Complaints About Over-Coverage; Hillary's GMA Slide; Rather Nutty
Bumped but bouncing back. MRC Chairman L. Brent Bozell was bumped at the last minute from Wednesday's Today show. Apparently, he failed to clear his appearance with the VRCCC (Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Control Center). But, he is scheduled to appear in the 9:30am ET half hour of CNN's Morning News, this morning, Thursday, January 29. No guarantees, however. After all, CNN President Rick Kaplan, who produced CNN's Wednesday night media self-flagellation session "Investigating the President: Media Madness?" doesn't think much of Bozell or liberal bias.
Recall this from a January Vanity Fair profile: "Right-wing critics such as Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media and columnist Brent Bozell have charged that Kaplan let his friendship with the President cloud his news judgment at ABC, and will now turn CNN into the 'Clinton News Network.' Kaplan brushes Irvine and Bozell aside contemptuously. 'If they weren't such liars they wouldn't make whatever money they make,' he said. 'There'd be no purpose for them on the planet.'"
Wednesday night the broadcast networks led with Clinton's Midwest trip and all reported on Leon Panetta's grand jury testimony as well as how a lawyer for an Oregon man with whom Lewinsky had an affair suggested she likes to exaggerate. CBS added a tidbit about Lewinsky's dress. Both CBS and NBC featured stories on how the public believes the media are overplaying the sex scandal story. ABC's "A Closer Look" and NBC's "In Depth" segments examined the danger to presidential-agent trust posed by Ken Starr's decision to subpoena Secret Service agents. Tom Brokaw wondered: "Will the vow of silence that is part of the job be shattered by Monica Lewinsky and the scandal?" Only ABC mentioned the indictment of Charlie Trie.
Some other notes and quotes from the January 28 evening shows:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Following a pieces from Sam Donaldson on Clinton's trip, which Donaldson began with video of the presidential 707 stuck in mud, Cokie Roberts on reaction to the State of the Union and Jackie Judd on the day's scandal developments, Jennings took 28 seconds to inform viewers:
"We learned today about the first major indictment in the campaign fundraising investigation. ABC's Linda Douglass reports that Charlie Trie, the elusive Little Rock businessman and friend of the President, has been charged with several counts, including obstruction of justice. During the 1996 campaign Mr. Trie funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal foreign campaign contributions to the Democratic Party. But although he has been charged, he has not been arrested because he cannot be found."
-- CBS Evening News. Up first, Scott Pelley. He explained how Starr and Lewinsky had yet to make an immunity deal. Switching to Clinton's trip, Pelley noted: "Today Mr. Clinton began a new campaign, the campaign to save his presidency." Pelley moved on to report that the FBI had completed DNA tests on Lewinsky's dresses.
Next, CBS ran a full story from Sharyl Attkisson on Air Force One getting stuck in Illinois and an item skipped by ABC and NBC: how Air Force One experienced a near miss while leaving the Washington area.
The show ended with a piece on the warm reception for Clinton in Champaign Illinois, but reporter Harry Smith also highlighted people who felt the media are overdoing it. Some excerpts:
Harry Smith: "Even Republicans, like Joe Ricks (sp?), waited for more than two hours to see Bill Clinton."
Joe: "I think things are great in the country right now. Unemployment is lower than it's ever been. People are making more money than they're ever made. I think we need to get behind and rally behind and support him."
Smith: "The President came to Champaign today perhaps looking for a little comfort. He got darn near a heroes welcome..."
Joe is quite the model Republican, just the model loved by liberal reporters.
Smith later continued "...It was as if the President left his troubles behind in Washington and a hostile media too. Lee Roberts says the media just doesn't get it."
Roberts: "I don't care about his personal life."
Smith: "Are they two separate issues?"
Roberts: "Two separate issues. It's not any of my business about his personal life."
-- NBC Nightly News. Reporting in from Clinton's stop in La Crosse, Wisconsin, David Bloom explained that investigators are probing why Clinton associates made such an effort to find Lewinsky a job when the official line is that she was transferred from the White House for poor performance, (work-wise that is). Leading into a clip from Hillary Clinton's appearance on Good Morning America, Bloom declared: "Despite the President's assurance last week that the President would not dodge such questions, the First Lady made clear today the White House has now settled on a different strategy: silence."
Brokaw noted that NBC's latest poll pegged Clinton's job approval at all time high of 68 percent. Next, reporter Claire Shipman outlined the latest three-pronged White House strategy: keep the President busy, discredit Starr and raise questions about Lewinsky's character.
The media can help with numbers two and three.
For the last story Roger O'Neill checked in from Eagle, Colorado where, surprise, surprise, he discovered: "The drumbeat of accusations in Washington registers as a dull thud here." Getting reaction to Clinton's State of the Union speech, O'Neill effused: "What these five baby boomers judged Clinton on last night were his plans to rescue Social Security and help education, presidential visions of the future rather than the frenzied melodrama of the past..."
On Tuesday, NBC's Matt Lauer stuck to the intern scandal when he interviewed Hillary Clinton on Today. His questions may not have been particularly tough and he failed to challenge her wacky conspiracy theory, but at least he didn't wander from the scandal and Bill Clinton's honesty. The same can't be said for Lisa McRee's interview live from the White House on Wednesday's Good Morning America. Other than a couple of questions at the end about the right-wing conspiracy idea, McRee tossed a bunch of softballs to the First Lady. She started by portraying the scandal as an annoying distraction. Some of her questions included more admiration than inquiry while others wandered far from the scandal. Afterwards, she praised Mrs. Clinton for talking "about things that really do matter in terms of the country and the world."
Here are McRee's questions:
McRee: "The State of the Union last night -- how did he do? One to ten?"
McRee: "Weren't you worried a little bit, was the President worried that the nation's attention and Congress' attention might not be focused on the policies and the programs he wanted to talk about?"
McRee: "I think it also proves he does have an amazing
ability to focus. Just minutes before the State of the Union
address, this is such an important speech for him, particularly
this year, there is another news report regarding the Monica
Lewinsky story. A former lover comes forward, makes allegations in a news conference. How do you not become distracted for even a moment by that?"
McRee: "We're heading down a dangerous road with Iraq, and the President has been saying that he can focus on it, he can do this, he can do both at the same time. But doesn't this matter really need to be wrapped up quickly for him to devote his full attention to Iraq?"
McRee: "We have to ask the Monica Lewinsky question. You said that you heard of the allegations as the story hit the press last week, as most of the nation did. Did you privately ask your husband if it was true?"
McRee: "Do you believe he's told you the whole story?"
McRee: "What is it about your husband, Mrs. Clinton, that
seems to make him a lightning rod for these types of allegations?"
McRee: "You've also talked about your husband's generosity and his warmth, and his, you know, his warmth with people even, you know, people he hardly knows."
McRee: "I think you called him emotive. Have you ever talked to him about sending mixed signals?"
McRee: "Did you want him to come out fighting earlier,
though, because you are known for your political wisdom as well as your legal skill and after several days of an uncomfortable silence, he finally made a statement on Monday and the polls went up. Did you want him to come out and make that what seemed to be a very almost emotional statement, and very forceful? Did you want him to make that earlier than Monday?"
McRee: "In the last few days, you, other members of the
President's team have been talking about a right-wing
conspiracy. Kenneth Starr said last night it's nonsense. Your
reaction to his comment?"
McRee: "Last week the President gave a sworn deposition in the Paula Jones case, and there have been many reports, sourced different ways, that the President admitted to an extramarital affair with Gennifer Flowers some years ago. Is that true?"
McRee: "You've said you don't know the exact nature of the President's personal relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Monica Lewinsky apparently had some help, though, legally, some advice, professionally, from Vernon Jordan. Has the President explained to you why Vernon Jordan would help this young intern get a job offer?"
McRee: "But when you talk about a right-wing conspiracy
and people planning particularly this situation, The Washington
Post, Janet Reno, who agreed to let Kenneth Starr investigate
McRee: "And we promised we would let you talk about your agenda, and we will honor that as well....And it's a very Democratic agenda. Last night's State of the Union speech was sort of tailor made for the Democratic Party, a dream come true. And people several years ago were saying ago it couldn't be done.
How did he do it? How did he get this Republican-led Congress to agree and work and allow him to make this speech that, again, became a dream come true for the Democrats?"
McRee: "Does the President have to address the Lewinsky matter again before he can energize this agenda of his?"
McRee: "Have you been at all concerned about some of the Democrats who have come out and said publicly if any of these allegations are proven true then the President may have to step aside? Has that been -- have those things felt outrageous as you've heard them?"
McRee: "You've said before that in the near future people will learn the whole story and there will be more details. Do you think that this young woman when she came to the White House as a 21-year- old intern was part of some right-wing conspiracy and placed there by your husband's enemies?"
Clinton: "Oh, I'm not suggesting any such thing."
McRee: "All right. But in general, this sort of wide approach that the White House is using now -- that it's someone else's fault -- those reports came from the press. They came from secret tapes that were made. It didn't seem to anyone observing that it could have been anything that was orchestrated."
McRee: "I know you're very interested in the future. You and the President have spent a lot of time talking about the millennium and what this nation is going to do as we move into
the next century. You've been orchestrating and working on
programs that would make this country, you say, stronger and
better. Are you worried at all about how you, your husband will go down in history because of this crisis, because of the
McRee: "Just a few seconds left, and you can see even in
this interview, and I'm sure every interview you do in the near future, it's going to be hard to focus on your political agenda.
When will the President come out and give a detailed explanation, sit down and talk about this matter and be able to
put it behind us? When can that happen?"
Not soon enough for McRee. She returned to ABC's Washington bureau about a half hour later and MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen caught this admission from her:
"Tense. It was tense and, you know, it was tense for everyone. It's difficult to ask another woman about those questions, you know, it's a hard conversation to have to have and I think she handled it, as she always does, with great skill. She is a very good politician and she wanted to talk about the President's agenda and she manages to do that and, you know, to her credit, talk about things that really do matter in terms of the country and the world."
Two items of note from January 27 State of the Union coverage:
-- Tom Brokaw is consistent. He poses liberal agenda questions to Republicans and liberal agenda questions to Democrats. MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed the similar angle to the one question each Brokaw put to two Senators after Clinton and Trent Lott spoke.
To Democratic Senator Bob Kerry: "Do you think Kenneth Starr has been too much of a zealot?"
To Republican Senator John McCain: "Do you think he's [Clinton] a victim of some kind of right wing conspiracy?"
-- Here's how Dan Rather opened CBS News coverage at 9pm ET, as transcribed by MRC analyst Steve Kaminski. It's impossible to summarize as you will learn after reading it.
"Climate in Washington these days is commonly described as a media feeding frenzy. For our part, we here at CBS News have sought for the past week to provide complete but responsible coverage on a number of disturbing allegations. We have tried, so far as we could, to separate truth from rumor, that which may be proven from that which cannot be proven at all.
"Tonight we're covering a different story. It will inevitably be colored by Kenneth Starr's investigation into the President's sex life, but it is not the same story. Today's scandal may or may not have significance tomorrow. We can't know yet. We don't have the facts.
"But we can know that the State of the Union, the President's speech and the Republican response is significant to all Americans. So we will try tonight to keep our primary focus on the State of the Union. We do this not because we believe it is what the President deserves, or what Monica Lewinsky or Kenneth Starr deserves, but because we believe this is what the American people deserve.
"We the people are the union. And the state of the union is who and what we are. That's a big story. The biggest this reporter has ever seen."
Talk about "frenzied melodrama." I bet that no matter how the current scandal is resolved we'll remember it long after we've forgotten Clinton's speech. -- Brent Baker 
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