CyberAlert -- 01/28/1999 -- Not Enough Reporting on the VRWC; Starr's Vindication Skipped; Pope & Clinton

Not Enough Reporting on the VRWC; Starr's Vindication Skipped; Pope & Clinton

1) Wednesday night Peter Jennings hoped the end is near as ABC never informed viewers that a Democrat joined the Republicans in the two votes. CBS's Scott Pelley relayed that "the White House seems close to panic" over the idea of a separate vote on guilt.

2) To mark the anniversary of Hillary Clinton's VRWC vitriol, Today brought aboard two defenders. "She obviously was speaking from the heart," assured one as Matt Lauer wondered "Has enough time been spent" by the media examining the VRWC.

3) When a judge criticized Starr and threw out an indictment of Web Hubbell the news led the ABC, CBS and CNN evening shows. Six months later, an appeals court reinstated the indictment. Zilch on ABC, 12 seconds on CBS, a bit more on CNN.

4) The Pope and Bill Clinton can both urinate in the same place, so that erased any doubt for the New York Times that "Clinton occupied as lofty a plane as the Pope on Tuesday."

5) Letterman's "Top Ten Questions Submitted by the Republicans."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) From the point of view of conservatives and those who want the Constitution strictly followed, Wednesday was the day the Senate made clear it would not allow the House managers to put on a proper case. But none of the networks portrayed events that way.

Peter Jennings opened Wednesday's World News Tonight by promising, maybe hoping, the end is near. He then portrayed the Senate votes as a "setback" for the White House, though it avoided a real trial. Jennings asked Sam Donaldson: "The White House fought tooth and nail to keep witnesses off the table, no good lawyer wants to deal with the unknown, but does the White House consider this to have been a setback and if so of what magnitude?" In contrast, FNC's Wendell Goler relayed: "The White House is taking two losing votes and declaring victory." Only ABC failed to inform viewers of how Democratic Senator Russ Feingold voted against dismissal and for deposing witnesses, as ABC's Linda Douglass called it "a party line vote."

Dan Rather put the burden on the GOP for not agreeing with the Democrats to end it now: "Senate Republicans made it clear today they are determined to keep President Clinton's impeachment trial going." Though Democratic intransigence and Republican concern about public opinion has left House managers unable to put on a regular case, Tom Brokaw declared: "Tonight the Republicans are in the driver's seat."

White House terrified of Susan Collins? All the networks reported that the White House probably will not delay the process if they can soon get a vote on the articles, but CBS's Scott Pelley uniquely informed viewers of what has Clinton's lawyers scared: the plan floated by Republican moderate Susan Collins to first have a vote on guilt and then a separate vote on removal. The Clinton team, Pelley relayed, thinks a majority might vote yes on guilt, elaborating: "Experts disagree on whether the two-vote idea is constitutional, but the White House seems close to panic. One adviser told us the Collins proposal is the greatest fear the White House has. Another source said Mr. Clinton's lawyers have never been so angry."

During the day the three broadcast networks went live from 1 to 1:40pm ET to show the two Senate votes. In the evening the three networks as well as CNN's The World Today and FNC's Fox Report led with the Senate votes. After a night off, CNN again aired a 10pm ET special, "Trial of the President."

Below are the opening spins from the broadcast networks on Wednesday night, January 27, as well as how they described the party make-up of the votes:

-- Show openings:
Peter Jennings on ABC's World News Tonight:
"Good evening. There was a major event today in the President's impeachment trial and to paraphrase Winston Churchill at a crucial moment during World War II, this is not the end but maybe it is the beginning of the end. Certainly Democrat and Republican Senators are struggling for a conclusion, if only they could agree on how to get there."

Dan Rather, the only anchor still in DC, opened the CBS Evening News:
"Good evening. Senate Republicans made it clear today they are determined to keep President Clinton's impeachment trial going and they will have their way. They defeated a motion today to dismiss the articles of impeachment and end the trial and then the Republicans led the vote to depose witnesses, but the Republicans are still short of the two-thirds majority needed to actually remove the President. So the questions tonight are how much longer will the trial go on and to what end?"

Tom Brokaw at the top of NBC Nightly News:
"Good evening. Tonight the Republicans are in the driver's seat in the impeachment trial and they believe that they've now got a road map to their destination. Their confidence is in the numbers. There were two critical votes today and the Republicans held all of their members in line: votes to dismiss the trial and to subpoena witnesses."

-- Party line or bipartisan vote.
ABC and Linda Douglass never mentioned Feingold. Picking up on the Senate chaplain's use of the phrase "crucial decision," Douglass asserted: "It was a crucial decision, whether to end the trial now or keep going. On a party line vote they decided to keep going, though it is not clear for how long."

CBS's Bob Schieffer was accurate: "It was a near party line vote. All the Republicans and one Democrat, Feingold of Wisconsin, voted to continue the trial..."

NBC's Gwen Ifill buried Feingold, initially announcing: "The two critical votes today passed along party lines in the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate voting to continue the impeachment trial and to call witnesses. Democrats saw the two votes as the strongest sign yet that the Senate is wasting its time." Only near the end of her piece did she acknowledge that Feingold "broke ranks."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of Hillary Clinton's mean-spirited, politics of personal destruction oriented, blaming of her husband's problems on a "vast right-wing conspiracy." But instead of emphasizing how she lied in denying the allegations and impugned those who were accurate, NBC offered empathy. Geraldo Rivera used the anniversary to call for an end to the trial and Today brought aboard two guests to defend her vitriolic remarks, but no conservative.

-- On CNBC's Upfront Tonight Wednesday night Geraldo Rivera played a clip of Hillary Clinton on Today back on January 27, 1998: "The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for President."
Rivera then opined: "She was right then and to go on with this trial now seems cruel and unusual punishment, not just for the Clintons, but for the rest of us."

If it annoys Rivera that much that's reason enough to not "move on."

-- Wednesday's Today featured two Hillary defenders: The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Ann Douglass, author of a recent glowing magazine profile of the First Lady. MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens noted these exchanges:

Today co-host Matt Lauer: "So Bob at that moment no doubt in your mind that the First Lady did not know the truth about the story."
Bob Woodward: "Well based on the best evidence we have at this point she obviously was speaking from the heart and had 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. Unfortunately I think it threw some gasoline on the fire of the independent counsel and the next day we now know the independent counsel asked President Clinton privately to come to the grand jury which of course led down this road to his problems that we now have today."
Lauer: "Ann [Douglas] 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 similar situations in the past?"

Later, after Woodward mentioned that he didn't think Starr was as tied into conspiracy as the White House claimed, Lauer pressed him about whether it's been investigated enough: "And Bob real quickly she said there 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?"
Woodward: "Well of course many stories did come out and Ann is right there are lawyers behind some of this but as we really now know and is very, very clear the right-wing conspiracy or the enemies of the Clintons did not cause the President and Miss Lewinsky to have this sexual relationship. They decided on their own and that's at the core of this and there is no way and I don't think Mrs. Clinton would say they caused that."

"Enough time" on the VRWC?


hubbell0128.jpg (22397 bytes)cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) A case study in network news bias against Ken Starr.
July 1, 1998: Federal Judge James Robertson, criticizing Ken Starr's tactics and claiming he exceeded his mandate, threw out an indictment against Webster Hubbell for failing to pay taxes on suspected hush money.

January 26, 1999: A federal appeals court overturned Robertson's ruling and reinstated the indictment, deciding the activity was within Starr's jurisdiction.

Network reaction to each story? If you are a regular CyberAlert reader you should already be able to guess.

The July 1 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 a claim that "this further weakens Starr's image as a man of justice." Dan Rather proclaimed: "The judge sharpy 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.

The January 26 victory for Starr was ignored by ABC's World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News, got 12 seconds on the CBS Evening News and a few more on CNN's The World Today, but CBS failed to correct the record on how Starr did not abuse his power. And in the morning: zilch, nada, not a syllable on January 27, the MRC analysts informed me.

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 did decide that so Hubbell will avoid 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 in the Hubbell story on Tuesday, go to the MRC home page at where Webmaster Sean Henry has posted an image from FNC's story which shows all two members of the media outside of Hubbell's home as he and his wife stand before two microphones: You'll see Shuster and a woman I don't recognize, along with a cameraman for each.)

Dan Rather gave the news 12 seconds: "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."

CNN on Tuesday, MRC news analyst Paul Smith observed, raised the issue briefly in an end of Inside Politics discussion with reporter Pierre Thomas about the deadline approaching for Janet Reno to decide on whether to appoint an IC for Harold Ickes. Later, on the World Today, co-anchor Jim Moret read this brief item: "Renewed legal woes for presidential pal Webster Hubbell. A federal appeals court has reinstated tax evasion charges against the former Justice Department official. A judge tossed out those charges last year saying independent counsel Ken Starr overstepped his authority by bringing them. In a two to one split, the appeals court validated Starr's actions but it also questioned whether the independent counsel can use Hubbell's own records to prosecute him."

Now, compare that piddling coverage to the July 1 onslaught, as lifted from how it was detailed in the July 2 CyberAlert. On ABC's World News Tonight Jackie Judd concluded her lead piece: "A definite political blow for Starr tonight. What the judge said, Peter, plays directly into what the White House's allies have been saying, that this is an over-zealous prosecutor over-reaching in a bid to bring down the President. One of the President's allies told us tonight this further weakens Starr's image as a man of justice."

Dan Rather opened the CBS Evening News by introducing a full report by Phil Jones: "Ken Starr's efforts to send a longtime friend of President Clinton back to prison failed today. A federal judge dismissed new tax evasion charges against Webster Hubbell. And the judge sharpy criticized the tactics Starr used against Hubbell in the special prosecutor's efforts to get incriminating information about the President and Mrs. Clinton."

CNN's The World Today dedicated its first 11 minutes to Hubbell. First, Bob Franken delivered the overall story. Second, Pierre Thomas profiled Hubbell and how he became part of he Whitewater case. Starr was trying to get him to tell what he knew, and he had agreed to cooperate in Whitewater, but did not to Starr's satisfaction. One of Starr's questions: "Did a friend give him lucrative jobs to keep him quiet?"
Third, White House correspondent John King began his story: "Another setback for Ken Starr and new questions about the independent counsel and his hardball tactics..." King emphasized how it's the third defeat in a week for Starr after the release of Susan McDougal and his loss on getting notes from Vince Foster's lawyer, but King did acknowledge that he has earned 15 convictions. Fourth, Roger Cossack appeared to explain the judge's reasoning and its implications.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Clinton is on the same "lofty plane" as the Pope -- because they can use the same restroom? MRC entertainment analyst Tom Johnson caught this gem from the last paragraph of a January 27 New York Times story on Clinton's visit in St. Louis with the Pope headlined, "Again, Clinton Creates His Own Political Aura." Reporter James Bennet's last graph:
"If there was any doubt that by virtue of his position, Clinton occupied as lofty a plane as the Pope on Tuesday -- or that the Pope, by virtue of being human, had some of the same needs as Clinton -- it was erased by the sign marking a restroom near their meeting room: 'President or Holy Father Only,' it read."

If the MRC put this one in our annual April Fools issue no one would buy it, but the New York Times published it.


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) From the January 26 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Questions Submitted by the Republicans." Copyright 1999 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. In 10,000 words or less, what is your definition of sex?
9. Seinfeld retired...Michael Jordan retired...can't you take a hint?
8. Is there any way you could get N'Sync deported?
7. What's it like to kiss a girl?
6. If Air Force One is traveling 3,800 miles from Washington to Paris at a speed of 600 mph, how long will it take before you hit on a flight attendant?
5. How the hell did the Falcons make the Super Bowl?
4. You really couldn't do any better than Monica?
3. Do you deny denying your earlier denial about denying lying under oath?
2. So -- are you done ruining the whole damn country yet?
1. How the hell did you get elected?

I like #6 the best. And I'd point out that despite how much the public is supposed to be disgusted with Republicans, only one of these hits on Republicans while six take on Clinton, with two of those suggesting he should resign. -- Brent Baker


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