MediaWatch: November 2, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 19

Only FNC Corrects Hit on Starr

No Prying About Limo Talk

In July, Ken Starr’s subpoena of Larry Cockell, the head of the President’s Secret Service detail, drew the ire of many TV reporters and legal analysts, who accused Starr of using him and other agents to circumvent attorney-client privilege between Clinton and his lawyers. Three months later, only David Shuster on FNC’s Fox Report corrected the error, discovering it in evidence released by the House Judiciary Committee.

Dan Rather’s opening to the July 17 CBS Evening News typified the media reaction: "At least three active-duty Secret Service employees were forced today to appear before special prosecutor Ken Starr’s grand jury to give testimony. This happened after Chief Justice William Rehnquist cleared the way for Starr’s unprecedented push to make the Secret Service tell him at least some of what it knows about the President’s personal life."

A day later on ABC’s World News Tonight, Mike von Fremd got specific: "The White House fears that Ken Starr wants to know what Cockell overheard during this limousine ride, when the President was with his attorney immediately after giving his deposition in the Paula Jones case." Not one TV story on either night included Starr spokesman Charles Bakaly’s assurance from the July 18 Washington Post: "We have never intended to question Secret Service agents about privileged conversations they may have overheard between the President and his private lawyers."

But on the October 15 FNC Fox Report, Shuster explained how grand jury transcripts and subpoenaed records revealed that Starr’s team didn’t even know Cockell was Clinton’s top protector. He was only called in because of his role as a supervisor, to explain Secret Service procedures. Shuster also found prosecutors never asked Cockell about what he overheard in the limo on the way back from the Jones deposition. Shuster reported: "Restricted by grand jury rules of secrecy, prosecutors were powerless as the Clinton team went into battle mode," and the media presumption about Starr’s motives "was driven in part by some speculation at the White House, speculation that...the White House liked to see out there because it was highly critical of Ken Starr."