In This Issue
TV Touts "Reform"; NewsBites: no Label for Lois; Willey -- Why a Seven-Month Stall?; Turn Against the Right; Only Clinton Pals Welcome; Myers on Hubbell's Ties
TV Touts "Reform"
The DNC fundraising scandal has lapsed into obscurity. When the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee released their final report, none of the networks even mentioned it. But the Senate’s latest rejection of campaign finance "reform" legislation on February 26 drew angry network demands that liberal corruption should have been answered with new liberal rules designed to limit free speech, as if the Democrats might obey the new laws better than the old ones.
On ABC’s World News Tonight, Peter Jennings mourned: "Together the Senate and the House of Representatives spent more than nine million dollars to hold more than 30 days of hearings on how to change the rules, and even though so many Americans believe that money is more important to the process than their vote, which is not a pretty picture, and though many, many politicians believe the system is flawed, they will not be fixing it just yet."
"Republicans kill the bill to clean up sleazy political fundraising. The business of dirty campaign money will stay business as usual," proclaimed an agitated Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News. "Legislation to reform shady big-money campaign fundraising is dead in Congress. Republican opponents in the Senate killed it today. It was the latest in a long-running attempt to toughen loose laws that shield hidden donors with loose wallets and deep pockets." Rather complained the Senate was "all talk and no action."
NBC’s Gwen Ifill took hyperbole to a new level on the PBS show Washington Week in Review the next night: "It was a bill that was doomed to die. The last time you heard people so eager to claim responsibility for something like this, they were terrorists."
Campaign "reform" outranked conservative concerns at CNN. On the March 10 Inside Politics, CNN anchor Judy Woodruff began: "Pork-barrel politics was on the agenda today again at a news conference held by Citizens Against Government Waste [CAGW]. The group released its 1998 ‘Congressional Pig Book’ detailing who has brought home how much bacon from Capitol Hill."
Rather than exploring the pork-busting group’s ratings, Woodruff quickly shifted to a pro-campaign finance reform story featuring the left-wing organization Public Campaign: "William Proxmire used to hand out Golden Fleece awards for wasteful government spending....Now, Proxmire serves on the board of a group that has come up with another uncoveted prize."
Brooks Jackson reported on Public Campaign chief Ellen Miller’s press conference at which she awarded Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) "The Golden Leash" for, as Jackson described it, "extraordinary service to campaign donors." The story explained that McCollum, who has received $374,000 during the last seven years from the credit card and banking industry, is sponsoring a bill that "would make personal bankruptcy more difficult, thereby helping credit card companies collect more from those who run up big debts."
After a brief on-camera response from McCollum, Jackson continued, "McCollum’s bill has 181 cosponsors; all together they’ve received more than $11 million in donations from the bank and credit-card industries. Public Campaign hopes this award will focus attention on how money flows here on Capitol Hill — money they want Congress to limit." Later that night on The World Today, CNN repeated the Jackson story on Public Campaign, but didn’t even mention CAGW.
NewsBites: no Label for Lois
No Labels for Lois. Widows running for their husband’s seats in Congress are usually portrayed with sympathy, but it doesn’t always prevent unbalanced labeling. On the March 9 NBC Nightly News Gwen Ifill looked at two congressional campaigns in California featuring widows hoping to replace their husbands: Mary Bono, wife of the late conservative Rep. Sonny Bono; and Lois Capps, wife of the late Walter Capps, about the most left-wing member of the House. But Ifill didn’t portray it that way.
Ifill described Mary Bono this way: "Like her late husband, she’s a conservative Republican. But she’s a political neophyte who plans to pick up where he left off." She used no label for the other widow: "Democrat Lois Capps is also trying to pick up the political pieces. Voters decide tomorrow whether she should succeed her husband Walter in Congress. He died of a heart attack last fall." And Capps’ opponent? "Lois Capps’ race against conservative Republican Tom Bordonaro has attracted national attention."
Media Masochism Update. To demonstrate media excess in Monicagate coverage, some networks and print outlets highlighted a study showing exorbitant reliance upon weakly sourced material. But reporters didn’t bother telling viewers that’s no different than how they handled Iran-Contra.
CNN’s Inside Politics devoted a February 18 segment to a study of major networks and print outlets sponsored by the Committee of Concerned Journalists (CCJ). Anchor Jeanne Meserve explained it "shows, in the first six days of coverage, 41 percent was analysis/opinion; 25 percent was based on a single named source; 18 percent on anonymous sources; and one percent on two named sources." During a March 5 Nightline on how the public believed the media were over-covering the scandal, ABC’s Chris Bury also picked up the study, relaying the finding that "40 percent of all reporting based on anonymous sources was from a single source."
But a February 23 Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) press release announced that "contrary to the claims of some media critics," their study "showed no marked increase in the use of anonymous sources." Looking at the first ten days of Lewinsky coverage on the broadcast networks, CMPA found that "more than half of all reports (56 percent) cited at least one unnamed source. This is comparable to network coverage of the first month of the Iran-Contra scandal in November 1986, when 57 percent of all reports quoted unnamed sources."
Contrary to media self-loathing about unfairness to Clinton, the CMPA noted Clinton fared much better than his accusers: "Researchers tallied all 537 sound bites containing judgments of Mr. Clinton, and found nearly as many were supportive (48 percent) as critical (52 percent)....Other scandal figures, however, didn’t fare as well. Linda Tripp was criticized by 69 percent of quoted sources, and Monica Lewinsky was panned by 75 percent. For his part, independent counsel Kenneth Starr was criticized by 70 percent of quoted sources."
Family Matters. Media stars slammed independent counsel Ken Starr for bringing Monica Lewinsky’s mother, Marcia Lewis, before the grand jury to testify about whether she encouraged people to lie to investigators. In the February 23 Time, Margaret Carlson was typical: "We are now on notice that the conversations we have with our children are not safe from their government. It seems quaint that on the day Monica was handed over by Tripp to Starr’s deputies, she could turn to her mother with the expectation that whatever she said, Mom wouldn’t tell. But in Ken Starr’s America, moms do tell — or else."
Lewis’s testimony is hardly unprecedented. As John McCaslin noted in The Washington Times, Paula Jones’ mother and sister were required by the President’s lawyers to give depositions in the Jones case at the office of Clinton’s old law firm in Little Rock.
A February 24 New York Post editorial highlighted Iran-Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh’s criticism of Starr for interrogating Lewis, and noted: "Much of the press agrees with Walsh that forcing a mother to testify ‘against’ her daughter is an unbelievably cruel and virtually unprecedented act....Let’s take a look at Walsh’s own record. Consider: During the Iran-Contra investigation, Walsh subpoenaed Betsy North, the wife of Lt. Col. Oliver North, North lawyer Brendan Sullivan — even North’s pastor. In one go, Walsh flung down and danced upon spousal, attorney-client, and even pastoral privilege....To the best of our knowledge, none of those who currently profess shock — shock! — at Starr’s efforts even said boo about Walsh’s far more serious attacks on privacy and privilege."
Willey -- Why a Seven-Month Stall?
Just days after she first drew network attention by arriving with prosecutors to testify before the grand jury investigating the President, Kathleen Willey became an overnight media sensation. In a rare two-segment interview on the March 15 edition of 60 Minutes, Willey told her story of how President Clinton fondled her breasts and put her hand on his genitals in a study next to the Oval Office.
"Wow! That was something!" exclaimed NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer the next day. But why wasn’t the Willey story taken seriously when it first broke last summer?
On July 30, 1997, CBS Evening News aired a brief story (without naming Willey) on how Paula Jones’ lawyers had subpoenaed Willey to testify. Bill Plante warned: "But unless and until this case is settled, this is only the beginning of attempts by attorneys on both sides to damage the reputations and credibility of everyone involved."
That same day, CNN’s Inside Politics put a Willey brief at the end of the show and gave it 26 seconds on the evening newscast The World Today. The next day, CBS and NBC aired brief updates underlining Willey’s angry reaction to the Jones subpoena. ABC aired nothing.
On August 4, Newsweek’s new issue (dated the 11th) detailed how Willey had been a White House volunteer who asked the President for a paying job and was kissed and fondled. Newsweek quoted Linda Tripp saying Willey appeared "flustered, happy, and joyful." Network coverage? Zero.
But CNN’s Inside Politics devoted almost its entire show that day to unproven charges the GOP Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, had an affair with press secretary Cristyne Lategano. Bernard Shaw asked The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and Newsday’s Leonard Levitt about how the Mayor’s sex life had been undercovered: "President Clinton’s private life versus Mayor Giuliani’s private life. Double standard on the part of the media?" Both guests agreed.
In an August 8 news conference, ABC reporter John Donvan asked Clinton about refusal to comment on Willey: "Even for those of us who don’t have much appetite for this entire subject, this particular answer in this particular category seems needlessly evasive. My question to you is: Is it your wish that it be answered this way, and is it consistent with your intention to run an open White House?" But ABC still spiked the story.
Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry shamed reporters out of looking into Willey, refusing to discuss her. In his new book Spin Cycle, Kurtz discovered: "Clinton pulled McCurry aside for a rare word of thanks. ‘I think you handled that correctly and I appreciate it,’ he said. ‘I know it’s not easy.’" Reporters should have been less red-faced about the subject than by how easily they were played by McCurry.
Turn Against the Right
Journalist David Brock learned the secret of how to get on television. Blast away at your former allies in the conservative movement as a Clinton-hating "neo-Stalinist thought police," and the invitations will come.
The networks did not bite in 1992 when Brock first exposed Anita Hill’s weak case against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in The American Spectator. When Brock transformed that article into the book The Real Anita Hill in 1993, the networks balked again, except for NBC. On May 3, the Today show paired Brock with Hill defender Charles Ogletree, who charged him with "countless errors of fact" and "outright lies." NBC didn’t allow conservatives to debate pro-Hill authors.
Co-host Katie Couric asked Brock: "The American Spectator is an ultraconservative magazine, and it seems as if you are an advocate for Justice Thomas in the book. Is it really fair to call yourself an objective journalist?" Pro-Hill journalists were not asked that question. Later that year, none of the networks interviewed Brock when his Troopergate expose in the Spectator rocked the White House.
But when liberal journalists Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer came out with their anti-Thomas book Strange Justice in 1994, all the networks interviewed them and ABC devoted a 60-minute Turning Point special and a Nightline to their charges. Abramson and Mayer appeared on nearly every interview show on TV, and demanded at every one that Brock not be admitted to debate them. Despite a tough point-by-point refutation of their book in the Spectator, Brock was shut out.
All that changed in June 1997. Brock wrote an article for Esquire magazine titled "Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man" charging "neo-Stalinist" conservatives cared more about destroying Clinton than the truth. NBC’s Today interviewed Brock again — but without any conservative to attack him. He also appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press.
On March 10, after Esquire publicists flacked his latest article, a gimmicky open letter to Bill Clinton apologizing for focusing on his sex life, he basically spent entire days in front of television cameras. He appeared (unopposed) on all three morning shows, as well as shots on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, CNN’s Crossfire, two CNBC shows, and MSNBC.
Only Clinton Pals Welcome
At ABC News, you can chat with the President, but you better not write about the Vice President. ABC reporter Bob Zelnick revealed in a February 24 Wall Street Journal op-ed he was forced to leave when he refused to stop writing a book about Al Gore to be published by Regnery. ABC News President David Westin told Zelnick "we cannot have a Washington correspondent writing a book about one of our national leaders whom that correspondent will undoubtedly have to cover."
Zelnick wondered: "Would I have faced the same problem if I were an avowedly liberal journalist undertaking a book that made conservatives mildly uncomfortable rather than a moderately conservative one writing about a liberal icon? Had the proposed title been Gingrich: A Critical Look at the Man and His Climb to Power, would I have been forced to choose between my book and my career? I rather doubt it. Nor does the double standard stop with books. My friend and former colleague Sam Donaldson is again covering the White House six days a week. On the seventh day he does not rest, but rather appears on This Week With Sam and Cokie, where he is free with his concededly liberal opinions. Sam is a gifted reporter, and in 21 years I have never seen evidence of deliberate bias in his work. I think ABC is wisely using his talents. But where is his conservative counterpart, licensed both to report and to ruminate?"
If you are a buddy of the President and can influence the flagship program, that’s fine. In Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine, Howard Kurtz relayed this anecdote showing the close ties between an ABC News executive and Clinton: "Unlike many Americans, he didn’t watch the evening news. Clinton occasionally called a longtime friend from his gubernatorial days. Rick Kaplan, Executive Producer of ABC’s World News Tonight, a few minutes after the 6:30 program began, just wanting to chat. He seemed slightly surprised when Kaplan told him he was running a live newscast and would have to call him back."
Kaplan is now President of CNN, but while still with ABC Kaplan spent a night in the Lincoln bedroom. He told Electronic Media: "It’s nobody’s business." At ABC your personal views only matter if you’re conservative.
Myers on Hubbell's Ties
Twice in early March, NBC reporter Lisa Myers charged ahead of her TV colleagues by highlighting on the Nightly News evidence of hush money paid to Webster Hubbell.
When Vernon Jordan appeared on March 3 before the grand jury to answer questions about his role in getting Monica Lewinsky a job, Myers gave detail to a theme ignored by ABC and CBS and barely touched on by CNN, explaining: "Jordan is on the hot seat in the grand jury because not once but twice he arranged jobs for key witnesses just as they were in a position to provide damaging information about the President."
In addition to Lewinsky, Myers explained that "after Hubbell resigned from the Justice Department in disgrace, Ken Starr was pressuring him to provide damaging information on the Clintons. Jordan came to the rescue, getting Hubbell a $25,000 a month job at Revlon, allegedly to do public relations. But prosecutors suspect this was hush money." That’s a story all the networks ignored when first disclosed on May 27, 1997 by USA Today.
A week after her Revlon payment story Myers delivered the first broadcast network mention of another phony deal for Hubbell. Picking up on the news of the day that Starr might indict Hubbell for tax evasion, Myers explained on March 11: "The potential charges involve taxes on hundreds of thousands of dollars in controversial fees Hubbell received in 1994 after he resigned from the Justice Department in disgrace and before he went to prison."
Myers continued: "In all, the President’s wealthy friends provided Hubbell more than $500,000 in so-called consulting fees, far more than he ever earned in any year of his life. Some of the money came from the city of Los Angeles for work on an airport project, but the city’s controller found that Hubbell filed false statements, billing the city for work never done."
Myers deserves credit for getting some air time for the airport deal, but it took a few months. "Hubbell Cheated L.A., a City Audit Claims," announced a front page story in the June 24, 1997 Los Angeles Times, skipped by all the networks at the time.