In This Issue
Democrats Greedy, But GOP Worse; NewsBites; Impeaching GOP Budget Arguments; Moral Equivalence Weekly?; Sidney Blumenthal's Tall Tale
Democrats Greedy, But GOP Worse
Considering the ideology that inspires public broadcasting (commercial television millionaires are evil, the uncorrupted public interest is only found in public funding), it should come as no surprise that PBS is something of a tub-thumper for campaign finance "reform," especially in election years.
In 1992, Frontline aired both a two-hour special on April 15 by leftist William Greider promoting his book Who Will Tell the People? and an October 27 jeremiad by the equally leftist Center for Investigative Reporting. On January 31, 1994, an episode of Bill Moyers’ Journal promoted nine campaign finance activists, every single one a liberal. Frontline aired another pox-on-both-parties sermon for "reform" on January 30, 1996.
Bill Moyers returned to PBS after a long absence for the latest liberal installment on October 6, titled "Washington’s Other Scandal." Frontline apparently couldn’t stand the thought of devoting an hour to a President lying to Congress, a grand jury, and the entire public, since it was "just about sex" — even though eight years ago, then-PBS omnipresence Moyers hosted a Frontline full of moral dudgeon about the Reagan administration’s lying to Congress in a program suggestively titled "High Crimes and Misdemeanors."
Moyers began his latest sermon with footage of White House coffees: "These White House videotapes reveal the heart of a Washington where money, not sex, is the obsession. The story is not what two consenting adults did in private, but what our two political parties are doing to an unsuspecting public. The campaign of 1996, which cost $2.2 billion, was the most expensive in history and one of the most corrupting. Tonight, we will show you how both parties contrived to bend and break the law. While Janet Reno reluctantly investigates White House fundraising and Senate Republicans buried campaign finance reform, we will piece together the outlines of Washington’s other scandal."
To be fair, more than a year after PBS rejected live coverage of the Senate fundraising hearings as less important than its daytime kiddie-show lineup, Moyers did focus on several story lines that the networks paid almost no attention to last year — the DNC’s funneling of money to state parties, Harold Ickes sending donors to "nonpartisan" nonprofits registering Democrats, Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers and White House coffees and the milking of a poor Oklahoma Indian tribe. The narrator read from memos from Dick Morris and Harold Ickes about how to avoid the spending limits by using soft money for issue advertising which rather unsubtly promoted the President. But other than one reference to John Huang, Moyers failed to explore the allegations of illegal foreign contributions to the DNC. He only profiled one big-bucks Democratic donor — Charles Surveyor, the Oklahoma Indian leader who gave to buy access but never got what he wanted — and portrayed him as a victim.
Republican Offenses. Moyers attacked the Republicans with at least equal gusto. "The Republicans, too, have found ways to raise and spend campaign money outside the limits of the law." In contrast to impoverished Indians, two conservative GOP donors were painted as schemers who gave only to avoid responsibility for their products which killed children and polluted the earth.
Moyers highlighted Sam Brownback’s first Senate campaign in Kansas, focusing on last-minute ads against his opponent Jill Docking by something called Citizens for the Republic Education Fund which, Moyers noted, is a front for Triad, a Washington group which promises anonymity to donors. Viewers then saw Bob Cone in a promotional video for Triad as Moyers asserted: "But Cone had shown little interest in politics until 1994 when at least ten children had died in the swing cradles produced by his company, Graco Children’s Products. When the parents threatened to sue, Cone and his brother began contributing to candidates who promised to limit a citizen’s ability to sue corporate America."
Triad’s other big donor on Brownback’s behalf was the Economic Education Trust, which Moyers connected to Koch Industries, "a Kansas-based conglomerate." Over video of newspaper headlines about polluting violations and oil spills, Moyers announced: "The Kochs begin putting a lot of money into politics when their company’s behavior created legal difficulties and unwanted attention. By 1996 in state after state at the center of Koch’s business empire, legal problems were piling up," so they poured campaign money into those key states. Moyers sourly concluded with the Thompson hearings: "Senator Sam Brownback was named a member of the committee charged to investigate campaign finance abuses. His campaign would not come under public scrutiny."
The Real Scandal. But that’s not even the real scandal for Moyers. The real scandal is the failure of a liberal bill: "Three weeks before the investigation was shut down, Senate Republicans had killed efforts to eliminate soft money from campaigns. Just last month another attempt at reform reached the Senate floor with majority support. The Republican leadership, once again, buried it. So the arms race in dollars continues to escalate. And so does the selling of democracy." Moyers also complained: "The real scandal is the legal bribery built into a system where your political worth is determined by your net worth." And, to former DNC Chairman Don Fowler: "People with money should not be able to buy more democracy than people without money."
Perhaps in an attempt to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, Frontline failed to include nothing more than a faint echo of dissent. Republican Senators Trent Lott, Fred Thompson, and Don Nickles appear — but only in small taped bits, not interviews. The Frontline Web site contains transcripts of interviews that represent the most frequent talking heads: Ickes, Morris, Surveyor, and Senate Democratic investigator Elizabeth Stein.
The Web Shutout. Moyers ended the show: "If you believe the arms race in campaign money is undermining the very soul of our democracy, the Internet is a whole new forum for citizen activism. Frontline’s Web site for tonight’s report offers an easy guide to getting informed and connected via the Web."
If you don’t believe in campaign finance "reform," there’s nothing on the Web site for you. A directory on "What You Need to Know" is an encylopedia of liberal sites: the Center for Responsive Politics, the Center for Public Integrity, Common Cause, Public Campaign, Rock the Vote, the Environmental Working Group, the League of Women Voters, and Public Citizen. Several regional liberal groups were included, including Democracy South and Northeast Action (whose home page begins with the motto "Power to Progressives!"), as well as statewide "reform" ballot initatives in Arizona and Massachusetts. A link to the "Campaign Finance Information Center," run by the group Investigative Reporters and Editors, is touted for offering a reading list (all liberal tracts like Philip Stern’s The Best Congress Money Can Buy). Its "Expert Sources on Campaign Finance" doesn’t include a single expert against "reform."
Another Frontline Web feature is an analysis of "advocacy ads," heavily flavored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s complaints about the issue ad "loophole" in campaign finance laws. The PBS program and Web site could have benefited from a dollop of balance, and perhaps the best current site for arguments opposing campaign finance "reform" is the National Right to Life Committee.
One article by NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson rebuts the PBS argument with an appeal for free speech: "We respectfully submit that journalists should not characterize communications that are regarded as core protected speech under the First Amendment as ‘abuses’ or evasions of ‘the law,’ even though some advocates may employ such terminology. The First Amendment is not a ‘loophole.’ It is, among other things, the nation’s paramount ‘election law.’" It’s too bad that Frontline thinks it’s fair to leave this segment of the public unconsulted and voiceless on the taxpayer-funded airwaves.
As the first cabinet officer to go on trial for corruption in office since the Harding administration, one might conclude that Mike Espy warranted some network attention. The former Agriculture Secretary stands accused of accepting $35,000 in illegal gifts.
When the Espy trial began on October 1, only the Fox News Channel bothered to mention it that night with a full story by Rita Cosby. A five-day network drought of Espy coverage broke on October 6, when CNN’s Jim Moret discussed the explosive testimony of EPA Administrator Carol Browner. She said that Espy told her over drinks that new ethics rules were "a bunch of junk. I’m going to do like I did in Congress." Through the first two weeks of the Espy trial, ABC, CBS, and NBC ignored it.
Two networks jumped on an October 4 New York Times front page story to bolster Hillary Clinton’s "vast right wing conspiracy" charge.
On the October 4 World News Tonight, Mike von Fremd relayed the findings: "Starr says he first asked for permission to investigate the Lewinsky matter after learning about it from Linda Tripp. But The New York Times today reports that one of Starr’s lawyers was actually tipped off earlier by an attorney with ties to Paula Jones’ legal team. The Times says those lawyer are all members of a conservative legal organization called the Federalist Society that also found an attorney for Linda Tripp. This has given more ammunition to the First Lady’s claims that all of this is part of a vast right-wing conspiracy."
On his CNBC show Upfront Tonight, Geraldo Rivera wondered if "she were right about a conservative cabal plotting Clinton’s overthrow," insisting: "The finding raises the question of whether Mr. Starr lied, first to Janet Reno and later to Congress, when he claimed it was the phone call from Linda Tripp that triggered the request to expand the scope of this failed Whitewater investigation."
National Review’s October 5 Internet Update pointed out that some lawyers "helped Mrs. Tripp find a lawyer and conferred with Tripp’s friend Lucianne Goldberg about how to get her information to Starr. That’s it: basically, one phone call. Starr’s office did nothing about it."
NR added that the Times produced no proof to back up speculation that Starr’s office "could have been developing a strategy to persuade the Justice Department to expand the scope of the stalled Whitewater inquiry before the call from Mrs. Tripp." Perhaps most embarrassing, the Times claimed Starr helped with a friend-of-the-court brief in the Paula Jones case filed by the Independent Women’s Forum, even though the IWF never filed one.
A Life Sentence
A case of credit card fraud has been turned into the latest abortion battle, and on the October 8 CBS Evening News, correspondent Diana Olick jumped into the fray. Olick opened: "Locked inside this Ohio jail is a 21-year-old pregnant woman who wants to have an abortion. Sitting inside this courthouse is a judge who won’t let it happen." How? By sentencing the woman to six months in prison.
Olick included a clip of her telephone interview with Yuriko Kawaguchi, who complained: "She did not give me the right to choose...she pretty much dehumanized me, she took away all my rights." Olick did allow Judge Patricia Cleary a chance to defend her position, saying she thought her sentence was charitable. As she closed her segment, Olick declared, "When Kawaguchi is released in about a month, she’ll be close to seven months pregnant, forced to have her child."
Olick clearly implied that Kawaguchi was only one month along in her pregnancy when sentenced to six months. In fact, AP reported she was already more than five months pregnant at the time of her October 6 sentencing, well into her second trimester. Although Olick never stated it aloud, an on-screen graphic suggested the full story, quoting the judge: "I’m saying she’s not having a second term abortion."
With credit for time served, Kawaguchi was only sentenced to two months. So, she really had plenty of time before sentencing to exercise her right to a first trimester abortion, a fact Olick chose to ignore.
Impeaching GOP Budget Arguments
Again, White House Benefits from Misleading the Media
The media created widespread expectation that the videotape of Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony would show Clinton exploding in profanity and storming out of the room. When that prediction did not come true as the tape aired nationwide on September 21, Clinton's approval rating rose. The media began talking of a backlash, that the Republicans had overplayed their hand.
Left out of this triumphant spin: who fed the media this dishonest line? And would anybody care if the White House lied to them again? The day after Clinton's testimony aired, CBS's Bob Schieffer told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz that "his sources were on Capitol Hill, not the White House. But, he said, 'I got it from Democrats who'd been talking to the White House.
I do not believe the people I talked to would deliberately mislead me."
Kurtz added: "White House officials acknowledge that they knew this negative spin would eventually help Clinton. But they say they offered accurate guidance to reporters once they were briefed by the President's lawyers last Friday." If that was true, why were expectations so high on Monday? (One exception was NBC's Lisa Myers, who specifically reported before the video aired that Cinton did not storm out.)
On CNN's Reliable Sources September 26, Time reporter Karen Tumulty claimed many reporters got their information from Clinton aides who weren't lying, just misinformed: "I am told that he was quite angry from having sort of held it in and I think that is where the spin came from and it was one of the cases that we've had all along in this story, is that the people who really have the information are the people who aren't talking."
But on CNBC's Tim Russert the same night, Schieffer changed his mind about being misled: "By accident or design, we were deliberately misled on this. I'm absolutely convinced of that. Now whether this was done this way in the beginning, purposely and deliberately, I don't know. But I do know this for a fact: Once I went out with that story I got no call from the White House telling me 'Bob, you've gone too far.' I got no call from any Democratic official telling me, you know, that story is just wrong. They let it stay out there because they knew what was happening was it was building up expectations."
By focusing on expectations, the media made Clinton's performance -- not the truth of his testimony or the spin of his aides -- the biggest story in town.
Moral Equivalence Weekly?
In an era of TV news magazines dominated by celebrities, crime and cancer scares, Ted Turner deserves credit for spending $12 million to produce Cold War, a documentary about an important topic. But, there are troubling signs about what liberal historical revisionism and moral equivalence may be delivered in the 24-part series produced by British filmmaker Jeremy Isaacs. It began airing in late September on Sunday nights at 8pm ET and repeats five more times during the week.
Turner: Not triumphant the U.S. won. In a December 27, 1997 New York Times story reporter Mark Landler relayed: "Sir Jeremy said he was swayed when Mr. Turner told him he believed the documentary should approach the Cold War from the perspective of neither the United States nor the Soviet Union. ‘He wanted a project that dealt unjingoistically with the Cold War,’ Sir Jeremy recalled. ‘He did not want a triumphalist approach.’"
No honorable anti-communists? Even Time, partners with CNN in the NewsStand show, raised a concern. In the September 21 issue James Collins reported that the series reveals the moral deficiencies of the Soviet system, but Collins cautioned: "As for the portrayal of the U.S., there may be some lapses in perspective — in the episode on the McCarthy era, for example, it is unfortunate that the filmmakers found no honorable anti-communists to balance the comments made by those who were sympathetic to the party."
Research provided by a left-wing group best-known for its anti-Reagan activities in the 1980s aimed at undermining his policies in Central America. In the September 20 CNN preview of the series, producer Taylor Downing explained: "The National Security Archive suggested to us that they brief us, they provide us a background for each episode....So they would prepare for us a set of briefing documents for each episode."
U.S. propagandized just like the Soviets. Film researcher Miriam Walsh, on the preview show, contended: "I wouldn’t accuse the Soviets totally of contrived footage. I mean, the Americans were just the very best at contriving their material, and some of the propaganda films that came out of the States in the ‘50s and ‘60s are just shameless....And then you look at the Russian material and... you get people in the West going, ‘Oh, it’s so censored.’...To me, both sides are very censored, and that is one of the features of media in the Cold War that we’re very slow to see on our own side."
Sidney Blumenthal's Tall Tale
When Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal stepped outside the courthouse in February and blasted Ken Starr for improperly focusing on his contacts with reporters, it quickly became a point of attack for Starr haters and the media. On the CBS Evening News Eric Engberg noted over video of Blumenthal that Starr’s grand jury left him "raging about police state tactics."
But ABC’s Nightline and FNC discovered Blumenthal’s statement did not match what happened. On the October 2 Nightline David Marash played Blumenthal’s diatribe: "I was forced to answer questions about my conversations, as part of my job, with, and I wrote this down, the New York Times, CNN, CBS, Time magazine, U.S. News, the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Observer and there may have been a few others, I don’t remember right now. Ken Starr’s prosecutors demanded to know what I had told reporters and what reporters had told me about Ken Starr’s prosecutors."
Marash countered: "A look at the grand jury transcript shows prosecutors pressing Blumenthal not about his contacts with the media, but with the President, the First Lady and other top White House politicos and about the messages that they wanted Blumenthal to spin into the media."
FNC’s David Shuster revealed that the grand jurors "were infuriated" by Blumenthal, reporting October 6 that when he returned four months later "they took the unusual step of admonishing him." Shuster read aloud the testimony of the foreperson: "We are very concerned about the fact that during your last visit that an inaccurate representation of the events that happened were retold on the steps of the courthouse. We would hope that you will understand the seriousness of our work...and that you would really represent us the way that events happened in this room."
Shuster ended with an illuminating point about the political costs of playing by the rules: "Still the entire episode underscores the huge advantage the White House had in shaping the public debate, because even when misleading statements were spinning through the media there was nothing the prosecutors or the grand jury could do about them."
FNC demonstrated again how it offers a unique perspective. On September 23 CBS and NBC relayed the Democratic strategy of blaming the GOP for dragging out the Clinton impeachment inquiry, but only FNC picked up on Democratic hypocrisy.
"Republicans take a hard line," declared NBC's Tom Brokaw on Nightly News before Gwen Ifill found that even "one Senate Republican" decided "that House Republicans are too shrill." On the CBS Evening News Dan Rather emphasized the GOP's unreasonableness: "On Capitol Hill not only did the Republican-led majority reject any punishment deal, they're even talking now of a wider, deeper, longer investigation."
Only Fox Report viewers heard a different take, as FNC's Carl Cameron observed: "For the last couple of weeks the Democrats have said Republicans are in a 'reckless rush to judgment.' Now they seem to think that the GOP is moving too slowly."
After allowing House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt to charge that "if the Republicans don't want to drag this out we can do it fairly and judiciously and justly in the next 30 days or so," Cameron highlighted the Democratic change of ploys: "Quite a contrast to recent Democratic complaints that Republicans have moved too fast." To illustrate the point, Cameron played a clip of Democrat John Conyers from just nine days earlier: "What is it that we're rushing for? What are we trying to find? What deadline have we self-imposed on each other?" Cameron observed: "Republicans accuse the minority of trying to pick fights and cause distractions."