MediaWatch: July 27, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 12


Court Contrast.
When do judges get an ideological label? At CBS, only when they rebuke the Clinton Administration, and not Ken Starr’s office.

After a judge dismissed tax evasion charges brought against Clinton crony Webster Hubbell on June 26, Dan Rather announced on the CBS Evening News: "In Washington a federal judge today bluntly described special prosecutor Ken Starr’s tactics as, and I quote, ‘really scary.’...U.S. District Judge James Robertson’s comment came when Starr’s team argued that it was proper to indict Hubbell again on tax charges based on documents Hubbell supplied under a grant of immunity." Not once did Rather suggest Judge Robertson’s ideological leanings or mention that he is a Clinton appointee.

Two weeks later, on July 16, when an Appeals Court again denied the existence of a "protective function privilege" for the Secret Service, correspondent Scott Pelley felt it necessary to tag a judge involved in the matter. "In a blistering statement, one Appeals Court judge essentially accused the White House of obstructing Starr’s investigation. Judge Laurence Silberman, a conservative appointed by President Reagan, called the administration’s position a ‘constitutional absurdity.’"

Cuddly Castro?
On the July 5 Sunday Today, viewers were treated to the lighter, softer, more romantic side of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. MSNBC’s Chris Jansing interviewed the author of a book that overlooked the brutal acts of the Cuban despot, instead focusing on the image of a more cuddly Castro.

Jansing opened the segment: "To many in this country, Fidel Castro is little more than an aging communist leader who periodically shakes a harmless fist toward our shores. But the man behind that beard is so much more. Now a new book tells a different side of Fidel Castro and his native Cuba through the eyes of three very special women in his life. The book is called Havana Dreams. And its author is Wendy Gimbel."

To highlight the kinder, gentler Castro, Jansing read a love letter in the book: "I want to read a little bit from one of the letters that he wrote. It says, ‘I remember you and love you very much. Some things are eternal and cannot be erased like my memories of you which will accompany me to my grave.’"

Jansing wondered if this book would change perceptions of the Cuban tyrant: "Do you think this book will give people a look at a whole different side of Fidel Castro?" Jansing empathized for Castro’s time in jail, "When he was in prison do you think that these letters were crucial to getting him through that period?" She concluded, "Well it is a remarkable story. I want to congratulate you. This morning the New York Times called the book ‘both breathtaking and shimmering.’"

Thai-Dyed Clinton.
Thai businesswoman Pauline Kanchanalak, one of the major Asian players in the DNC campaign finance scandal on July 13, became the fourth major figure to be indicted in the ongoing Justice Department investigation, following Maria Hsia, Johnny Chung, and Charlie Trie. The Washington Post reported that she and her sister-in-law were indicted on 24 counts, for allegedly steering $679,000 in illegal foreign campaign contributions to Democrats. Kanchanalak had such pull that the White House recommended her for a spot on a trade policy advisory committee that required a security clearance, even though she wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

News of the Kanchanalak indictment took up just 36 seconds of evening news time. NBC Nightly News completely ignored it, while ABC and CBS each devoted 18 seconds to the story. Dan Rather insisted Kanchanalak "and another woman were formally charged with funneling almost $700,000 in illegal donations from abroad, mostly to the Democratic Party." Mostly? The Post article detailed how all her efforts were devoted to Democrats.

Though she was invited to the White House more than two dozen times, and one of the White House "coffee tapes" showed her sitting next to Clinton, both networks skipped the embarrassing video of the President with Kanchanalak at his side.