McCurry: Nothing "Innocent" About Bill & Monica but Nets Unmoved
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The February 17 Chicago Tribune story by Roger Simon began:
"President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky could end up being a 'very complicated story' that will not be easy to explain to the American people. 'Maybe there'll be a simple, innocent explanation,' White House spokesman Mike McCurry said. 'I don't think so, because I think we would have offered that up already.'"
A huge news story, the trusted aide saying he did not think there's an innocent explanation? Not on the network morning and evening shows. Tuesday morning, MRC analyst Gene Eliasen reported, Good Morning America news reader Kevin Newman gave McCurry's comments a few seconds. NBC's Today though didn't utter a word about them, observed MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens.
Tuesday night ABC and CBS allocated a few seconds of brief anchor-read Monicagate updates to McCurry while NBC did not even hint he made any noteworthy remarks. Only ABC ran a soundbite from McCurry. None of the broadcast networks ran a full story on Monicagate as Iraq news led the three evening shows, with Clinton's speech and the UN Secretary General's trip to Baghdad consuming over half of the CBS Evening News.
Here's a look at how the February 17 shows covered fellategate:
-- ABC's World News Tonight allocated 46 seconds to Monica matters. Peter Jennings noted that "the grand jury hearing testimony about the alleged Lewinsky affair" heard from retired Secret Service Officer Lewis Fox, but he didn't talk to the press. Jennings continued:
"At the White House today there were interesting comments from the President's spokesman Mike McCurry. He told the Chicago Tribune this is 'going to end up being a very complicated story, as most human relationships are. And I don't think it's going to be entirely easy to explain maybe.' He was asked about that at the White House briefing today." ABC showed McCurry saying: "I've put myself in my own dog house for having answered a question I shouldn't have answered."
-- The CBS Evening News also told viewers about McCurry and Fox but in reverse order from ABC. Here's the entirety of Dan Rather's 40 second update on the "alleged" story:
"While President Clinton concentrated on explaining his Iraq policy today, his official spokesman, Mike McCurry, gave a newspaper interview about the alleged Clinton-Monica Lewinsky connection. McCurry told the Chicago Tribune, quote 'I think it's going to end up being a very complicated story, as most human relationships are. And I don't think it's going to be entirely easy to explain maybe,' unquote. McCurry now says he wishes he hadn't said that. A new indication today of just how complicated all this is. Special prosecutor Ken Starr's grand jury took sworn testimony from Lewis Fox, he's a retired uniformed Secret Service officer. Prosecutors wanted to know if Fox ever saw the President and Lewinsky together."
It would be less complicated if Rather explained what Lewis was set to say.
-- NBC Nightly News skipped Fox and McCurry's candid concession, but Tom Brokaw took 11 seconds to report the request from lawyers for Clinton that a court dismiss the Paula Jones suit and then 12 seconds to explain an appearance not highlighted by ABC or CBS: "A grand jury looking into the President's relationship with Monica Lewinsky heard today from Steve Goodin, who served for three years as Mr. Clinton's personal aide. Goodin had no comment as he left the courtroom today."
The February 23 Time magazine highlighted dueling headlines from February 13 newspapers.
-- The Washington Post: "Ex-Prosecutors Uncomfortable With Starr's Tactics."
-- The Wall Street Journal: "Ex-Prosecutors Defend Starr's Handling of Clinton Probe."
Interestingly, my copy of Friday's Washington Post carried a different headline over the same story shown in Time. The Post's "Final" edition headline offered a more nuanced hit on Starr: "To Some in the Law, Starr's Tactics Show a Lack of Restraint."
Time displayed the headline contrast on page 25, just below the weekly Margaret Carlson attack on Starr. In this week's edition she concluded: "We are now on notice that the conversations we have with our children are not safe from their government. It seems quaint that on the day Monica was handed over by Tripp to Starr's deputies, she could turn to her mother with the expectation that whatever she said, Mom wouldn't tell. But in Ken Starr's America, moms do tell -- or else."
Putting gimmick ahead of reporting, NBC Nightly News managed to run an entire story, on millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted on a lease for an empty office building, without bothering to mention the role of a Democratic fundraiser close to Al Gore. First, NBC's story; second, details on how the Justice Department is now probing whether the Democratic operative arranged the lucrative lease only after the building owner made a large contribution to the DNC and a $1 million payment to the Democratic lobbyist.
The "Fleecing of America" segment from the February 12 NBC Nightly News, as transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens. To save space, we're skipping the soundbite quotes:
Tom Brokaw: "Tonight, The Fleecing of America. Your money, your real estate, your headache, courtesy of the federal government. This one involves a large building in Washington DC, millions of dollars and everyone involved blaming everyone else. Here's NBC's Bob Kur."
Bob Kur: "The walls are unfinished, the floors still bare, wiring still exposed. Would you start paying the rent? The government did. Eight months ago and yet this is how the building looks today."
[Senator John McCain]
Kur: "A costly Fleecing of America. More than $7 million in rent since July and you are going to pay at least $7 million more before this building will become the new home of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC. Why is this happening? It's such a mess it's hard to sort out. But Hap Connors, who is with the government agency that rents buildings for bureaucrats, accuses the FCC of stalling the project for ten years."
[competing bites from Hap Connors and the FCC's Liz Rose] Kur: "Right now the FCC is spread among nine buildings. Consolidating and modernizing made sense. But the old buildings are close to Washington's power centers, lobbyists, lawyers and convenient restaurants. The new building, though it has spectacular views, is out of the way. For its part the FCC says plans for the new building never were exactly what it wanted. It pushed for even more space than the new building was originally going to provide, better security, and more money to cover moving costs."
[Liz Rose, FCC]
Kur: "Who is to blame? Some say it maybe the agency that rents buildings for the government, the one that signed a lease that was in such dispute."
[Rep. Billy Tauzin]
Kur: "Now, two government agencies and five congressional committees are spending even more money trying to figure out what happened while you keep paying the rent on a vacant building that's a Fleecing of America."
Plenty of time given to blaming everyone but a key Democratic fundraising scandal figure: Peter Knight, manager of Clinton-Gore '96.
The next morning, February 13, The Washington Times front page featured a story headlined: "FCC's Deal on New HQ Investigated by Justice." And NBC had plenty of opportunity to check out this angle since the Times first raised the issue in a November 12, 1997 story headlined "Gore Friend's Role in Financing for New FCC Home Questioned."
Reporter Doug Abrahms opened the February 13 story:
"The Justice Department has entered the investigation of the Federal Communications Commission's future headquarters and is focusing on financial links between the building's developer and Peter Knight, a top Democratic fundraiser.
"The agency's Campaign Financing Task Force is looking into payments made by Tennessee developer Franklin Haney to Mr. Knight at the same time the FCC agreed to accept a $400 million, 20-year lease at the Portals -- a Southwest Washington office building co-owned by Mr. Haney. A Justice Department spokesman confirmed the investigation.
"The deal supplanted an earlier Portals lease that was worth some $238 million over 20 years....
"The Justice Department probe adds to an investigation already under way by the House Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee, which wants to know why Mr. Haney paid Mr. Knight $1 million in January 1996 at the same time the new Portals lease was signed....
"At the beginning of 1995, the FCC did not want to move into the Portals, located at 445 12 St. SW, but by year's end had agreed to the move after Mr. Haney became involved with the project, the subcommittee spokesman said. He added that the panel also wants to know why Mr. Haney paid Mr. Knight $1 million the very day the General Services Administration -- the federal government's leasing agent -- signed the revised Portals lease...."
Why indeed. Maybe if networks reporters spent less time worrying about Ken Starr's tactics and whether the media have gone "too far" or done "too much" on Monicagate, they would be able to tell viewers about substantive charges of corruption that don't involve sex. Then again, time isn't the problem, interest is as NBC had enough time to highlight Knight's role if they wished. -- Brent Baker 
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