CyberAlert -- 01/14/1998 -- CNN's Kaplan: Clinton Buddy Mixes His Politics & News

CNN's Kaplan: Clinton Buddy Mixes His Politics & News

1) Just one item today, but a long one well worth reading: Very illuminating excerpts from a Vanity Fair profile of CNN President Rick Kaplan, a man Ted Turner called "the biggest goddamned Jew I've ever seen." The piece details how Kaplan killed negative stories at ABC about Clinton, hired Hillary and himself once worked for a Democratic candidate. Plus, he thinks those who see liberal bias are "liars."

Correction: The January 12 CyberAlert quoted CBS News reporter Eric Engberg as saying "El Nino also played a roll..." The analyst transcribing this was eating a roll at the time and I rolled right by it while proofreading, but El Nino played a "role."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) With new CNN President Rick Kaplan's schedule changes going into effect this week, I thought it would be a good time to look at his beliefs and the history of their impact on shows he oversaw during his years at ABC News. (For a brief summary of some of he schedule changes, see the top of the January 12 CyberAlert.)

Some background info: During the 1992 campaign Kaplan was Executive Producer of Prime Time Live. Previous CyberAlerts have reviewed his late night calls to Clinton during that time and that series of events is summarized again in this article. In late 1993 he assumed the Executive Producer slot at World News Tonight. During the 1980s he was Executive Producer of Nightline. Last fall he swung over to CNN.

Among the many revelations in the excerpts below from the January Vanity Fair piece, in addition to Turner's less than sensitive observation:
-- How Kaplan once hired Hillary Clinton.
-- How he not only advised Clinton about how to counter Gennifer Flowers, a pretty well known event, but had earlier counseled Clinton on how to recover from his too-long 1988 convention speech.
-- How he had been a political operative for a liberal presidential candidate before jumping to journalism.
-- How he made calls to console Hillary Clinton after Vince Foster's death and to Web Hubbell after he resigned.
-- How he killed a Whitewater piece from World News Tonight, discouraged reporters and producers from pursuing the topic and only ran an in-depth look one night in 1994 because Nightline was about to grab it.
-- How he slurred conservative media critics who see liberal bias, specifically Reed Irvine and MRC Chairman Brent Bozell, as "liars."

Here are the most illuminating excerpts from the January Vanity Fair profile written by David Margolick. MRC intern Jessica Anderson typed in these portions of the article titled "CNN's Big News Bear." The headings after each +#+#+#+ are mine, but all the ellipses (...) within the quotes are how they appeared in Vanity Fair.

+#+#+# Tries to Get His Buddies Bill and Fidel Together

"One night in New York two years ago, when he was still the Executive Producer of ABC's World News Tonight, Rick Kaplan dined with Fidel Castro, who was in town for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. It was only the most recent of several times Kaplan had broken bread with the Cuban leader, whom he met 20 years ago on a story. These dinners were usually leisurely affairs, lasting even longer than Castro's speeches, with the topics veering from politics to baseball to U.F.O.'s to bull semen. This time, though, Kaplan had to excuse himself early from the group. 'Where are you going?' a surprised Castro asked him. 'I'm actually going to have dinner with my President,' Kaplan replied.
"In fact, Kaplan was due at Caf des Artistes, where, under the restaurant's famous Art Nouveau murals of nude nymphs, President Clinton was sharing supper with the elite of New York's Friends of Bill : White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, lawyer Susan Thomases, and Kaplan himself, all but Clinton joined by their spouses....
"Suddenly, Kaplan had an inspiration. 'Why don't you come?' he asked Castro.
"As one of the television's premier producers for more than 20 years. Kaplan had defined his career by defying rules: to him, nothing was impossible to bring to the TV screen, even if it meant corralling warring parties in the Middle East or South Africa during his years as executive producer of Nightline. Now Kaplan was at it again, trying to overcome decades of enmity in a single grand gesture. Castro paused, for what seemed like an hour, before declining: he didn't want to embarrass Clinton, he explained."

+#+#+# Ted Turner Calls Him a Big Jew

"Kaplan's size amazes everyone, including the father of CNN himself. 'Baby Huey!' Ted Turner exclaimed when he first set eyes on his new executive, using one of Kaplan's several nicknames. 'Are you really a Jew?' he reportedly asked incredulously. 'You're the biggest goddamned Jew I've ever seen!'"

+#+#+# Kaplan's Homeless Photo & Trickle Down Economics

"In his new office, a sunless rectangle inside the atrium at the CNN Center, the furniture had yet to arrive, but some of Kaplan's personal effects were already in place: a seat from the old Comiskey Park in Chicago; Norman Rockwell's famous painting of that stalwart citizen rising to speak at a New England town meeting; and what Kaplan called 'my favorite picture in life.' It was a 1986 Vladimir Sichov photograph of a homeless man, who holds a sign declaring 'I'm hungry. Please help'; copies of David Stockman's The Triumph of Politics are visible in a bookstore window behind him. 'That's trickle-down economics,' Kaplan said."

+#+#+#+ In the Lincoln Bedroom

"More memorable was his controversial night in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House in 1993. 'Let me tell you, it's marvelous,' he said of the experience. 'You just sit there, you don't really sleep very much because you're staring at everything. You know, on the table is the Gettysburg Address.' He stopped himself. 'What I'm doing now, watch what happens....I will be pilloried for this. But if you ever have a chance to sleep in the bedroom, do it.'
"'I keep looking for what I should be ashamed of, long and hard, and I just can't find anything,' he continued, speaking not just of the Lincoln Bedroom episode but also of how he's handled his friendship with Clinton. 'I think the day the President was sworn in it wouldn't only have been stupid but terribly unfair to have called him up and said, 'I can't speak to you again.'"

+#+#+#+ Bozell and Those Who Believe Media Are Liberal Are "Liars"

"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.' ABC colleagues Cokie Roberts, Diane Sawyer, and Peter Jennings say Kaplan never asked them to pull a Clinton punch. 'I know that Rick reveled in...well, that's too strong a word...I know that Rick took...was genuinely pleased by his friendship with the Clintons, but I never saw a single example on this broadcast of him defending the Clintons, ever,' said Jennings.
"But Donaldson, veteran ABC reporter Jim Wooten, and ABC's chief investigative producer on Whitewater, Chris Vlasto, say that, in particular instances, Kaplan did seem sensitive to criticism of the President."

+#+#+#+ Clinton Cries on Kaplan's Shoulder/Kaplan Hired Hillary

"Clinton and Kaplan met in early 1977, when Kaplan was a producer for Walter Cronkite, and Clinton was Attorney General of Arkansas. (The matchmaker was Susan Thomases, one of Hillary's best friends from Yale Law School.) Both gregarious, both personable, both deeply interested in politics, both news junkies, both charmers, both voracious eaters (their first encounter, appropriately enough, was in a restaurant), they hit it off instantly. 'I just remember he was a terrific guy,' Kaplan said. 'Fun.'
"When, in the 1980s, Clinton considered trading politics for a million-dollar job on Wall Street, he sought out Kaplan's advice. It was Kaplan's shoulder Clinton cried on, over Chinese takeout in Nightline's New York studio, following his much- ridiculed 32-minute speech-a-thon at the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta. 'He was sitting there saying, 'My career is over. I'll never be anything,' Kaplan recalled. 'And we all said, 'You know, have a sense of humor about it. If you joke about it first, everyone else will joke about it.' Then he ended up going on The Tonight Show, and, by being great, he actually vindicated himself.'
"If anything, Kaplan was at least as close to Hillary, who shares his Chicago roots; he even hired her to work on coverage of the 1980 Democratic convention. When Chelsea Clinton was searching for a 49th-birthday present for her dad, Kaplan sent along a titanium golf club fashioned from a melted down Soviet missile. After Kaplan's younger daughter underwent serious surgery in 1994, calls from both Clintons helped a near-miraculous recovery, Kaplan said.

+#+#+#+ Banning "Scandal" from CNN

"U.S. News and World Report asserted that Kaplan had directed his staff not to use the word 'scandal' so freely in Clinton fund-raising stories -- stirring up his right-wing critics anew. All he had done, Kaplan countered, was urge prudence. 'There are some things that are scandals and other things that are alleged problems or who knows what, and we should just be very careful,' he said."

+#+#+#+ Loves the Clintons, But Is Not Close.

"According to Kaplan, he is not all that close to Clinton. 'When you read some of the things that are written, you'd think I check in with him every day, talk to him all the time, write his speeches for him, mow his lawn,' Kaplan complained. 'The fact is I don't talk to him very much at all.' Still, he says he loves both Clintons and resents having to distance himself from them. 'Am I supposed to stand up and announce to the world, 'Goddamn it, he's not that good a friend?' he exclaimed, pounding on the table. 'Goddamn it, that's crazy! I am very proud that I know this President of the United States or any President of the United States.'"

+#+#+#+ Hitting Koppel

"There is, Kaplan insisted, a double standard at work here: Tom Friedman of The New York Times has probably played golf with Clinton 50 times. Kaplan complained, and no one ever faults him. ('I wish,' Friedman replied. 'He's only off by 48 times.') 'If you listed journalists who played golf with President Clinton, I wouldn't make the top 100,' he said. Kaplan admires no one more than Koppel, but when told that Koppel criticized him for his sojourn in the Lincoln Bedroom, he couldn't help himself. 'Said by a man who was one of Henry Kissinger's confidants,' he remarked with a bittersweet laugh. 'So Henry's his friend; so Bill Clinton's mine. Well, guess what? He made friends with the Secretary of State. I made friends with an Attorney General of Arkansas.' He chuckled again. 'Who was shooting higher? I can't help it; my guy hit the White House, your guy couldn't, because he wasn't a natural-born citizen.'"

+#+#+#+ Life of Political Activism Started Under Eugene McCarthy

"Kaplan was born in the Rogers Park section of Chicago. His childhood was filled with friends and Democratic politics; Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and John F. Kennedy were icons in his home. He envisioned a life of political activism and joined the 1968 presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy as an advance man. A week later, when Bobby Kennedy won the California primary, Kaplan prepared to switch sides, and headed to Kennedy's hotel to meet him. He ended up that night alone on a Santa Monica beach, watching the waves, listening to radio reports about Kennedy's slow death. He contemplated a radically altered future outside politics."

+#+#+#+ Helped Clinton Play Media to Overcome Flowers

"When Clinton needed airtime to defuse his Gennifer Flowers problem, Kaplan became a player in presidential politics. In his 1994 book, Strange Bedfellows, a study of the press coverage of the 1992 presidential campaign, Tom Rosentiel of the Los Angeles Times describes a frantic evening when Clinton called Kaplan repeatedly, baring his soul and seeking strategic advice. Kaplan advised Clinton to stay off lower-rated shows such as Today and Good Morning America; if you do 60 Minutes, he said, go with a tough interviewer such as Mike Wallace or Morley Safer. To his critics, Kaplan had crossed the line.
"Kaplan maintained that his only objective was to get Clinton on PrimeTime Live, or at least on ABC. But then Clinton chose 60 Minutes and asked Kaplan what he thought. 'What am I supposed to say? Tell him to screw off and come back to ABC?' Kaplan asked. 'He'd made up his mind, at which point I said to him, 'If you're going to do 60, do 60 and don't be concerned about who the toughest interviewer is; the tougher the interviewer, the better you are.' Clinton then asked Kaplan what to say if asked whether, quite apart from Flowers, he'd had any extramarital trysts. 'And I just said, 'Whatever answer you give, I'm going to run it myself 100 times between now and Election Day, so good luck.'
"'And that was the total extent of it,' he continued. 'It's the kind of stuff journalists say to politicians, whether they're friends or not. There isn't a journalist in the world who hasn't given advice of that sort.'"

+#+#+#+ Donaldson Says Kaplan's Pro-Clinton Bias Showed

"Ten months later, on the eve of the election, Sam Donaldson did taped interviews with Clinton and President Bush. Donaldson was in what he called 'my manic, take-no-prisoners mode,' he recalled, and was 'equally bad or equally good' with both candidates. But to Kaplan, Donaldson had been much harder on the challenger. 'You've go to do a tag line to make it clear that you don't hate Clinton,' Kaplan told him. This Donaldson dutifully did ('That's commitment,' he stated, referring to Clinton's campaign style), but begrudgingly Donaldson called Kaplan 'a terrific Executive Producer,' but added, 'I think that, without meaning to, Rick was letting his feelings get in the way there.' Kaplan insists it wasn't Clinton he was protecting, but Donaldson."

+#+#+#+ Kaplan Called Hillary the Night Foster Died

"Kaplan has taken some precautions during the Clinton era; there have been no more presidential golf games. Inevitably, though, as investigations widened and documents proliferated, his name periodically popped up. Phone logs revealed that on the night Vince Foster killed himself Kaplan called Hillary Clinton. 'I knew they were all great friends and you know that she's gotta be totally depressed, so it was just like to say, 'Hey, I'm really sorry,' Kaplan said. When Webster Hubbell resigned, he called him too. 'I happen to like Webb,' Kaplan said. 'I would have just said, 'Good luck,' or something.'"

+#+#+#+ Stopped Whitewater Stories from Airing on WNT

"In late October 1994, Kaplan killed Jim Wooten's exclusive interview with an Arkansas state trooper who claimed a Clinton aide had tried to muzzle him; after that, Wooten refused to do any more pieces on Whitewater. Wooten clearly likes his former boss, whom he called 'a character in an age without them.' But on Clinton, he said, Kaplan had 'a blind spot.' Also convinced that 'the bar kept getting higher' for putting Whitewater stories on the program, Chris Vlasto, World News Tonight's investigative producer for Clinton-related stories, would sometimes shop them around to other ABC News shows. True, in February 1994, World News Tonight devoted an extraordinary 18 of its 22 minutes to a primer on Whitewater. But that segment had been held for a month, and ran only after Nightline tried to run it first."

Hard to imagine why anyone would worry that under Kaplan's direction CNN could become the Clinton News Network. -- Brent Baker

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