Seconds for Clinton's "Criminal Violation"; Ruling Buried at Press Conference
1) A federal judge's finding that Bill Clinton violated the Privacy Act, in releasing Kathleen Willey's letters, generated just seconds on all networks but FNC. Capturing more time: An adjustable stadium, baseball's opening day, melting ice in Alaska, how easily mattresses burn, a finger-length test for lesbianism.
2) FNC's Brit Hume noticed "we were ten questions into this news conference when he was finally asked about the federal judge's finding" that Clinton "had committed a criminal violation." CBS's Mark Knoller asked Clinton for his advice for Tony Blair and how he would take care of a new baby in the White House.
CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NBC allocated a mere 18 to 29 seconds each Wednesday
night to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth's finding that President
Clinton violated the Privacy Act: "The release of the Willey letters
was a criminal violation of the Privacy Act," Lamberth declared.
Network by network time given to the ruling:
Without pointing out the irony, in reports on Elian Gonzalez, ABC, CNN and NBC/MSNBC played portions of Clinton's insistence at the press conference that the Miami relatives should follow the law. ABC viewers heard: "But I still believe in the rule of law here, we all have to, whatever the law is, whatever the decision is ultimately made, the rest of us ought to obey it." A story run NBC and MSNBC showed Clinton declaring: "They should observe the rule of law."
Instead of examining the Willey case and what led to the judge's ruling, ABC dedicated nearly five minutes to how new investors are driving the "volatility" of the stock market and the dangers of buying on margin; CNN spent over two minutes summarizing a study which claimed the length of a woman's index finger is a good indicator of whether she is a lesbian; CBS allocated almost three minutes to melting ice in Alaska as a sign of global warming; MSNBC replayed a ten-minute Dateline story on flammable mattresses; and NBC devoted its "In Depth" segment, which consumed more than five minutes, to the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to take paternity leave followed by a look at a study on how moms and dads in the U.S. are spending more time with their kids.
Here's a rundown of how the networks handled the Willey ruling and how much time each gave to other stories, many less than pressing. All but MSNBC led with one or more reports on the tornado damage to downtown Fort Worth, Texas. Below is a look at the March 29 evening shows on the broadcast networks and then the cable networks.
-- ABC's World News Tonight opened with two
minutes on the tornado followed by 1:55 on an MIT study on how two-thirds
of the time commercial passenger plane pilots fly through storms. Jackie
Judd got 1:40 to update the Elian Gonzalez case. She noted:
Next, 1:40 on the Uganda doomsday cult deaths and 22
seconds on the Supreme Court ruling that Erie, Pennsylvania may ban fully
nude dancing. Then, anchor Peter Jennings arrived at the judge's ruling,
taking 19 seconds to relay:
Jennings then went to John Cochran for a barely minute-long summary of other issues Clinton commented on during his press conference. After an ad break ABC dedicated 4:55 to "A Closer Look" by John Martin at how "volatility" in the stock market is being fueled by the explosion of information now available online and on cable TV which has caused new investors to buy and sell often. For the second piece in the package Kevin Newman highlighted the dangers of buying on margin. The first ever overseas opening day for baseball, in Japan, earned a 2:35 story.
Finally, Jennings took 38 seconds, twice the time he dedicated to the judge's finding, to showing animation of a planned stadium in Japan in which the walls and seats move to allow for crowds of from 5,000 to 40,000.
-- CBS Evening News
began with 4:15 on the tornado followed by 2:02 on Elian Gonzalez, but
CBS's story didn't play a Clinton soundbite. Anchor Dan Rather then
took 29 seconds to read this item:
Next, John Roberts got two minutes to review other issues raised during Clinton's press conference, mainly gas prices. Roberts stressed how despite the higher gas prices, sales of "gas-guzzling SUVs" are expected to surpass cars this year. He showed himself posing this question to Clinton at the press conference: "Have you done enough, both practically and psychologically, to promote the idea of weaning this country off of fossil fuels?" Clinton began his reply: "Well, maybe not, but I've done a lot more than the Congress has...."
The show next gave two minutes to a piece on the Supreme Court hearing a case about prayer at school sports events, followed by 2:45 for Bob McNamara to warn of the "big ice melt" in Alaska which proves global warming. He ominously concluded: "It comes slowly, but Spring is returning to Alaska and with it the hope of many here that the Earth's warming is just a cycle of climate and not a catastrophe yet to come."
CBS's 2:45 "American Dream" segment focused on a 72-year-old woman whose son she had given up for adoption 45 years ago, because she was not married at the time, managed to find her. Rather finished up with 40 seconds on baseball's opening day in Japan.
-- NBC Nightly News led
with 5:05 on the tornado before anchor Tom Brokaw introduced a story on
Clinton's press conference:
Bob Kur ran through Clinton's comment on OPEC oil
production, how he put pressure on the oil companies to cut prices and
urged the public see gas prices as a "wake up call" on buying
SUVs. Kur continued, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
"Then he challenged Congress to move quickly on a Medicare
prescription drug benefit, a patients' bill of rights, an increase in
the minimum wage, and he hit Congress on stalled gun control."
Now we get to NBC's 18 seconds on the Willey
ruling, though the 18-second measurement does not include Brokaw's
introductory reference to "that old sex scandal." Kur stated:
"The President was forced to confront a new twist in an old legal
battle. A federal judge ruling today that Mr. Clinton violated the Privacy
Act by releasing letters from Kathleen Willey, who accused him of making
an unwanted sexual advance in the White House."
Kur quickly moved on to Clinton reminiscing about spending time in India with daughter Chelsea.
Brokaw soon arrived at what NBC really considered
the big news of the day: "NBC News In Depth tonight, the new
fatherhood and just how much time should a new dad take off from his job?
This has become a very hot issue in Britain where Prime Minister Tony
Blair is about to become a father again at the age of 46. Blair and his
wife Cherie are a high-powered couple. They make a lot of money. As Prime
Minister Blair earns $175,000 a year. His wife, a lawyer, is believed to
take home three times that much. So when the baby comes, do both halves of
this power couple stay home?"
Later in the program NBC got to Elian Gonzalez. In
her story Andrea Mitchell observed: "The President today tried to
defuse the tension."
Nightly News ended with a 2:40 profile of Wenda Mallard, Executive Vice President of Double Click.
-- MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams began with Fidel Castro's announcement, which came after the East Coast feeds of the broadcast shows, that he will send Elian's father to the U.S. The show replayed Mitchell's piece as quoted above from NBC Nightly News.
After lengthy interviews about OPEC/gas prices and the New York Senate race, MSNBC allocated 9:50 to a replay of a piece titled, "The Burning Bed," a segment from Dateline NBC by Lea Thompson on how federal regulators have yet to ban mattresses made of polyurethane foam which easily ignites, emitting poisonous gasses. Yet, most inmates in prisons get flame retardant mattresses because local governments want to prevent prison fires.
About 58 minutes into the show substitute anchor Forrest Sawyer finally got to Judge Lamberth's ruling, but not with an actual story. Sawyer took 23 seconds in the "Tomorrow's Headlines" segment to summarize a Washington Post story on the decision.
-- CNN's The World
Today. Following tornado news and multiple pieces on Elian, anchor Jim
Moret played this soundbite from Clinton's press conference:
A bit later John King provided an overview of the
press conference in a piece similar to what ran earlier on Inside
Politics. King summarized Clinton's comments on OPEC and U.S. energy
policy before adding: "Then 22 questions, a chance to discuss
relations with China, Russia under new President Vladimir Putin, and to
offer advice to father to be Tony Blair, the British Prime Minster whose
wife wants him to take time off for paternity leave."
King proceeded to take 28 seconds to relay how
Clinton reacted to the court finding: "There were ghosts of the past
as the President tried to shape his future and his legacy. Mr. Clinton
took issue with a new ruling by a federal judge who says the President
violated the Privacy Act when he released letters from former White House
volunteer Kathleen Willey during the Monica Lewinsky investigation. Willey
had accused the President of making unwanted sexual advances."
Minutes later CNN's Don Knapp highlighted the latest evidence of a biological cause for sexual preference, taking over two minutes to pass along a U.C.-Berkeley professor's theory about a link between sexual orientation and the length of a woman's index finger relative to her ring finger.
-- FNC. The 7pm ET Fox Report gave anchor Shepard Smith and reporter Jim Angle 2:25 to report and discuss the court ruling and Clinton's reaction. The 6pm ET/9pm PT Special Report with Brit Hume led with Brian Wilson examining the Lamberth ruling. He uniquely quoted the Judge: "The President had the requisite intent for committing a criminal violation of the Privacy Act." Wilson also uniquely explained how the ruling was spurred by a Judicial Watch civil lawsuit.
Wilson went on to discuss with Hume how a White House computer contractor revealed there is a disk containing e-mail written by Monica Lewinsky and how Congressman Dan Burton has said he will make a criminal referral to the Justice Department over statements his committee heard last week about the e-mail scandal.
In the second half of the program Hume relayed a short item about Hillary Clinton's role in the release of Willey's letters: "The Justice Department has said in court filings that White House aide Sidney Blumenthal discussed the Willey letters with Mrs. Clinton at the time Willey made her allegations and that Mrs. Clinton agreed with Blumenthal that the letters should be released."
Judge Lamberth's finding was announced in the morning, in plenty of time for Bill Clinton's press conference which began at 2:08pm ET, but did not come up until CNN's John King posed the tenth question and he set Clinton up nicely to dismiss the judge's credibility by asking Clinton if he agreed "with the take of one of your legal advisers earlier today who called this judge, quote, 'a loose cannon'?"
The low priority given the development by the White
House press corps surprised FNC's Brit Hume, who immediately after the
press conference scolded his colleagues. At 3:15pm ET he told anchor
On target analysis, but Hume, who is Washington Managing Editor for Fox News, did not point out that one of his staffers had a chance before CNN's King to ask about the Willey ruling. The eighth question went to Jim Angle who used his time to pose the second question of the press conference on the Gonzalez situation.
Part of the reason for the delay in getting to the ruling may have been that Clinton initially called upon less-known reporters with particular interests and avoided the network stars, but even when he did go to the big name correspondents they asked about other matters and failed to follow up on CNN reporter John King's inquiry about the Lamberth decision. CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, for instance, queried Clinton about "any thoughts or advice for your friend" Tony Blair about taking paternity leave and "what would you do in that situation?"
Here's a rundown in numbered sequence of the questions posed at the March 29 press conference shown live by CNN, FNC and MSNBC, along with some of Clinton's most noteworthy replies:
-- Q1) Helen Thomas on Assad and Middle East peace.
-- Q4) Ellen Ratner, Talk Radio News: "The
Internet commission is meeting on electronic commerce, and they are giving
some proposals. What are your thoughts about what proposals you think they
should come out with? And also, what about the states as electronic
commerce becomes more and more available on the net and may take revenue
from the states?"
-- Q6) John Cochran, ABC News: "A possible
confrontation is looming between the relatives and Elian Gonzalez and
federal authorities. As a last resort, would you permit federal
authorities or some kind of federal agents to go in there to forcibly take
the boy, so that he could be sent back to Cuba?"
-- Q7) Unidentified male reporter: Getting nominees
for the Federal Reserve Board confirmed.
-- Q9) Bill Plante, CBS News: "Mr. President, Charlton Heston is on the college speaking circuit. And he said last night: It amazes me that the president is so stubborn when it comes to guns. And he notes that there are already 22,000 gun laws on the books, by his count, which he says that the administration does not enforce. Could you do more to enforce existing gun laws? And how do you feel about the attack that the NRA has mounted on you and your administration?"
-- Q10) John King, CNN: "Mr. President, a
federal judge, with whom you have disagreed in the past, today said it was
his opinion that you had committed a criminal violation of the Privacy Act
by releasing those Kathleen Willey letters during the independent counsel
investigation. What do you think of that ruling? And do you agree with the
take of one of your legal advisers earlier today who called this judge,
quote, 'a loose cannon?'"
-- Q11) Larry McQuillan, USA Today: Sign a gas tax
-- Q16) Mark Smith, AP Radio: "Mr. President,
I'd like to return to campaign finance reform, if I could. Vice President
Gore, in announcing his proposal, called himself an 'imperfect
messenger' on that subject. Isn't that acknowledge, sir, of something
you and he have long denied, that there was an attempt to bend, if not
break, the spirit, if not the letter, of campaign finance laws during your
-- Q17) George Condon, Copley News Service: Could
you ever support Taiwanese independence?
++ Get a flavor of the press corps' interests. Late Thursday morning MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post a RealPlayer clip of CBS News reporter Mark Knoller asking advice for Blair and Clinton's response about how "I envy him very much" and "I wouldn't have the same burdens if we were having a baby. I could spend a lot of time with the baby and still work." Go to: http://www.mrc.org 
Knoller is primarily a radio reporter who appears on TV usually only on the Saturday Early Show, so if you recognize his name and can place his voice here's a chance to see what he looks like. -- Brent Baker 
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