CyberAlert -- 02/19/1998 -- Hsia Shunned by ABC & NBC

Hsia Shunned by ABC & NBC; Bruce Lindsey's Flight Attendant Cover-Up

1) ABC and NBC ignored the indictment of the woman who organized the Buddhist Temple fundraiser; all led with the Clinton foreign policy team's town meeting "fiasco" and "debacle."

2) ABC's World News Tonight featured a glowing profile of Bruce Lindsey in which reporter John Cochran admired how he had successfully killed stories that "might erupt about Clinton and flight attendants" by silencing one and giving another a job.

3) Does Tripp's talk with Jones's lawyers, Today's Jodi Applegate wondered, prove "the whole right-wing conspiracy argument?"

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cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)A Democratic fundraiser with close ties to Al Gore was indicted on Wednesday, but neither the ABC or NBC evening shows mentioned it. CBS gave it 19 seconds while CNN's Inside Politics submerged the development into an introduction to a story on Gore's trip to California to survey El Nino damage. Not even FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report mentioned the indictment of Maria Hsia, but Brit Hume did discuss it with Jim Angle at the White House on FNC's 6pm ET (repeated at 11pm ET/8pm PT I think) Special Report with Brit Hume.

The three broadcast networks mentioned Bruce Lindsey's grand jury appearance and led with Iraq, focusing on the hostile reception that greeted the CNN town meeting in which Clinton's foreign policy team was heckled and shouted over for 90 minutes. "Debacle," declared CBS. "Fiasco," assessed NBC. Reminded him of the furor over Vietnam, asserted ABC's Sam Donaldson.

Just a day before Bruce Lindsey was expected to invoke executive privilege, a move which should stir memories of the Nixon cover-up, ABC's World News Tonight featured an adoring profile of Lindsey which lauded his success at covering up Bill Clinton's relations with flight attendants. See item #2 below for more on this story.

Otherwise, here are some highlights of Wednesday, February 18 evening show treatments of the town meeting and Monicagate:

-- ABC's World News Tonight, like the others, led with the town meeting at Ohio State featuring Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Sam Donaldson observed a contentious gathering where "Secretary of State Albright was stopped dead by the kind of vocal protest not heard since Vietnam." Donaldson described how the three officials "alternately took questions and took abuse."

Later in the show ABC noted Bruce Lindsey's grand jury appearance and aired a glowing profile. Details below in item #2.

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather led with a bad day for the Clinton administration on he Iraq front, intoning at the top of the show:

"CBS's David Martin reports it got much more than it bargained for today when it took part in an unruly, disorganized and badly staged presentation broadcast to a worldwide television audience that included Iraq."

Filing from the White House, Scott Pelley reported that "the town hall is being viewed widely here as a debacle..." Pelley drove the point home about how the 2pm ET conclave demonstrated lack of U.S. unity: "The whole idea behind the broadcast was to send a message to Saddam Hussein, but tonight many here at the White House are afraid it did."

Two ad breaks later CBS arrived at Monicagate. Rather summarized new CBS News poll results "about public reaction to the alleged Clinton-Monica Lewinsky connection. 71 percent say they closely follow news about it; 65 percent say it is not important for the public to know the relationship details; and 74 percent say they personally don't want to know more."

They follow every detail closely, but don't want to learn anything. Not exactly inquiring minds.

Next, Rather led into a story on Bruce Lindsey: "Well, special prosecutor Ken Starr showed again today how far he'll go to find out more, right to the President's closest aide and confidant." Reporter Bill Plante explained that the top Clinton aide testified, but that while executive privilege came up, it was not invoked, though it probably will be for questions about discussions he had with Clinton. Plante ended by noting that a new defense fund had been established for Clinton, a development not mentioned by ABC or NBC.

After Plante Rather delivered this 19 second item which constitutes the totality of broadcast network coverage of the Hsia indictment:

"The investigation of dirty money in campaign fundraising led to a criminal indictment today. Democratic fundraiser Maria Hsia was charged in connection with those California Buddhist Temple events that proved so embarrassing to Vice President Gore. Gore says he was unaware that they were fronts for what turned out to be illegal fundraisers."

-- NBC Nightly News. On the Ohio State calamity, David Bloom began: "Even some of the President's closest advisers acknowledged that this was a fiasco..."

After the first ad break, Tom Brokaw went to Claire Shipman for an update on testimony from Bruce Lindsey. She relayed that he did not invoke executive privilege but may in the future to "protect" advice he gave Clinton. Brokaw then asked her about the request from Clinton's lawyers that the Jones case be dropped.

NBC couldn't squeeze in a few seconds for Hsia, but ran two In Depth stories on the dangers of SUVs, "a growing threat to safety on the highway" according to a new government study.

-- CNN's Inside Politics buried the Hsia indictment at the end of the show, treating it as no big deal. Leading into a story from Bill Schneider on Gore's trip west to see El Nino damage, anchor Frank Sesno announced:

"Hardly a surprise, but it was an embarrassment today for Vice President Al Gore. His longtime friend, Democratic fundraiser Maria Hsia was indicted by the Justice Department. She's accused of helping launder illegal campaign contributions raised in connection with an event at a Buddhist temple, and then, lying about it. Gore aides say the matters for which Hsia has been indicted do not involve the Vice President and they are repeating the Vice President's denial that he was involved in any alleged wrongdoing. As for Gore himself, he's in California thinking about disasters, natural, not political..."

With ABC and NBC ignoring it and CNN downplaying it, the indictment is hardly a political disaster for Gore.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)Following the first ad break, Peter Jennings told February 18 World News Tonight viewers:

"In Washington the grand jury that's hearing evidence about alleged sex and cover-ups involving the President, allegedly anyway, and Monica Lewinsky, heard today from the deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey. Outside he would not talk about his testimony, as ABC's John Cochran tells us Mr. Lindsey is a man who knows how to keep a secret."

stewardess.jpg (8566 bytes)John Cochran opened his reverential look at Lindsey:

"All Presidents need someone like Bruce Lindsey -- and old friend who can give frank advice on the most intimate problems. Someone who is loyal in good times and bad. Someone who knows how to keep his mouth shut."

Cochran showed a soundbite from former Senator David Pryor and then explained how both Clinton and Lindsey are lawyers from Arkansas, but while Clinton is an "extrovert," Lindsey is his "tight-lipped pal." Two years ago, Cochran recalled, Ken Starr named Lindsey an unindicted co-conspirator in Whitewater, but he was "never charged with any wrongdoing."

Cochran continued his glowing profile by illustrating it with some very interesting footage: "He usually tries to head off trouble before it starts," Cochran asserted. As viewers saw video of a flight attendant dancing with Lindsey, Cochran explained: "On election day in 1992 he celebrated Clinton's expected victory, but he had worried during the campaign that stories might erupt about Clinton and flight attendants."

While video rolled showing Clinton and a flight attendant sharing a single jump seat as Clinton first put his hand on her knee and then she wrapped her arm around his, Cochran reported:

"This attendant later got a job at the White House. After the election Lindsey told another flight attendant she did not have to talk to reporters."

Instead of pursuing this information about a job for silence in light of the current situation, Cochran moved along:

"As the man in charge of damage control Lindsey has consistently urged a strategy of stonewalling, reveal as little as possible and emphasize the positive. In 1993 ABC News investigated whether Clinton, while Governor of Arkansas, had ever asked state troopers to procure women for him. Lindsey telephoned former trooper Buddy Young while he was being interviewed by ABC and defending Clinton."

Cochran concluded: "It's easy to see why Ken Starr regards Lindsey's testimony as important. If the President has been open with anyone other than his wife about Monica Lewinsky, it is probably Bruce Lindsey."

Am I in a parallel universe? Here you have a reporter, who is supposed to dig out facts and convince people to tell what they know, admiring a Clinton operative for so successfully buying off witnesses and silencing those in the know. Clinton and flight attendants? Which White House position, besides Monica's of course, is a flight attendant qualified to hold? Sounds like a great story. Cochran should be pursuing that to see if anyone lied or bought anyone off, not passing it along as a cute anecdote about Lindsey's skill. If the media are as easy to dissuade as Cochran then Lindsey hasn't had a very tough job.

Is the kind of story the networks ran in 1973 about Halderman or Erlichman?


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)The revelation that in December Linda Tripp approached prominent Washington lawyer and former Justice official Victoria Toensing about getting immunity for her phone taping, prompted NBC's Today to bring the lawyer aboard Wednesday morning. MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this noteworthy question from co-host Jodi Applegate to Toensing:

"Linda Tripp did end up on Ken Starr's doorstep and she ended up debriefing Paula Jones' attorneys on the eve of President Clinton's deposition. Does all of this make the whole right-wing conspiracy argument easier for the White House to make?"

The MRC's Tim Graham reminded me that Applegate won the "Lanny Davis No Controlling Legal Authority Award (for Clinton Scandal Denial)" in the MRC's Best Notable Quotables of 1997: The Tenth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting.

Applegate to Tim Russert on the April 19, 1997 Today:

"So a couple of White House aides helped Webster Hubbell find work, and he did find work, some of it with Democratic donors. It may not look good, but is there any proof anything was done wrong?...All right, similar kind of question about Jorge Cabrera, a convicted drug smuggler who gave $20,000 to the DNC, wound up at a fancy dinner with Al Gore, wound up at a White House Christmas party with Hillary Clinton. But they gave the money back when they found out about his background. It may not look good, but is there any proof that anything was done wrong?"

In Applegate's world the Clinton White House drowning in allegations of wrongdoing, many supported by pretty strong evidence, doesn't prove anything, but Linda Tripp telling a lawyer about what she heard suggests a grand conspiracy. -- Brent Baker

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