MediaWatch: February 8, 1999

In This Issue

In Love With the White House Lawyers; NewsBites; The Wild Swings in Hubbell's Relevance; Magazine Fan Mail; Today Remembers Hillary's Falsehoods; CNN Sets Itself Apart

In Love With the White House Lawyers

After the Senate impeachment trial was interrupted by the State of the Union address, the media’s determination to damage it intensified. Among the latest findings:

  • Adding ABC, CBS, and NBC together, the House managers drew less total evening soundbite time (2 minutes, 25 seconds) than the Clinton team (3 minutes, 6 seconds).

  • Adding the February 1 editions of the three news magazines together, the White House lawyers drew 297 words of direct quotation, while the week before, the House managers were given 141 words.

  • When the Senators asked questions to both sets of lawyers on January 22 and 23, CBS and NBC aired none of it and ABC aired just ten seconds to illustrate "softballs" thrown to the managers. But all three seized on comments from Pat Robertson and Robert Byrd that the trial should end.

THE FACE TIME GAP. While all three broadcast networks gave White House Counsel Charles Ruff an hour more live coverage on the afternoon of January 19 than the House managers received, the length of soundbites granted to White House arguments on the Senate floor varied from network to network.

During White House arguments from January 19 to 21, CBS showed the most favor for the White House by more than doubling the 35-second average it gave the House managers to 80 seconds a night. NBC increased its soundbites for the Clinton team to 53 seconds a night, about 25 percent more than the 40-second average for the managers. ABC dropped from the 70 seconds a night it offered the GOP to 53 seconds for Clinton’s crew.

CNN, which showed both sides’ presentations live, gave the White House much less soundbite time in its 8pm ET hour: from an average of six minutes and 36 seconds for the House prosecutors to two minutes and 57 seconds for the President’s lawyers.

Clinton’s counsels also drew the lion’s share of TV praise. Just after Ruff wrapped up on the 19th, CBS’s Bob Schieffer was impressed: "I thought that Mr. Ruff was quite eloquent in the way he wound that up. Just prior to that, a very clever pre-emptive strike." Schieffer’s January 14 verdict on the GOP’s Hyde and Sensenbrenner: "Thus far, Dan, we have not heard either Clarence Darrow or William Jennings Bryan, this has been fairly tedious."

Another contrast was evident on Nightline. On January 14, Koppel assessed the House case: "It was, as Nightline correspondent Chris Bury reports, pretty straightforward, pretty dry, bordering at times on dull." On the 19th, Koppel noted "a terrific day for Mr. Ruff and a terrific speech for him, one which got extraordinary reaction."

While the January 20 arguments of Greg Craig and Cheryl Mills attracted fewer quotes, Mills enjoyed puffy profiles. On Good Morning America, co-host Diane Sawyer cooed: "Cheryl Mills of the gentle gestures and velvet voice....Her friends say they’ve never seen her like that before, that the lawyer behind the politeness and pearls is in fact a fast-talking, fiercely combative, fight-to-the-finish opponent, and that’s why both Clintons want Mills on the team....The portrait she keeps on her office wall is Michael Jordan. At the age of 33, she’s in the starting lineup of the playoffs, too."

On the night of January 21, ex-Sen. Dale Bumpers drew unanimous raves. ABC’s Linda Douglass called him "at ease and confident." On CBS, Dan Rather touted how the Clinton defense "had a homespun wind-up and wallop today." CNN’s Jeanne Meserve asserted Bumpers "used folksy humor, his renowned rhetorical skills and his knowledge of the Constitution." NBC’s Gwen Ifill found "a folksy and pointed defense of an old friend."

While Greg Craig’s daily criticism of the GOP case drew quotes or an entire story as the managers presented their case, none made time for reaction from a Republican as the Democrats closed their arguments on the 21st. ABC avoided any GOP reaction, while CBS and NBC ran the same clip of Hyde simply opposing a short-circuit of the process.

The question and answer sessions on January 22 and 23 drew just ten seconds of Big Three air time. Even CNN provided only 97 seconds of soundbites on those two evenings (52 seconds for the House, 45 for the White House). But calls to end the trial energized the networks, especially when Pat Robertson declared, "They might as well dismiss this impeachment hearing and get on with something else because it’s over as far as I’m concerned."

ABC’s and NBC’s morning shows ran stories the next day, and all three networks told the story that night. On CBS, Eric Engberg concluded, "Republican insiders say Robertson was simply stating the obvious, that the party should not prolong the trial." NBC reporter David Bloom relayed Robertson and George Bush’s complaint that there is now "excessive intrusion into private lives."

The same emphasis greeted Sen. Robert Byrd’s surprise call on the 22nd for a hasty end to the trial. All the networks led with Byrd. Peter Jennings opened: "Senator Byrd is a constitutional scholar, sometimes called the conscience of the Senate on such matters, and if he says it’s okay to dismiss the case other politicians in both parties may decide it’s okay to follow." CBS’s Bob Schieffer claimed that "Byrd’s announcement is not so significant just because he’s so revered here, but also because many Democrats thought he was ready to convict the President." NBC’s Tom Brokaw asserted: "Robert Byrd, one of the senior statesmen of the Senate, caught everyone by surprise when he announced late this afternoon he would move to have the trial dismissed....This will put a lot of pressure on the Republicans."

While the networks gave few chances for Republicans to rebut White House arguments, on the 25th NBC’s Fred Francis focused on how one manager was opposed within his own family: "Most of the citizens strongly support their Congressman, a House prosecutor, Lindsey Graham. Graham’s slice of the South’s Bible Belt is in stunned disbelief that the President may be acquitted... But even within this religious community, at Lindsey Graham’s own church, some say the Congressman has gone too far. Graham’s Aunt Verna and Uncle Hollis, who helped raise him, say he’s wrong."


Slanted Sample

When the Supreme Court rejected plans to use statistical sampling instead of just a head count for the 2000 census, ABC’s World News Tonight and Associated Press both parroted the liberal view and ignored conservative arguments that sampling is an inaccurate and illegitimate measuring device.

Peter Jennings announced: "The administration argued that this was the way to account for millions of Americans who do not get counted in the traditional door-to-door surveys, millions of voters the Democrats covet."

John Cochran continued with the doom-and-gloom Democratic Party line, adding that minorities fear the census takers: "Let’s say you are an African-American in Harlem and you always feel harassed by the authorities. So when the census takers send you a form to fill out, you don’t."

The Associated Press likewise issued a one-sided story lamenting that "The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the 2000 census cannot use statistical sampling to enhance its accuracy, a decision making it more likely millions of people will be left out."

Both ABC and AP left out opposing viewpoints, including the Southeastern Legal Foundation or Newsweek’s Robert J. Samuelson, who wrote in the February 8 edition that "possible population errors are so tiny that the distribution [of federal funds] would barely change" and that "some experts think that the sample could reduce accuracy."

Why Children Smile
Sometimes the next best thing to cheering President Clinton on during his impeachment trial is to prop up one of his small-bore, photo-opportunity policy initiatives.

On the January 21 "Eye on America" segment, CBS Evening News reporter Maggie Cooper offered a textbook example. "Today’s announcement in Washington by President Clinton to continue funding a program called Troops to Teachers brought a sigh of relief to educators around the country. But, more importantly, smiles to the faces of many children." Cooper explained how Clinton called for an additional $18 million for the program, which provides military personnel with up to $5,000 for training and certification if they agree to teach in certain schools for at least five years.

Cooper explained: "The program was living on borrowed time because funding was running out. But today President Clinton’s appeal to Congress may give Troops to Teachers a new lease on life." So why wouldn’t Congress keep funding this program? Cooper offered viewers no sources besides Clinton. Cooper merely concluded: "It remains to be seen whether Congress will come up with the cash to turn military men and women into some of the two million new teachers this nation will need in the next ten years." Don’t they want kids to smile?

Sam’s No Skeptic
Sam Donaldson revealed his own bias in covering State of the Union addresses. Where once he denounced Reagan’s policies while praising his performance, now Clinton’s stagecraft is all that matters.

On This Week January 24, Donaldson recalled, "I learned way back in 1981, I learned, Ronald Reagan. He gave this wonderful speech, this great, accurate — I don’t disparage him, I mean, it was really moving. But I said on the air, something to the effect, yes, but the programs here, to cut taxes like that, we’ll run up huge deficits, they’ll never buy that."

Sam claimed Clinton would also succeed: "This guy uses television better than, with all due respect, all five of us put together." He certainly used Sam. After the speech, Donaldson said nothing about the costs of Clinton’s new proposals: "I would think the President had done what he wanted to do: show that he was in command, show that he had new programs and an agenda, and as far as you saw in the chamber, there was no overt mention or appearance of his great trial in the Senate."

But on January 22, ABC’s evening show became the only one to note a study from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation: "A taxpayer watchdog group says that if all the initiatives Mr. Clinton proposed were enacted, federal spending would increase by $288 billion, and create a $100 billion deficit in just a year."

The Wild Swings in Hubbell's Relevance

Networks That Hyped Starr Loss Downplayed Starr Win

Here’s a crystal-clear presentation of TV news bias against Ken Starr. On July 1, 1998, federal Judge James Robertson threw out an indictment against disgraced Clinton pal Webster Hubbell for failing to pay taxes on suspected hush money, harshly criticizing Starr’s tactics and claiming he exceeded his mandate.

The anti-Starr decision led ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and CNN’s The World Today. FNC’s Fox Report and NBC Nightly News gave it a brief mention. ABC’s Jackie Judd relayed the White House claim that "this further weakens Starr’s image as a man of justice." Dan Rather proclaimed: "The judge sharply criticized the tactics Starr used against Hubbell" and CNN’s John King examined how the decision raised "new questions about the independent counsel and his hardball tactics." The next morning, it was the lead story on CBS’s This Morning, the second report on NBC’s Today and the third story on ABC’s Good Morning America.

But on January 26, 1999, a federal appeals court overturned Robertson’s decision and reinstated the indictment, deciding it was within Starr’s jurisdiction. The Starr victory was ignored by ABC’s World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News. CBS Evening News gave it these 12 seconds from Dan Rather: "A federal appeals court in Washington today reinstated tax evasion charges against Clinton friend Webster Hubbell. Hubbell insists special prosecutor Ken Starr is just trying to squeeze him for information damaging to the Clintons." CBS failed to correct the record on how Starr did not abuse his power. CNN’s The World Today devoted just 70 words to the reversal. And on the morning shows? Not a syllable on January 27.

FNC’s Special Report with Brit Hume on January 26 aired a full story by David Shuster, the only show to take the appeals court ruling seriously. After explaining the background of the case and how the appeals court decided that to avoid Hubbell’s claims of self-incrimination, Starr must show he had independent knowledge of what Hubbell’s tax records would show before Hubbell turned them over, Shuster reported: "But the rest of the ruling validated Starr’s contention that the charges are related to possible obstruction of the Whitewater investigation and, therefore, within his jurisdiction."

For a visual illustration of the lack of media interest, FNC’s story showed all two members of the media outside of Hubbell’s home as he and his wife stood before two microphones.

Magazine Fan Mail

Imbalance continued in the news magazines. In comparing the January 25 and February 1 issues, Time led the magazines with 86 words of quotes from the House managers, but they more than tripled the space for Clinton’s crew with 214 words. Time gave 86 words to Ruff’s teary rebuttal of Hyde.

And praise surrounded the quotes: "If Ruff was compelling and Craig meticulous, Cheryl Mills was a left hook," Nancy Gibbs claimed. "Her very presence there brought some electricity into the gaslit setting. All lemony charm and discipline, at times condescending, at times lethal in her sarcasm, and breathtaking in her daring, she argued that the Senators need not fear that acquitting Clinton would harm women or civil rights; she would vouch for him...Mills’ White House office quickly filled up with so many flowers from well wishers that aides joked it looked like a wedding chapel."

’s coverage arrived with this headline: "Clinton’s the one in the dock, but he’s got Republicans on the run." Howard Fineman and Daniel Klaidman surmised: "The main question is not ‘What will Monica say?’ but ‘How much will the GOP pay?’"

While Newsweek gave the House managers 10 words, they provided the White House lawyers 44. They touted the superiority of Clinton’s lawyers: "The 13 House managers did their best against the White House lawyers, but they were up against the best criminal-defense lawyers money can buy."

U.S. News & World Report printed 48 words from the managers, but quoted 39 words from Clinton counsels in a one-page trial piece. But Marianne Lavelle and Major Garrett also argued "the men from the House did, in fact, fumble some details — and the President’s team was there every time to pick up the ball." They also lionized Dale Bumpers’ closing as "the perfect ending to a defense strategy that had portrayed the President’s wrongdoing as private, not public."

Today Remembers Hillary's Falsehoods

To mark the one year anniversary of his "historic" interview with Hillary Clinton, Today co-host Matt Lauer invited two Hillary defenders to the program on January 27. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Ann Douglas, a Columbia professor and author of a glowing Vogue profile of Mrs. Clinton, honored the occasion with liberal spin.

After airing a clip of Hillary denying Clinton had relations with Lewinsky, Lauer inquired, "So, Bob, at that moment, no doubt in your mind that the First Lady did not know the truth about the story."

Woodward, demonstrating a lack of his usually reliable skepticism, responded, "Well based on the best evidence we have at this point she obviously was speaking from the heart, and, which she is able to do with is, I think we all agree, great force. The important thing, she was speaking to a number of audiences here. She was speaking to the Democratic base in the party and she said ‘Look, I’m on his side, I believe him.’ I also think she was speaking to her husband, who then the next day went and gave his first flawless State of the Union address after the scandal broke."

On the other hand, Lauer did ask Douglas, "Ann, people have questions about the First Lady. They say here is this enormously intelligent woman, how could she not have known? How could she not have suspected, considering especially that she had been through this, similar situations in the past?"

After Lauer played part of the interview where the First Lady admitted if the charges were proven true that it ‘would be a very serious offense,’ Lauer asked Woodward, "How does that sound a year later?"

Woodward did not explore her disingenuousness. If she didn’t know the truth about Lewinsky, how could she plausibly claim it never happened on national television? Instead he contended her statement only proved she didn’t know the Lewinsky allegations were true. Woodward claimed, "I think it shows that she really did not know and that in fact for her to say that it would be a very serious offense if this is true, I mean, I take her at her word there. I do not think this is an act."

Later, after Woodward partially debunked Mrs. Clinton’s conspiracy theory by saying he didn’t think Ken Starr was part of a conspiracy, Lauer pressed: "Real quickly, she said if, ‘The real story here if anyone wants to take the time to investigate it.’ Has enough time been spent on that aspect of that story?"

CNN Sets Itself Apart

During the course of the Senate impeachment trial and coverage of the President’s State of the Union, CNN viewers heard some conservative angles in its reporting that other networks have ignored. CNN provided a rare reality check on Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address and actually labeled the Democratic position on impeachment as "extreme."

Peter Viles on the January 20 The World Today showed clips of Bill Clinton’s speech and commented on each. Clinton: "America has created the longest peacetime economic expansion in history." Viles stated: "No argument there. December was the 93rd month of this expansion, beating the old record 92 months under Presidents Reagan and Bush but the Reagan recovery was stronger and the economy grew faster."

On the topic of job creation, Clinton: "Nearly 18 million new jobs." Viles replied: "17.7 million to be exact, but less than half a million are full-time manufacturing jobs." And regarding welfare and the President’s beloved "children," Clinton: "The smallest welfare rolls in history." Viles countered: "Welfare rolls have fallen sharply, 41 percent in five years, to the lowest level since 1969, but the percentage of children living below the poverty line is higher now than it was 20 years ago."

On CNN’s January 27 10pm ET impeachment special, Jeff Greenfield asked Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, "With the single exception of Senator Feingold, every single Democrat, by voting to dismiss, had to assume as true every inference the House managers made. That means that you have said, ‘Even if President Clinton was at the center of an attempt to buy Monica Lewinsky’s silence, even if he enlisted Vernon Jordan in that effort, even if he lied under oath at the grand jury, even if he obstructed justice, we’re not, we’re going to vote to acquit.’ Isn’t that a rather extreme statement, saying, ‘We don’t care what witnesses might say, we’re not going to remove him from office’?" Kudos to Greenfield for daring to link a Democrat to an extremist view.