MediaWatch: October 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 10

NBC Presents Convicted Felon's Tales of Oppression Without Rebuttal

Susan McDougal vs. Nazi Starr?

Susan McDougal stands convicted of felonies in the theft of a fraudulent Small Business Administration loan. She is now jailed for contempt for refusing to answer vital questions about whether the President perjured himself in her trial. But Dateline NBC didn’t present her as a crook, but as a victim of historical proportions.

Stone Phillips spent the first of the October 5 and 6 pieces raising McDougal to martyr status through sympathetic accounts of her imprisonment. He interviewed one of her prison mates: "Butch told Dateline that while Susan McDougal was locked in her cell for up to 23 hours a day, other prisoners, even the accused murderers, were allowed to watch TV and socialize."

On the second night Phillips took McDougal’s outrageous claims of oppression to a new network TV low. McDougal compared Starr’s tactics to the Nazis, and Phillips didn’t even feign surprise at this remark. He merely elaborated: "Kenneth Starr a Nazi? To understand the depth of Susan McDougal’s hatred for the man who had her jailed, you have to understand the depth of her love for the woman who’s been her inspiration...Susan McDougal’s mother Lorette Hinley knows all about standing firm under enormous pressure. As a teenager in Nazi-occupied Belgium she saw first- hand how the Gestapo turned neighbor against neighbor forcing people to lie about loved ones who were then arrested or shot. She says her family defied them, going so far as to hide Resistance fighters in their basement."

Phillips continued: "Those lessons from the war were often told around the family dinner table in Camden, Arkansas but never with more at stake than in September 1996, the night before Susan was scheduled to testify before a Whitewater grand jury. She’d already been convicted of fraud, and she says prosecutors were offering to lighten her two year sentence if she’d testify against the Clintons, but that night she called her family together to tell them...she wasn’t going to testify at all."

After more Nazi comparisons by McDougal and her mother, Phillips finally asked: "Is it fair to compare Kenneth Starr to the Nazis? Isn’t Kenneth Starr just doing what prosecutors do everyday in this country, offering leniency to those who cooperate and upping the pressure on those who don’t talk?"

Phillips ended by lofting this softball: "Your family says that you could make two phone calls. One to the prosecutors, one to a publisher and you’d be free and you’d be rich. Are those phone calls you’ll ever make?" Phillips seemed to forget she has yet to serve time for the fraudulent Whitewater loans she and the Clintons never repaid.