In This Issue
Networks Plug Brill's Attack on Ken Starr; NewsBites: Kelly's Heroes; Keeping Quiet on Clinton's China Trip; "Damaged by CNN", Says One of Network's Own'; Pounding the Primitives
Networks Plug Brill's Attack on Ken Starr
Piously Pro-Clinton Content Analysis
Professional critics of the news media would seem to be the least likely subject for news reports. Why would the media elevate their critics to prominence and perhaps damage their reputation? Five years ago, Newsweek media writer Jonathan Alter dismissed critics on the right and left: "What you realize is these people aren't really interested in media criticism. What they're doing, often, is just ax-grinding for a political view in the guise of media criticism."
The media did not apply this logic to Steven Brill, who debuted his journalism review Brill's Content with press releases on June 13. When asked on Today June 15 if the magazine was a "positive step for consumers of journalism," Alter replied: "I do. I generally think if we're going to dish it out in the media, we have to be willing to take it when it comes to criticism, and a lot of people look awfully bad in this story." What made Brill different?
His direct-mail sales package declared war: "Name the industry that, when it comes to power, lack of accountability, arrogance, and making money in the name of sacred constitutional rights, actually makes lawyers look good...The media." That and the magazine's high-finance launch gained him one early booking on the Today show.
But Brill's first issue didn't create a TV news frenzy for criticizing the media, but because it contained a very partisan, one-sided, Clinton-echoing cover story attacking independent counsel Ken Starr. In a 24,000-word article titled "Pressgate," Brill sounded like Alter's description of "ax-grinding for a political view in the guise of media criticism." He charged Starr with Aunethical if not illegal" leaks of secret grand jury testimony, even claiming Starr was the law-breaker, not Clinton: "There is a lot more evidence of Starr and some of his deputies committing this [leaking] felony than there is of the President or Vernon Jordan committing a felony."
A Sunday Smash. Brill also asserted "the press seems to have become an enabler of Starr's abuse of power." That's a curious charge considering the attention Brill received. Within hours of a Saturday New York Times Web dispatch, the alleged Starr-enabling press invited Brill to a William Ginsburg-style Sunday morning parade for his allegations: NBC's Today, CBS's Face the Nation, CNN's Late Edition, and Fox News Sunday. Brill's interviews focused primarily on the Starr vs. Clinton angle, not media performance, and Brill did not divert the networks from the anti-Starr line.
What About Brill? While they didn't ask about their own reports, network stars didn't refrain from asking Brill about his lack of focus on White House tactics. On CBS's Face the Nation, Gloria Borger wondered: "Ken Starr's people might say that the media had been manipulated in fact by the White House on this story." Bob Schieffer added: "Do you think in fact this has helped Ken Starr because his poll ratings, when you go out around the country, if he was using the media in this way it does not seem to have helped him."
But the Sunday night newscasts matched the White House spin. On ABC, Carole Simpson announced: "Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr has admitted in an interview released today that he and his office were the source of some of the leaks about his investigation into President Clinton. The news may come as no surprise in Washington, but the fact that he said it -- that's another matter." On CBS, Bob Schieffer trumpeted how "Steven Brill drops a bombshell." On NBC, law professor Paul Rothstein insisted: "If there's a lot more under the surface, it could lead to possible dismissal of Kenneth Starr."
Skeptical coverage of Brill's partisan background was very slow to appear. By Monday morning, conservatives were sending around Federal Election Commission records showing Brill had donated $2,000 to the Clinton-Gore campaign, as well as more than $9,000 to other liberal Democrats, such as Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). CNN and the Fox News Channel reported it that night, but the Big Three networks never mentioned it on the evening shows. ABC's Good Morning America and CBS This Morning touched on it, but despite Brill's repeated appearances on NBC, they never reported Brill's Democratic donations until Meet the Press host Tim Russert brought it up six days later.
Inept Starr? On Monday night, the networks again loaded negatives on Starr. Dan Rather referred to Starr's "secret briefings." But the reporters knew the contacts occurred, so if they were so newsworthy why didn't anyone report them months ago? On ABC, substitute anchor Charles Gibson insisted this feeding frenzy was all Ken Starr's fault, as if the network news producers had nothing to do with it: "By admitting he did talk to reporters hasn't Kenneth Starr handed the White House an enormous political opportunity?" On Tuesday, Ken Starr answered Brill with a stinging 19-page rebuttal on the facts and the law. The networks covered the story -- all except ABC's World News Tonight, which never mentioned it.
As the week wore on Brill showed up on CNN's Larry King Live, and MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams. Brill appeared on the Today show on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, and then on the next Sunday's Meet the Press. Brill received more publicity from the networks in a single week than other media critics had gained in decades.
What About Walsh? None of the TV stories offered much historical perspective. Reporters suggested prosecutors like Lawrence Walsh talked to reporters regularly, but they did not mention controversies over Walsh's leaking of grand jury testimony. Mark Levin, a former attorney for Attorney General Ed Meese, remembered Walsh's treatment of grand jury testimony in the February 16 Washington Times: "Before Mr. Walsh's final report on his Iran-Contra investigation was released to the public, I filed several motions with the Special Division overseeing Mr. Walsh's investigation objecting to, among other things, over 600 hundred references to secret grand jury testimony. Remarkably, some of the same journalists and pundits who are now decry alleged leaks of grand jury information in the investigation of Bill Clinton -- leaks which they and Mr. Clinton place at Mr. Starr's door without any substantiation or hard evidence -- were not as worried about the sanctity of the grand jury process during the Iran-Contra investigation. In fact, the Society of Professional Journalists, among others, filed an emergency motion with the Special Division demanding 'full disclosure' of Mr. Walsh's final report -- including grand jury testimony and allegations of criminal misconduct."
Other Angles? The networks failed to devote a fraction of the Brill coverage to other scandal developments less favorable to the President. On June 12, Los Angeles Times reporters David Willman and Ronald Ostrow found that Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey was contacting potential witnesses in the Lewinsky probe: "After reviewing Lindsey's actions, a federal judge has sharply questioned why a lawyer on the government payroll was doing this kind of sleuthing....'The court questions the propriety of the President utilizing a government attorney as his personal agent in a personal attorney-client relationship,' Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson wrote....Independent counsel Kenneth Starr wants to know what Lindsey said during his contacts and whether Lindsey crossed the line from innocuous fact-finding to implicitly coaching a witness' testimony." Network coverage? Zero.
Brill ended his article with a list of recommendations, including: "No one should read or listen to a media organization that consistently shows that it is the lapdog of big, official power, rather than a respectful skeptic." Then no one should have paid attention to Brill's magazine, which quickly decided the White House was "not the story" in Monicagate coverage. But if Brill had spent his first issue criticizing only the press instead of the prosecutor the press despises, Brill's Content might have joined other media critics sitting behind a stone wall of near-silence on the networks.
NewsBites: Kelly's Heroes
Kelly's Heroes. Spurred by alarmist predictions from environmentalists, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell demanded that Al Gore and the federal government do more to save the seas. For the June 12 Today, O'Donnell accompanied Gore and his fellow greenies to a summit on the world's oceans in Monterey, California. On the trip Gore remotely piloted an underwater vehicle to explore "a place that many believe must be rescued by government action and money."
Every one of O'Donnell's questions to Gore came from the left. "The hundreds of scientists who are gathered here know your passion for the environment but at the same time many of them feel an urgency even an anger that more hasn't been done."
Man was portrayed as evil: "And still more evidence of man's interference. Overfishing, that has depleted a third of the world's fisheries. As someone who is going to run for President in the not too distant future, are you prepared to take on those who oppose protecting the environment, those who see protecting the ocean as maybe harming the livelihoods of those who make a living here?"
O'Donnell added: "Mr. Gore unveiled the Administration's plan: $30 million to explore the oceans, track climate changes, preserve endangered coral reefs and clean up polluted waters. In addition once secret military information, that could help civilian scientists, will be declassified. Is that enough?...While he [Gore] got a warm welcome at the ocean summit, some scientists say the new commitments don't go far enough."
Liberal Book Club. For Time magazine's June 8 issue celebrating "100 Artists & Entertainers of the Century," Senior Writer Paul Gray cited ten books that "changed minds and lives," most of which sounded like college textbooks excavated from a liberal's closet.
Gray noted the importance of Anne Frank's diary and Solzhenitsyn's chronicle of Soviet labor camps The Gulag Archipelago, but the other eight came from liberal icons, like philosopher John Dewey, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Sigmund Freud, Simone DeBeauvoir and Rachel Carson. Gray wrote of Carson's Silent Spring: "Her vivid descriptions of the ensuing damage [of poisonous fertilizers] to the environment -- including animals, birds and humans -- made ecologists of her many readers.
Gray listed leftists like economist John Maynard Keynes and his most famous text, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Gray wrote, "By positing that government spending could revive sagging economies, Keynes rewrote the rules of free-market capitalism." Time couldn't concede Keynesianism failed to rewrite the rules of capitalism.
Gray credited Michael Harrington's 1963 work The Other America for scratching the "ingrained, persistent poverty beneath the affluent surface of U.S. life...Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty was launched by Harrington's book." Harrington wrote, "There is only one institution in the society capable of acting to end poverty. That is the federal government." Time ignored right-leaning life-changing literature like Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, or even Witness C by Whittaker Chambers, a former editor of Time magazine.
Military Modesty? On June 9, a front page Washington Post headline announced: "Army Plans Modest Makeover of Combat Divisions." Post staff writer Bradley Graham explained: "The army has decided to trim troop strength in the 18,000-soldier divisions by a modest 13 percent."
But when the Republican Congress wanted to slow the rate of increase in Medicare and Medicaid spending, the Post incorrectly labeled the legislation as containing "huge," "massive," and "large" cuts. In a 1996 MediaWatch study of print media coverage of Republican Medicare proposals, the Post led all publications surveyed with 397 uses of "cuts" and its variants in 370 stories. In the June 30, 1995 Post, reporter Judith Havemann suggested: "Think of the upcoming battle for Medicaid as though it were the battle of Manila," with more than 100,000 dead Filipino civilians. "The battle received little attention despite its enormous impact. The same thing could happen to Medicaid."
Keeping Quiet on Clinton's China Trip
Networks Provide Silence on Fundraising, Missile Scoops
Isn't arming a communist nation with missile technology and accepting donations from communist military officials worth a few minutes of network air time? President Clinton left for China with very little media emphasis on his China scandals - either the illegal campaign contributions or the waivers for satellite technology. Since June 5, the networks offered almost nothing on developments reported by newspapers.
The only TV updates on the missile scandal came on June 11. CNN's Wolf Blitzer and NBC's Claire Shipman alluded to that day's Washington Post report by John Mintz on how a newly inaugurated Clinton dropped his campaign pledge and endorsed Bush's policy of allowing satellite deals "despite evidence that China had sold ballistic missile parts to Pakistan, declassified White House documents show." Also ignored:
June 13: New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth found: "For the past two years, China's military has relied on American-made satellites sold for civilian purposes to transmit messages to its far-flung army garrisons, according to highly classified intelligence reports. The reports are the most powerful evidence to date that the American government knew that China's army was taking advantage of the Bush and Clinton administrations' decisions to encourage sales of technology to Asian companies."
June 16: Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz found: "China is discussing sales of missile test equipment to Iran and is helping Libya develop its own missile program... The reports contradict administration claims that Beijing has improved its record on weapons proliferation."
June 18: Gerth reported in The New York Times that the U.S. was backing down on a large satellite deal due to "American intelligence reports about Shen Rongjun, the Chinese Army General who oversees his country's military satellite programs...In an unusual arrangement, Hughes Space and Communications hired General Shen's son, a dual citizen of Canada and China, to work on the project as a manager... Father and son were both directly involved in the project, and American officials said the intelligence reports said the General was pressing his son to move it forward."
June 20: The Washington Post relayed another allegation from Johnny Chung, that Democratic officials knew they were accepting illegal Chinese money. At least that disclosure generated a CNN story, but just 19 seconds on the CBS Evening News and nothing on ABC and NBC.
"Damaged by CNN", Says One of Network's Own'
CNN "damaged" the U.S. and helped Saddam Hussein with a "Hitlerian" program alleging the U.S. used deadly nerve gas against defecting soldiers in 1970 Laos. So contended CNN's very own military affairs consultant, Perry Smith, after viewing the June 7 premiere of NewsStand: CNN & Time.
Two weeks after the original report narrated by Peter Arnett, co-host Jeff Greenfield acknowledged the controversy and how "CNN's military consultant, retired General Perry Smith, resigned in protest over that story. Other voices have been heard calling that story into doubt. We take these voices seriously." But CNN hardly conveyed the depth of Smith's anger or their efforts to cover it up.
Howard Kurtz reported in the June 17 Washington Post that "Smith quit after failing to convince Tom Johnson, Chairman of the CNN News Group, that the network needed to retract the story" which was also published in Time magazine. "'I can't work for an organization that would do something like this and not fess up to it,' Smith said yesterday."
Kurtz explained how Smith found the story lacking: "Smith flew 130 combat sorties over Laos from 1968 to 1969 and said he never heard of lethal gas being used. He said he has consulted such former high-ranking military officials as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, who assured him that no nerve gas was used by the United States during the war. Smith quoted Schwarzkopf as calling the allegation 'ridiculous.' Smith also tracked down two pilots who delivered gas to Laos that day from an air base in Thailand. Both said they had carried non-lethal tear gas, not poisonous nerve gas."
Kurtz relayed this condemnation from the man who spent years on the inside: "'CNN has damaged the United States of America quite seriously,' Smith said. Referring to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he said: 'Saddam can now accuse America of hypocrisy and use CNN as a source.'" Smith told Washington Times reporter Jennifer Harper the next day: "CNN vowed they would never sink to tabloid journalism, that they would be honest and straight-forward. Then they air this story, which is almost Hitlerian in concept."
But if CNN, which demands openness from everyone else, had its way, Smith would never have spoken. WorldNetDaily Editor Joe Farah learned that CNN threatened the retired Air Force Major General with a lawsuit if he kept talking: "Smith was told by CNN lawyers, in no uncertain terms, to shut up."
Pounding the Primitives
"Seldom has a religious statement been so misconstrued," assessed Newsweek religion writer Kenneth Woodward after seeing the media reaction to the adding of a new plank to the official "Baptist Faith and Message." Dan Rather, for instance, declared on the June 10 CBS Evening News: "New changes in the church's official formal statement of beliefs are sparking big debate today across religious boundaries. Southern Baptist leadership now takes the view that quote, 'a wife is to submit graciously to her husband's leadership.' CBS's Bob McNamara has chapter and verse on this controversial interpretation of a woman's place."
As Woodward explained in the June 22 issue, the "Apostle Paul set forth rules for godly family relationships. 'Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,' runs a typical passage that later became sacred scripture. 'Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly,' he continued." But, he observed, "when delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution saying that a wife should 'submit graciously to her husband's leadership' -- a paraphrase of Paul -- the media reacted as if the Baptists were promoting heresy. From a secular perspective, they were."
The Baptist statement, Woodward pointed out, "twice mentioned the equality of husbands and wives," but "this was barely noted in media reports." Indeed, of the network stories, only ABC's Peggy Wehmeyer told viewers: "The husband and wife are of equal worth before God" and "a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church."
Instead of bringing understanding of religious doctrines to their viewers as Woodward had to his readers, NBC propounded a nefarious interpretation. Leading into a clip from the Dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School, reporter George Lewis brusquely charged: "The Southern Baptists quote the Bible, the Book of Ephesians, to back up their contention that women should follow men, but other theologians point out that in the 19th century the Southern Baptists used the same scripture to justify slavery."