MediaWatch: October 5, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 17


Zip on Trips
Members of the media continue to complain about over-coverage of the Lewinsky affair, but when more evidence broke in a policy-related scandal, not one network took the bait.

The September 19 Washington Times carried an Associated Press story reporting a recently found Democratic National Committee memo indicated the Commerce Department did ask the DNC in 1994 to suggest candidates for a trade mission to Russia, contradicting claims that the trips were not used to reward DNC donors with foreign business contacts. The memo "suggested that DNC staffers could use another list of suggested participants for a trade mission to Belgium as a starting point for developing a list for the Russia trip."

The article also pointed to another discovered memo showing that the DNC had been prompted by Commerce officials to put together a list of businesses within each congressional district.

AP reported Melissa Moss, the former head of the Commerce office of business liaison, which arranged the trade missions, told the Senate she had no knowledge of any lists from the DNC. Interesting developments, but none of the networks noticed.

Kendall's Conduits
The networks didn't buy Clinton lawyer David Kendall's "oral sex isn't sex" defense, but they lapped up his charges that the Starr report left out exculpatory evidence, that Lewinsky testified no one specifically asked her to lie.

Good Morning America co-host Lisa McRee started the Clinton defense September 22, insisting to Rep. Charles Canady that there was "lots of exculpatory evidence" in Clinton's favor: "Monica Lewinsky says that no one ever asked her to lie nor was there any sort of deal made of silence in exchange for a job....Doesn't that damage Ken Starr's case?"

That night on CNN's The World Today, John King relayed the Clinton lawyers charged Starr with a "grievous error," which they claim "raises grave questions about the fairness" of Starr's report. King didn't read from the Starr report, but just vaguely relayed a Starr letter in reply saying the White House attack on his report represented an "intentional effort to mislead" because the report did include Lewinsky's point, if not her exact quote. NBC's David Bloom read the same non-specific portion of Starr's reply.

On ABC's World News Tonight, Sam Donaldson mentioned Kendall's charge of "one-sided manipulation of evidence," but also quoted Starr's report: "What Starr did say in his report was, 'While the President did not expressly instruct her to lie, according to Ms. Lewinsky, he did suggest misleading cover stories.'"

What Heroes?
Even as impeachment hearings approach, comparisons to Watergate still rankle the media. On September 23's The World Today, CNN political analyst William Schneider insisted that while "Watergate gave us real heroes...the heroes of the current White House scandal just don't look very heroic," and though "Watergate gave us real villains," the "villains of the current White House scandal just don't look very villainous."

Schneider felt Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski were a martyr and a real pro, respectively, unlike Ken Starr, whose "excesses make the Office of Independent Counsel look dangerous." Schneider compared reporters Woodward and Bernstein to Internet tipster Matt Drudge instead of a reporter like Newsweek's Michael Isikoff.

Then Schneider mentioned John Dean whose "betrayal of his boss looked courageous...Now there's Linda Tripp whose betrayal of her friend looks contemptible." Unlike Watergate's G. Gordon Liddy, he described Bruce Lindsey as "too preppy" to be the "shadowy villain of the Clinton White House."

Schneider concluded with the two principals, describing Nixon as "a scheming and malicious figure who got caught subverting the Constitution," while Clinton was "naughty" and "a reckless and irresponsible figure who got caught with his pants down." As if the nation's chief law enforcement officer lying under oath before a federal grand jury doesn't subvert the Constitution or the rule of law.