MediaWatch: November 30, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 21

Perjurers Are Punished

For months, TV news viewers have been hearing that no one is ever punished, let alone charged, for committing perjury when lying about sex in a federal civil case. Over the past few weeks, though, Dateline, Today, 20/20 and NBC Nightly News all have discovered the case of Barbara Battalino and others imprisoned for doing just that.

As detailed by Dan Abrams on the November 11 Today, Battalino, a female psychiatrist in a Veterans Administration hospital, had oral sex with Ed Arthur, a male patient. When he sued her for medical malpractice, she denied it in the civil proceeding. Arthur then recorded his conversations with her, a la Linda Tripp, and Battalino found herself indicted by the Justice Department. "In that case," Abrams reported, "Barbara Battalino was charged with perjury and in a plea bargain received six months of home detention."

Stone Phillips also pointed out, during the first report about Battalino on the November 6 Dateline, that similar to the Paula Jones case, the federal court also threw out Arthur's case.

Sam Donaldson took it a step further, tracking down two more women, in addition to Battalino, who are now serving prison time for lying about sex in civil suits on the November 11 20/20. In addition to relating the specifics of each case, Donaldson also allowed federal judge Lacey Collier to tell why perjury matters in all cases: "If a person comes to court and cannot be counted on when he takes the oath, then that’s very destructive of the entire system because truth, justice, that is what we’re all about in the judicial system. And it fails when the truth is not told under oath."

But evening news viewers had to wait until the November 19 NBC Nightly News to find out from Pete Williams about Battalino and the others like her. While finally seeing these reports is gratifying, four are hardly enough to balance out more than 9 months worth of reporter comments that lying about sex is not a serious matter. In fact, Battalino’s story first came to light in a June 22 editorial by David Tell in The Weekly Standard. It would be another four months before network viewers would be told about her and the other cases, conveniently just days after the elections.