratings were three percent. What has been the worst part of this?"

Gangel concluded by blaming Tripp, not Clinton, for the scandal: "When all is said and done, Monica’s life has been ruined. President Clinton remains in office. The country has gone through a year of scandal which many people blame you for. Was it worth it?"

Gangel did allow Tripp to suggest Lewinsky made suicide threats, and that she believed Lewinsky was still lying to save the President’s skin. But at no point in over 45 questions did Gangel suggest Tripp has been improperly maligned or should be credited as a whistle-blower who exposed improprieties and abuses by the President. Although Tripp demanded the 20-minute interview be aired unedited, Gangel chopped it up for a shorter, hostile Dateline profile that night.

CNN. Tripp appeared for an hour on Larry King Live on February 15, without the sort of fawning King has given to convicted felon Susan McDougal, who refuses to testify about Clinton. King’s questions weren’t all hostile, but some sounded like NBC: "Now were you coming from the position here of an anti-Clinton zealot?"

King couldn’t understand why Tripp didn’t just join the club of liars: "When they asked you to go along — this is the President, Monica is your friend — why didn’t you?" Then he wondered: "Why not just say, as some said when they knew you were coming here, they said if this were my friend, and I got a call, I would tell her, don’t speak to me any more because you’re going to be in trouble. Just don’t talk to me, and if I ask you about this, just say you don’t want to discuss it anymore....That’s being loyal to a friend and it’s not illegal."

King also asked: "The thing that got you in the most trouble for Linda Tripp’s popularity is betraying a friend. How do you defend that?" Tripp’s terse retort: "Friends don’t ask friends to commit crime."

Some of King's questions were less than savvy: "Was it Kenneth Starr that asked you to document [Lewinsky]?" After Tripp explained she didn’t give the tapes to Starr until January, and that she began taping in October, King replied: "And Mr. Starr approved?" After talking about how Tripp came to see the very stained Gap dress in Lewinsky’s Watergate apartment, King asked: "Are you saying that no dress, there never would have been an admission by the President of any relationship?" Tripp replied: "You’re asking me that seriously?"


Tom’s Tilt

NBC’s Tom Brokaw tried to appear fair by criticizing, on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman, both Clinton and Republicans for how they handled impeachment. But he blamed only Republicans for hypocrisy and "zealotry."

On the February 3 show he told Letterman, "Certainly no one can defend the President’s behavior," but "I think that there’s a strong feeling that there was real political zealotry on the part of the people who came after him."

Though Brokaw discounted the idea of a vast right-wing conspiracy, noting Clinton "got himself in this hot water," he theorized: "When you heard how the President had behaved, the question became was that a high crime and misdemeanor and a crime against the state? And it was on that point that most people backed away from saying let’s throw him out of office. But the House continued to prosecute him because they felt strongly about the matter of perjury under oath and they also felt it was an abuse of power. They didn’t feel, these same Republicans, that way when Iran-Contra was going on and Ronald Reagan was in office."

Brokaw could have pointed out that Democrats were zealous hypocrites to demand criminal penalties for Reagan aides in Iran-Contra, but now vote to dismiss the case against Clinton.

Jared Who?
Jackie Judd’s World News Tonight exclusive on January 29 uncovered confirmation of Kathleen Willey’s allegations that an attempt was made to scare her while she was a witness in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

Judd reported: "ABC News has confirmed that this private investigator, Jared Stern, has become a key witness in the investigation of whether there was an attempt to scare Kathleen Willey." Stern was hired by the lawyer of Nathan Landow, a major Clinton-Gore fundraiser who Willey says pressured her to deny that Clinton made a sexual advance. "Sources say Stern was asked to pull [Willey’s] phone records, to find out what medications Willey might be taking, to conduct a so-called ‘noisy’ investigation to let Willey know she was being watched." Stern’s lawyer told Judd, "Stern was so uncomfortable he called Willey and left a message, using an alias, warning her that someone wanted to do her harm."

Stern denied he was the jogger Willey claims threatened her, but "said with certainty" Willey is telling the truth about it. Judd concluded: "Sources say Landow and the lawyer refuse to answer prosecutors’ questions, making this a very difficult case to close."

So was this bombshell picked up by CBS, NBC, CNN, Newsweek, or U.S. News & World Report? No. Judd’s story has only been mentioned by FNC’s David Shuster and briefly in a February 15 Time sidebar titled "When Will Starr Pull the Plug?"

Buttoned Broaddrick
Last March, NBC’s Lisa Myers reported on Juanita Broaddrick’s allegation that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her in 1978 when he was Attorney General of Arkansas. As the Drudge Report Web site reported, Myers got an on-camera interview in January with Broaddrick, but NBC News has so far failed to air it. On February 2, MSNBC host Don Imus asked NBC News Vice President Tim Russert about it. He promised: "If we honestly had a buttoned-up bombshell, we would go with it in a flash."

FNC’s Special Report with Brit Hume aired a story on Broaddrick’s claim, despite, as Matt Drudge reported, getting threats from the White House warning them not to go with the story.

Reporter Rita Cosby recited on February 2 Broaddrick’s once-recanted, now-reiterated story of an encounter with Clinton at a nursing home conference in Little Rock 21 years ago: "A friend of Broaddrick’s who attended the conference saw her right after the alleged assault. Norma Kelsey told Fox News that Broaddrick said she’d been assaulted by Clinton. Quote, ‘She was hysterical,’ Kelsey said. ‘Her lip was blue and bleeding, and her hose were severely torn in the crotch area.’ Three others close to Broaddrick say Broaddrick gave them similar accounts." Two days later Hume and his guests sported "Free Lisa Myers" buttons to show support for her submerged interview.

Clinton Won, So the GOP Must Go Left?

ABC, CBS Present Experts Against the Right Without Rebuttal

Within a days of the Senate’s acquittal of Bill Clinton, ABC and CBS identified the Republicans as the party hurt the most. Why? They pinpointed conservative intolerance as the cause, with CBS insisting the party must "move toward the middle, away from the far-right social conservatives" who pushed impeachment.

"Only 30 percent of those asked said the Republicans could do a better job than Bill Clinton in dealing with the nation’s problems," ABC’s Tim O’Brien announced on World News Tonight the day after the February 12 vote. O’Brien then highlighted how "party moderates at a meeting of the Republican Leadership Council in Miami today acknowledged they have been hurt by the impeachment process." Without any counterpoint from a conservative, O’Brien played this soundbite from New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman: "Many Americans right now have an impression of a Republican Party that’s mean-spirited, vindictive, was not attending to the public’s business."

On President’s Day, February 15, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson managed to air five ideological labels in her Evening News piece which lasted just 95 seconds. "Republicans are desperately regrouping after a difficult year pursuing the President’s impeachment. Many worry they’re now at serious risk of losing their congressional majority," Attkisson maintained.

She illustrated the danger by offering this unanswered assessment: "Political analyst James Thurber says the party must move toward the middle, away from the far-right social conservatives who pushed hardest for the President’s ouster. But that won’t be easily done." Thurber asserted: "It’s tough for Republicans to moderate, though, when they have a well-organized right wing in their party, pulling the party further to the right where the voters don’t exist."

Attkisson insisted that "moderates like Senator John McCain...are well aware of their party’s challenge" and allowed that Republican leaders for now plan to "hammer home traditional conservative goals like tax cuts and the return of power to local governments." But, she ominously warned in conclusion, social conservatives, somehow counted as a "minority" within the GOP, will still insist on getting their way: "The party’s right wing will continue to apply pressure on social issues like abortion. They may be in the minority, but they’re powerful fundraisers and that gives them the influence to shape policy and dominate the Republican agenda."

Networks Nix Newt News

IRS Clears Gingrich's History Course

The IRS announced on February 3 that it cleared Newt Gingrich and the Progress and Freedom Foundation of any violation of the tax laws in the controversy over his cable TV history course "Renewing American Civilization." The IRS found that PFF properly accepted tax-deductible contributions to fund it.

So after running a series of reports challenging Gingrich’s ethics as he sought re-election as Speaker of the House in 1997, did the networks prominently feature Gingrich’s vindication? No, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired nothing on any of their programs.

Only CNN’s Brooks Jackson filed a TV report, placed at the very end of the early-evening show Inside Politics. Jackson began: "It was legal after all. Newt Gingrich’s oh-so-controversial college course that he started back in 1993, before he was Speaker. Remember how Democrats denounced it?" He then showed old footage of Democrats David Bonior ("Mr. Gingrich engaged in a pattern of tax fraud") and John Lewis ("We now have a Speaker under investigation for lying to the outside counsel, investigating his involvement in a massive tax-fraud scheme").

Jackson quoted from the IRS decision: "The course was not biased toward particular politicians, or a particular party. The facts show the class was much more than a political platform." In prime time, CNN just aired a 22-second brief on The World Today.

Despite the IRS ruling, some reporters didn’t even think corrections or apologies were necessary. On the February 7 Fox News Sunday, Juan Williams argued: "David Bonior was engaged in a fight with a man who was the head of the Republican revolution at the time and who was standing up on his high horse and pretending to be totally above any impropriety." Bonior was just "playing politics." National Public Radio reporter Mara Liasson agreed that Newt only got what he deserved: "I think it was recognized that Bonior was taking a page out of Newt Gingrich’s book. Newt Gingrich mounted an attack on Jim Wright. That was considered audacious and insurrectionary at the time and Bonior learned his lesson from him."

Such rationalizing upset FNC’s Brit Hume: "Here you have a man accused of a crime and the agency charged with identifying such crimes comes out and says absolutely not and you guys are shrugging this off and saying it’s all politics....Bunk. This was wrong...David Bonior ought to be offering an apology." So should the networks.

MSNBC's Business As Usual

In MSNBC Online’s February 12 rundown of their poll of "Impeachment Winners and Losers," all of the usual suspects in the year-long Lewinsky drama continued to be vilified while many of the major Clinton defenders were celebrated for their stoicism, loyalty, bravery and poise.

MSNBC listed the percentage of online respondents who rated each player a winner or a loser, but then added its own "reading of the conventional wisdom" for each. Hillary Clinton had not been discredited as a feminist for the wild, conspiratorial charges she had made in defense of her lying, philandering husband. In fact, MSNBC insisted she had emerged as a national heroine: "Stands by her man, blames right-wing conspiracy. Now looks stoic and heroic."

As for Ken Starr, MSNBC asserted: "Prosecutor with a tin ear for public opinion oversteps, loses his own ethics aide....should have gone to Pepperdine while he was ahead."

The House managers were major "losers," according to MSNBC. The "Citizen lawyers" who had brought the case against the President had been "clobbered" and their presentation skills were on the "windy" side. On the other hand, the Clinton Defense Team were "winners" for their able presentation, providing proof that "if you want to win in court, you’ve got to pay for it." Never mind that three-quarters of the country currently believes Clinton both obstructed justice and committed perjury.

Vernon Jordan’s selective memory and role in the cover up were no match for his charm and style: "Uber-lawyer artfully dodges charges he covered up pal’s indiscretions. Look for his Mug in Webster’ to ‘smooth.’"

But of course, there was Linda Tripp who remained, as always, a loser and a back stabber: "Snitch #1. Look for Webster’s to include her mug alongside ‘treachery’ in next edition. With friends like this..."

With MSNBC, who needs objectivity?