MediaWatch: October 5, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 17

Who Said Linda Tripp Had Rights?

Monica Lewinsky isn't the only one who hates Linda Tripp. The networks reliably jump on negative allegations against Tripp, but reliably ignore negative allegations against Tripp's enemies. For example, independent counsel Kenneth Starr questioned whether the audiotapes Tripp submitted were altered, and suggested if so, Tripp could be guilty of perjury. ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and the Fox News Channel all reported it. (NBC's Andrea Mitchell noted she's been compared to "the Wicked Witch of the West.")

On July 7, every network noted how Maryland had launched its own grand jury investigation into whether Tripp violated state law by taping her phone calls with Lewinsky. (None noted that night that the state prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, is a Democrat.)

Every network reported The New Yorker's allegations in March that Tripp lied on her federal job application that she'd never been arrested. As a teenager, she was once detained by Greenwood Lake, New York police over a missing wallet and watch another teenager had placed in her purse as a prank.

But that story carried a twist that reflected badly on the Clinton administration. The story's author, Jane Mayer, had contacted her former Wall Street Journal colleague, chief Pentagon spokesman and Clinton appointee Kenneth Bacon, and asked if Tripp had claimed never to be arrested on her application form. Bacon ordered Tripp's confidential personnel file released -- a possible violation of the Privacy Act and a clear violation of Pentagon security policy. But MediaWatch analysts found ABC and NBC have never reported on the Tripp-file scandal, and CBS only mentioned it in passing on a Sunday morning. Among the details skipped:

May 1: Clifford Bernath, the principal deputy to Kenneth Bacon, testified in a Judicial Watch lawsuit on the FBI files that Bacon ordered the leaking of the Tripp file. Network coverage? FNC's Rita Cosby reported the story. The other networks didn't.

May 21: Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon reported Judicial Watch's Larry Klayman forced Kenneth Bacon to admit he orchestrated the file's release. Sammon added that Clinton promised in 1992, when Bush's State Department investigated Clinton's passport file, "If I catch anyone using the State Department like that when I'm President, I'll fire them the next day." Bacon wasn't fired. TV coverage? Only a mention on CNN, even as Starr opened a probe into the Tripp leak the next day.

June 10: FNC reported White House fixer Harold Ickes was at the center of a Virginia grand jury investigation of the Tripp files. Ickes had "admitted discussing Tripp with Ken Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman." Other network coverage? Only a CNN story by Bob Franken.

July 11: The Washington Post reported Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the Defense Department to seize and search Bernath's hard drive after he admitted deleting files from his computer. Coverage? Zero. But the next day, CBS's Rita Braver mentioned Bacon in a Larry Klayman profile on Sunday Morning.

July 17: Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon revealed "White House officials searched their files for 'anything and everything' on Linda R. Tripp after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, but President Clinton refused to reveal that search to Congress." Sammon noted that days after Mayer's New Yorker article, Rep. Gerry Solomon (R-N.Y.) wrote the White House asking if anyone had pulled her White House file, which would have contained security clearance information. The White House never responded, but had pulled Tripp's files, according to a June 30 Judicial Watch deposition of Terry Good, director of White House records management. Coverage? Zero.

August 18: Judicial Watch filed a complaint in D.C. District Court demanding more documents and asking for sanctions against Bacon. The motion revealed that Bacon suspiciously promoted Bernath just days after the file release to Jane Mayer, and complained that Clinton Justice Department Attorney Anne Weissman prevented Bacon from answering questions unless they were narrowly interpreted as being about the original file release. Weissman prevented answers such as the names and qualifications for the other applicants for the promotion Bernath received. Bernath's new job included teaching Pentagon employees about privacy procedures. TV coverage? Zero.

September 4: Tripp was blocked from testifying in the Judicial Watch FBI-files suit by Starr's staff. Sammon reported in The Washington Times that Judge Lamberth was persuaded to postpone Tripp's deposition since the Filegate and Travelgate probes are at "extremely sensitive stages." TV coverage? Zero.

The Tripp leak also implicates Defense Secretary Bill Cohen, who declared on the April 26 Fox News Sunday "we know the individual who did it...he was responding to an inquiry from the press." Cohen's inference that Bernath released Tripp's file on his own is misleading, since Bacon personally told Cohen he'd authorized it. But Cohen appeared since May on ABC's Good Morning America (twice) and This Week, CBS's Face the Nation, NBC's Today and Meet the Press, and PBS's NewsHour without a single Tripp-file question.

If you went looking in the news magazines to find this story, you wouldn't find it either. Searching the Nexis news data retrieval system for the word "Tripp" within 100 words of "Bacon," Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report have failed to publish a single article on the Tripp file. Time mentioned Bacon's role in a negative June 22 profile of Klayman, in which Richard Lacayo began: "Even in the fang-baring world of Bill Clinton's most dedicated pursuers, Larry Klayman is in a class by himself."

It's strange to watch the media's conflicted feelings about the privacy of government employees. Clinton loyalists receive sympathetic coverage, while whistleblowers against Clinton get only dead air. National reporters lashed Rep. Dan Burton when he released recordings of Webster Hubbell's prison phone conversations (recordings which are required by law), but the manhandling of Tripp's personnel files by the White House and the Pentagon remain a shocking non-story.