MediaWatch: November 30, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 21


Livingston, We Impugn
The media seemed to approve of incoming House Speaker Bob Livingston. Unlike the monstrous Newt Gingrich, Livingston is a more conventional glad-handing politician than conservative ideologue. But CBS still found a way to attack him, Eric Engberg portrayed his legal fundraising work on behalf of House candidates as sleazy, if not unique.

Engberg explained how the unopposed Livingston had $600,000 in funds to give to other GOP House candidates. BOB’s PAC was created to distribute another $800,000. Engberg intoned: "CBS News also found that Livingston exploited gaping legal loopholes in the election laws to get more bang for his buck by channeling donations from business lobbyists through his PAC to other GOP campaigns...United Parcel Service sent Livingston’s PAC a check for $5,000, but it’s made out to a House candidate named Ernie Fletcher. Records show the check is earmarked for Fletcher and that BOB’s PAC simply passes it on to him. Livingston thus collects the political chit. All told, business PACs delivered checks totaling about $50,000." After two soundbites from the liberal Center for Responsive Politics, Engberg ended: "Livingston became the unopposed king of the Hill by first becoming the king of cash."

A Scary Growth
The media will often praise a conservative who starts leaning leftward by saying he has "grown in office." The Washington Post delivered a classic example of this cliche Monday, November 16. In a front-page profile, reporters Eric Pianin and George Hager wrote without irony that despite his conservative record, Livingston has shown "enormous capacity to grow," and that while arriving in Congress with "knee-jerk conservative views," he has since "matured into an adroit legislator."

Tripp’s Time Out
With the release of the Tripp tapes, the networks had enhanced capabilities to underline evidence of presidential perjury and witness tampering. But instead of focusing on the incriminating content of the tapes, the media took the more familiar tack of trashing the ones who exposed Clinton.

The November 18 CBS Evening News was typical. After citing a poll showing 62 percent agreed that Starr was not "impartial but, rather politically motivated and out to get the Clintons," Dan Rather hinted: "So is there any basis for this perception?" In a "Reality Check" segment, Eric Engberg found that, surprise, there was: "Before the tapes came out Linda Tripp told us she only did what anyone in her shoes would have done."

Engberg cut to the famous Tripp sound bite from outside the courthouse where she declares "I’m just like you. I am an average American who found herself in a situation not of her own making." Engberg interjected, "Time out. The tapes show her carefully coordinating her betrayal of Lewinsky with an accomplice, Lucianne Goldberg, book agent and self-proclaimed Clinton-hater." Engberg concluded: "Just another average American helping out a friend."

Tim the Tool
ABC’s Good Morning America provided Ken Starr a chance to warm up for his grilling by House Democrats when reporter Tim O’Brien peppered him with questions right out of the Democrats playbook the night before his testimony.

O’Brien asked, "Did you in any way assist Paula Jones’ lawyers in deposing the President?" and, "One of the things that people don’t this case, starting as a land deal in Arkansas became an investigation of lying about sex in the White House." Even when he posed a question that dealt with the substance of Starr’s case against Clinton, he downplayed its seriousness: "It amazes your defenders as you make this great case against the President, the public doesn’t seem to buy it. They say, yes, adultery is wrong, lying is wrong, especially under oath, but is it worth all this time and all this money and possibly removing the President? Why is this offense so great?"

On June 11, 1990, as Reagan aide John Poindexter’s fate laid before a judge, O’Brien didn’t check a poll to measure morality. He reported the judge must determine "what punishment it will take to teach a lesson about abuse of power to John Poindexter, to those who follow him in the corridors of the White House."