In This Issue
If you Impugn, You Are Immune; NewsBites: The Alexis Nexus; TV, Print Outlets Slow to Recognize China Missile Scoop; OverHolster Overhauled; Revolving Door: NBC's China Waiver Saver
If you Impugn, You Are Immune
Two months ago, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz reported that National Journal writer Stuart Taylor was considering a job offer from Whitewater counsel Ken Starr as he wrote about the Lewinsky affair. All the interviews Taylor gave in the weeks that followed (including ABC's April 5 This Week and April 13 Good Morning America) raised the issue of his professional conduct. PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer dropped Taylor as a regular over the flap, but kept liberal historian Doris Kearns Goodwin despite her appearance in an ad for Al Checchi, a Democrat running for Governor in California. Taylor was a reporter, Lehrer claimed, while Goodwin was a commentator.
But when media ethics controversies arise over supporters of Clinton instead of media critics, the rest of the national media fail to ask questions. The New York Times reported journalists bought champagne for Clinton aides upon the dismissal of the Paula Jones case. (One journalist buying was New York Times reporter R.W. Apple.) But no one made an issue of that. Similarly, ABC reporter Linda Douglass's close friendship with Clinton crony Webster Hubbell and his wife Suzanna (noted in the last MediaWatch) was never raised as an ethical controversy. Here are some of the other neglected scoops about the ethics of Clinton allies:
1. KENNETH BACON LAYS AN EGG.
The news media jumped on the story that Linda Tripp, who
taped Monica Lewinsky, failed to disclose to the Defense Department
an arrest on her public record, according to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer. The Weekly Standard's
Tucker Carlson first questioned the propriety of the
Pentagon's release of Tripp's federal security-clearance form
in the March 30 issue ("Linda Tripp's Pentagon Papers"),
followed up in the May 18 issue by Jay Nordlinger ("Bacon
Tripps Up"). The New York Post's new columnist, former Clinton adviser Dick Morris, also pushed the story.
The scandal centers on Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon, who joined the Clinton administration after spending decades as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal (where Jane Mayer was a colleague). Pentagon aide Clifford Bernath told investigators for Judicial Watch, the conservative legal foundation, that Bacon ordered the leaking of the Tripp file to Mayer.
On May 21, Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon
noted not only had Bacon admitted to Judicial Watch that he
orchestrated the Tripp release - a violation of the Privacy Act - but
that Bill Clinton promised in 1992, when the Bush State
Department investigated Clinton's passport file, that "If I
catch anyone using the State Department like that when I'm
President, I'll fire them the next day." TV coverage? Zero.
2. HAIR-RAISING FACTS ABOUT SALON.
The Web site Salon drew notoriety for repeated attacks on Whitewater counsel Ken Starr, The American Spectator,
and conservative philanthropist Richard Scaife. Howard Kurtz
filed a long Style section profile on the Web-zine in the April
24 Washington Post. But Philip Terzian reminded readers in the May 11 Weekly Standard: "In March 1988, Jonathan Broder was fired from his job as Middle East correspondent for the Chicago Tribune because he had plagiarized a story by Joel Greenberg in the Jerusalem Post."
Terzian also recalled that seven years earlier, he found Broder had plagiarized a Newsweek profile of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. "I asked Howard Kurtz if he was aware of Jonathan Broder's history as a plagiarist, and he said that he knew about it, but had, after some reflection, decided it was not relevant to the present story." Tim Russert did not ask Broder about it when he appeared on the April 26 Meet the Press, and neither did PBS host Ken Bode when Broder came on Washington Week in Review May 8 to discuss the Middle East.
The national media, which picked up on Salon's focus on conservative philanthropist Richard Scaife, ignored an April 30 Washington Times op-ed by Mark Levin of the Landmark Legal Foundation on Salon's ideologically motivated donors. Levin discovered one of the site's principal funders, the Silicon Valley investment firm of Hambrecht & Quist:
"Multi-millionaire William Hambrecht, who until January 1, 1998, was the firm's chairman, is a major financial supporter of the President and Democratic Party fundraising efforts. As recently as last February, during the time Salon's reporters were piecing together their Richard Mellon Scaife-American Spectator-Parker Dozhier-David Hale-Kenneth Starr witness-tampering conspiracy, Mr. Hambrecht hosted a fundraiser for Democratic House candidates at his home in San Francisco, which was attended by President Clinton." Levin added that the firm's press releases note that Hambrecht oversaw major investments by Apple Computers and Adobe Systems - two other Salon funders.
3. OUTED T0 REPORTERS? LOVE, SIDNEY.
Liberal media outlets usually despise politically motivated
"outings" of alleged homosexuals. In 1989, the media raised a
furor when a Republican National Committee memo about then-Speaker Tom
Foley contained just a suggestive title: "Out of the Liberal
Closet." (The aide who wrote it was fired.) In Time,
Margaret Carlson demanded the RNC chairman's head: "[Lee]
Atwater's fouling of the civic atmosphere with vicious
misinformation is bad enough: compounding that with White House
hypocrisy is too much. If Bush really wants to prove himself a
political environmentalist in search of a kinder,gentler
America, he'd sack Atwater."
But in the March 30 edition of The Nation, gay left-wing media critic Doug Ireland was alarmed in late February when MSNBC reported Clintonites were leaking derogatory rumors about Ken Starr's staff. Ireland found: "Three members of the media confirmed to me that Sidney Blumenthal, the White House media counselor, had indeed been spreading such stories: They'd heard him do it. These reputable members of the Beltway media agreed to tell me what they knew only if guaranteed complete anonymity; they were afraid of losing access to White House sources, and of possible reprisals. Two said that Blumenthal had told them directly of the same-sex orientation of a member of Starr's staff, and a third said he had been present for a conversation in which Blumenthal made such a comment to a third person." Blumenthal denied it. But none of the national media picked up on this line of inquiry, or passionately called for Blumenthal's ouster.
4. MORT'S MAGAZINE: THIS SPACE FOR RENT?
Mortimer Zuckerman, the owner and Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News & World Report,
has been one of Clinton's harshest attack dogs on the scandal
front. In the April 6 issue, Zuckerman charged: "It is not the
President who is involved in the politically motivated abuse of
power; it is the politically motivated counsel. It's not the
President who is insufficiently accountable; it is the
Last summer, Village Voice media critic James Ledbetter argued the MRC's Brent Bozell was wrong to suggest Zuckerman's liberal bias was driving coverage: "Since the Daily News - which has historically shown minimal enthusiasm for Democratic presidential candidates - endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992, News [owner and] co-publisher Zuckerman has received leases from the Clinton administration worth more than $8 million a year. All told, Zuckerman's main company receives nearly $30 million a year from federal agencies."
(Ledbetter also detailed $1 million in annual contracts from the U.S. Navy for a company owned by Arthur Carter, who publishes the New York Observer. Observer columnist Joe Conason has been one of the primary attackers of Richard Scaife and his alleged conflicts of interest with Ken Starr.)
Ledbetter suggested: "A newspaper or magazine owner who is even partially dependent on federal contracts presents a challenge to editorial underlings: under what circumstances, if any, should such publisher-government ties be disclosed to readers?" A Nexis search for the term "Boston Properties" in U.S. News & World Report found no disclosure of Zuckerman's contracts in the magazine.
NewsBites: The Alexis Nexus
The Alexis Nexus. Before she was confirmed as Labor
Secretary, Alexis Herman figured in several Clinton scandals,
including Ron Brown's use of Commerce Department trade missions
as fundraisers, and the White House's possible funneling of
campaign donations to allegedly "nonpartisan" tax-exempt voter
But when Attorney General Janet Reno requested an independent counsel on May 11 for charges that Herman accepted cash for influence as White House Liaison, it attracted the same TV news buzz as other Cabinet probes: almost nothing. The decision drew a lead story from ABC's World News Tonight (where investigative ace Brian Ross first broke the story in January.) As with Ross's scoop in January, the competition balked: CBS gave it 26 seconds, NBC 18. CBS and NBC have yet to offer a full evening story on Herman's scandal.
Thirty minutes before the new probe was announced, CNN's Inside Politics was already piling on doubts. Anchor Judy Woodruff began: "At a time when many Americans are uneasy about the work of independent counsels, and the Clinton administration is downright fed up, another counsel appointment may be in the offing." Woodruff's second story asked how much the counsels have cost. The next day, all three TV morning shows offered stories, but only ABC's Good Morning America had an interview segment. Host Kevin Newman asked legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin: "How much is this going to cost?"
Arafat Allies. The Clinton administration gave Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an ultimatum: cede 13.1% more of the West Bank to Yassir Arafat and the Palestinians, or the U.S. will stop acting as facilitator in the peace talks, thus setting Israel up as an obstacle to peace if they didn't accept the loss of territory. The media followed that lead, painting Netanyahu as the stumbling block, while ignoring Arafat's flaunting of the Oslo Peace Accords as well as other Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Between May 4 and May 21, the big three networks and CNN made 15 mentions of the administration's ultimatum, but only Mike Lee of ABC News noted what Netanyahu pointed out on his U.S. trip: Israel had given up 27 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians already. As Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer noted, Albright's 13.1 percent figure was based not on careful consideration but to indulge a whim of Palestinian leader Arafat: "It was picked because Arafat already had 26.9 percent of the territories, and 13.1 would produce a nice round number: 40.0." The only hint that Palestinians might have to make concessions of its own was a vague comment from ABC's Gillian Findlay suggesting that Palestinians would have to "offer tougher security."
ABC's David Ensor committed this bizarre analysis May 13: "Albright today will try one more time to convince him [Netanyahu] that nonetheless, unless he's willing to make sacrifices for peace, his country will never be secure." As if Israel's people and soldiers who have died by the thousands in terrorist bombings and attacks, have never "sacrificed" trying to keep peace in Israel.
The Gail Gaffe. On ABC's World News Tonight May 14, anchor Peter Jennings assured viewers: "Whenever the President travels we watch him like a hawk." Really? Jennings was introducing video showing Clinton having trouble maneuvering because of a bad back, but ABC skipped video they surely would have highlighted if it involved Dan Quayle.
At a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift Clinton praised "the countless acts of individual kindness, like Gail Halvorsen, the famous Rosinenbomber, who dropped tiny parachutes of candy to Berlin's children. She is here with us today, and I'd like to ask her to stand." He stood.
None of the broadcast networks or CNN touched it, not even CNN's Inside Politics. FNC's Brit Hume highlighted it at the end of his show. Two days later on the CBS show Saturday Morning, Mark Knoller showed the flub, but blamed Halvorsen's mother: "It's probably not the first time that a man named Gail has had this happen to him." Co-host Russ Mitchell chimed in: "Those things happen, Mark."
TV, Print Outlets Slow to Recognize China Missile Scoop
Another Clinton headache arrived in the April 4 New York Times.
Jeff Gerth and Raymond Bonner reported the Justice Department
was looking to prosecute two defense contractors who may have
illegally provided China with space expertise that
"significantly advanced Beijing's ballistic missile program."
But in February, Bill Clinton "quietly approved the export to
China of similar technology by one of the companies under
investigation." The Times noted the chairman of that
company, Loral, one Bernard Schwartz, was the largest
individual contributor to the Democratic National Committee last year.
Network coverage? Nothing except on the Fox News Channel, which
reported it 11 days later.
On May 15, the New York Times reported that Johnny Chung told investigators that a large part of the almost $100,000 he gave Democrats in the summer of 1996 came from Liu Chaoying, who works on defense modernization, such as satellite technology, for China's People's Liberation Army. Two days later, the Times added how Clinton overrode then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher's decision to limit China's ability to launch U.S.-made satellites on Chinese rockets.
Where were the networks? On the 15th, in the midst of heavy coverage of Frank Sinatra's death, ABC devoted 75 seconds to it, CBS 27, and NBC 15. Two nights later, ABC reported one story, but CBS and NBC ignored it. A few nights later, the networks each devoted a few seconds to Newt Gingrich's announcement of a special committee to investigate the China matter (ABC 17, CBS 18, NBC 23). It took CBS five nights before it aired a full story, NBC six (offering only 62 seconds in the first five nights). NBC's Today didn't air a word on it in the first week.
The news magazines have also been AWOL on this story: In its May 25 issue, Newsweek matched its 20-plus pages on Frank Sinatra's death and its 11 pages on India's nuclear test with a page and a half on the China story. One U.S. official told Newsweek about Liu: "Getting [U.S.] parts and technology is part of her brief." Time and U.S. News offered nothing.
In the June 1 issues, only Time printed a three-page story, claiming "there may be less to the China connection than meets the eye." Newsweek offered a paragraph in its "Periscope" section. U.S. News made China the sixth item in its "Washington Whispers" section without any mention of missiles or Loral: "Clinton and Chinese leaders are miffed at Republican criticism of the administration's China policy."
As the end of her tenure as Ombudsman of the Washington Post
approached, Geneva Overholser acknowledged the charge of
liberal bias "sticks" in some areas. That's quite an admission
for someone who just a year ago reacted with disgust at the very idea
she'd be expected to contemplate liberal bias.
In her May 10 column she began by dismissing the liberal bias charge, noting the bias "toward the negative" and "toward conventional thinking." But she added: "All of this having been said, there are specific topics for which I think the charge of liberal bias sticks - either in current coverage or in coverage over recent years. These tend to be hot-button issues; many have to do with social change. I'd list abortion, Christian fundamentalism, environmentalism vs. business interests, the death penalty, guns, gay issues and military affairs. Add coverage of the South. And sometimes of civil rights or women's rights..."
She offered some illustrations, such as: "An April 1 news story said: 'This part of the country - states such as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas - has an attitude toward guns that is seldom seen, and even more rarely understood, in urban and more heavily populated areas.' A reader called this another example of the (perhaps unconscious) insularity...of those who write for metropolitan dailies. Since no one they know, or work with, or live next to, holds such views, those who do must be strange/weird.'"
"An Aug. 26, 1997, headline said 'Young Blacks Entangled in Legal System; Report Puts D.C. Rate at 50% of Men 18 to 35.' A reader responded: Were these men just walking down the street and then suddenly they became entangled'?"
Overholser didn't display quite such an open mind during a May 16, 1997 C-SPAN appearance. MRC Chairman L. Brent Bozell, the other guest, observed that the Post, but not the networks, had done a good job covering the Clinton scandals. Raising liberal bias agitated Overholser, who complained: "I'm uncomfortable with the format of this. I realize that it's probably not good for me to be on it. Everything we do turns to some ideological point."
Host Brian Lamb, realizing her anger at being paired with someone tainted by politics, asked if she'd been in politics. She shot back: "No, I wouldn't be in politics. I'm a journalist, I've been a journalist all my life and I'm very uncomfortable with having all these ideological discussions. I don't, I'm not here to defend an ideology and I really don't, you know, I think it's a mistake for me to be on."
Revolving Door: NBC's China Waiver Saver
A former NBC News VP lobbied the Clinton team to grant Loral
the waiver at the center of the China connection scandal, the
papers the White House released May 22 disclosed. Writing about the
efforts made by Loral Chairman Bernard Schwartz to secure approval
from the President for the deal with China, Washington Post reporters Roberto Suro and John F. Harris relayed May 23:
"The documents indicate that Schwartz, who has given more than $1 million to the Democratic Party since 1995, planned to raise the issue directly with National Security Adviser Samuel R. 'Sandy' Berger at a state dinner for British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Feb. 5. However, Loral Vice President Thomas Ross wrote to Berger a week later that Schwartz 'missed you in the crowd' and was not able to make his case. Instead, Ross, who served as a senior National Security Council official earlier in the Clinton administration, pleaded in his Feb. 13 letter for speedy action by the President: 'If a decision is not forthcoming in the next day or so we stand to lose the contract,' Ross wrote. 'In fact, even if the decision is favorable, we will lose substantial amounts of money with each passing day.' Five days later, Clinton granted his approval, despite what Berger advised him were Justice concerns that the move 'could have a significant adverse impact' on its ongoing criminal investigation....'"
Ross did hold a top position with the NSC, Senior Director for Public Affairs, a slot he occupied in 1994-95 until he jumped to Loral as VP for government relations. What the Post failed to note: Ross served as Senior VP of NBC News from 1986-89 and that wasn't his first swing through the revolving door. When President Carter took office Ross left his position as Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times to become Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.