Executive Privilege Protected; Primary Colors Primarily Boosts Clinton
Sunday night, ABC didn't utter a word about executive privilege, focusing instead on Clinton's "historic" trip to Africa. NBC finally realized the seriousness of the executive privilege request, but reporter Bob Kur couldn't bring himself to mention Watergate, letting Trent Lott raise the historical precedence before Kur reported another attack on Kathleen Willey.
Here's how the networks covered the scandals on Saturday night, March 21 and Sunday night, March 22. (NCAA basketball bumped the CBS Evening News both nights in the east.)
-- ABC's World News Tonight Saturday led with Mike Von Fremd's story on how Republicans are outraged and the delaying tactic could backfire if it gets Republicans mad enough to take action.
Next, John Martin recalled how Nixon tried to invoke it during Watergate to protect his tapes, but while the Supreme Court denied his request it ruled that a President does have such a privilege. Noting that Clinton invoked executive privilege in the investigation of Mike Espy, Martin found that "the court accepted it on the grounds that it protects conversations about government business. If the courts found Mr. Clinton's conversations did not involve such business, his aides might be compelled to testify. But that's not certain because executive privilege is still being debated in the legal system. As one scholar said today, it sits on the margins between law and public policy."
ABC anchor Antonio Mora then announced: "Gennifer Flowers has earned more than half a million dollars capitalizing on her sexual liaison with President Clinton. Deposition papers released yesterday show Flowers earned $150,000 for telling her story to the tabloid the Star and made a quarter of a million dollars for posing nude in Penthouse magazine."
-- CNN's The World Today at 10pm ET began with Clinton's claim. Reporter John King, in contrast to Martin, found that scholars question if personal conversations are covered, but "Given the President's sky-high poll numbers it's unclear whether invoking executive privilege will carry a political price by suggesting the President has something to hide." King ran a soundbite from Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution asserting that old-timers will recall Nixon, but that's too arcane for most people.
-- NBC Nightly News. Following three stories on tornadoes, NBC went to Chip Reid for a report on executive privilege. While he noted that an expert says it's not a right created to protect politically embarrassing conversations, Reid quickly switched topics:
"Even so the President could fight Starr all the way to the Supreme Court, delaying the criminal investigation for months. Meanwhile, in the Paula Jones civil case, the President's attorney Bob Bennett released evidence he says undermines the credibility of some witnesses. For example, Bennett's cross-examination of Kathleen Willey."
Reid read a couple of questions and answers, before continuing: "Bennett also released testimony that suggests that some witnesses were motivated by money. Gennifer Flowers admitted making half a million dollars for telling her story, including $150,000 from the tabloid newspaper that first printed her allegations. And former Arkansas state trooper and Clinton bodyguard Larry Patterson, who testified that he procured women for then Governor Clinton, said under cross-examination that he told his story to meetings of conservatives for up to a thousand dollars per appearance. Patterson also admitted that there was quote 'a lot of Clinton-bashing' at those meetings, testimony that the President's attorney's are sure to highlight if their effort to get the case dismissed fails."
The next morning on Today Reid's boss, NBC News VP and Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert, suggested some more sinister motives for the White House maneuver. On the March 22 Today he asserted:
"This is the first time a President has tried to assert executive privilege, protect his conversations with his aides, involving a potential criminal proceeding, not since Richard Nixon. No one in the White House truly believes that these conversations should be protected. This is merely an attempt to delay this investigation so people get more frustrated with Kenneth Starr and hopefully force him into coming to some sort of resolution....They don't want to see the ghost of Richard Nixon hovering over the Clinton White House. They realize the media and the American people will be making that connection."
But not NBC Nightly News.
Sunday night, March 22:
Later, anchor Carole Simpson had a conversation with sex therapist June Reinisch about how Americans feel about the charges against Clinton. Reinisch contended that Presidents "should be allowed to lie about their sex lives."
-- NBC Nightly News finally caught up with the boss. After pieces on the Cuban athletes and Clinton's Africa trip, Bob Kur intoned from the White House lawn: "Majority Leader Trent Lott today accused the White House of stonewalling. On Meet the Press he charged that the President invoked executive privilege to delay and block the investigation."
Following Lott's soundbite, Kur noted that critics say it should not be used for personal matters and then Kur got back to the media's favorite topic: Willey bashing. Kur reported: "Today, a possible new complication. In the latest Time magazine a report that Kathleen Willey lied about a 1995 relationship in order to get back at her boyfriend at the time..."
Some brief highlights of the March 20 broadcast network evening shows:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Substitute anchor Lisa McRee opened the show:
"The President's attorney was clearly frustrated today. Robert Bennett said there is no evidence to support Paula Jones's sexual harassment case against the President. But, he said, the President is not getting the fair treatment he deserves and he asked the court, again, to dismiss the case. There had been quite a bit of speculation about how far Mr. Bennett would be willing to go to defend his client."
Reporter Jackie Judd proceeded to explain how Bennett wanted to submit evidence of Jones's sex history, but could not because of the bad PR such a move would generate. Judd relayed a charge from the depositions that the other networks skipped:
"Buddy Young said another trooper who claimed he procured women for Mr. Clinton was really using Mr. Clinton to get women for himself. Young said that Larry Patterson 'evoked Bill Clinton's name whenever he needed to. He hustled for himself on a regular day in and day out basis.'"
Next, ABC ran a piece from Terry Moran on how many are questioning Bennett's performance, pointing to his embarrassing threat to expose Jones's sex life and to how he angered Linda Tripp by calling her a liar.
-- CBS Evening News. After detailing the tornadoes that hit Georgia and North Carolina, substitute anchor John Roberts told viewers:
"In Washington, President Clinton's attorney moved today to have Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit dismissed, saying it is based on, quote, 'a web of deceit on distortion.'"
Bob Schieffer then explained how Bennett challenged the credibility of Willey, highlighting how she found Clinton "sympathetic and consoling" in later meetings and admitted he never demanded sex.
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw's pre-news theme music tease:
"Bill Clinton's lawyer strikes back in the Paula Jones case."
Bob Bennett: "The case brought by Paula Jones is groundless."
Brokaw: "The President's lawyer charges part of the Jones case is a joke. He claims she suffered no harm."
NBC showed two reports. First, Lisa Myers on how Bennett maintained that even if Clinton did make an advance toward Jones there's no evidence of damage and how Bennett again attacked Willey's credibility. Second, Claire Shipman checked in with an update on how the White House put out a firestorm over Bennett's plan to include details about Jones's sex life in his filing on Friday, something he backed off after negative headlines.
Fred Barnes: "I'd give the film a B+. It was enthralling, pretty good. But my objection is that it is pro-Clinton, that it says though he's philanderer, that he's a liar and so on that because he's a compassionate liberal that makes everything alright."
Eleanor Clift: "Beautifully said Fred. It's a good movie, it's not a great movie. John Travolta's characterization of the Clinton character is a little overdrawn, a little too much of the Southern bumpkin. But his empathy with people trumps his personal flaws. I'd say it's a B+ too."
If the movie producers needed a Clinton suck-up journalist they wouldn't have had to hire an actress. Clift could have played herself. Than again, maybe she did. I haven't seen the movie.
-- Brent Baker 
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