MediaWatch: October 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 10

Revolving Door: Kaplan's No-Scandal Decree

Can you do a two-hour show on campaign fundraising and not use the word "scandal"? Incredibly enough, under the command of new CNN President Rick Kaplan the answer is yes. The September 15 Washington Whispers section of U.S. News & World Report relayed that at his first early morning board meeting in Atlanta, "Kaplan raised a few eyebrows by telling CNN staffers to limit their use of the word scandal in reporting on Clinton’s campaign fundraising woes." U.S. News added: "A longtime Clinton friend, Kaplan has stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom."

Weeks later, on October 7, CNN aired a two-hour special titled "The Money Trail: Democracy for Sale" which examined the GOP and argued for campaign finance reform, but also summarized charges against Clinton. Nonetheless, the phrase "Clinton scandal" was never uttered.

The words "scandal" or "scandals" appeared just four times. Twice in the Crossfire segment of the special liberal Bill Press claimed that Republicans are trying to use scandal to bring down Clinton since they can’t win on the issues. At another point, Moneyline anchor Lou Dobbs made reference to how "the campaign funding scandal hasn’t slowed the parties’ lust for soft money." And the fourth "scandal" mention? Here it is, from Brooks Jackson: "So, you want to be a Washington player, get next to the powerful, lobby for a tax break or a nice ambassador’s job? If you’ve got money, I can help. First, you’ve got to get around that law they enacted back in ‘74 after the Watergate scandal..."

Kaplan’s Grocery Bill

A federal judge ruled in late August that Rick Kaplan must pay a penalty to Food Lion for his role as Executive Producer of ABC’s Prime Time Live when it ran the infamous undercover story on the grocery chain. Federal Judge N. Carlton Tilley in North Carolina reduced the jury award from $5.5 million to $315,000 in punitive damages. The judge also lessened but did not drop the penalty on Kaplan and producer Ira Rosen, who is still with ABC. They must each pay $7,500, down from the original $35,000.

ABC appealed the ruling, but the judge rebuked the tactics sanctioned by Kaplan: "Despite the many protections necessary for the proper operation of the press, it would be a peculiar rule indeed which immunized illegal activity, undertaken with a consciousness of wrongdoing, from punishment and deterrence."

Clinton’s Bias Watchdog

Donald Baer left his White House Communications Director post in August to help create a new media monitoring magazine, Content. The ex-U.S. News & World Report Assistant Managing Editor who jumped to the Clinton team as chief speechwriter in 1994, has joined the magazine to be launched in early 1998 by Steven Brill, founder of CourtTV. A prototype, the Washington Post reported Sept. 8, features a cover showing the Big Three anchors: "We’re Never Sorry (Just try getting the networks to make a correction.)"

But don’t expect Baer to push for an article on the media skipping many Clinton scandal developments. In a September 23, 1996 Weekly Standard profile, Christopher Caldwell relayed, "One New Democrat who met Baer at a dinner last year described him as ‘bland beyond description, a fount of cliches. ‘Clinton was the moral leader of the Universe,’ and all that.’"