CyberAlert -- 03/04/1998 -- Public Afraid of Ken Starr and Should Fear Bill Gates

Public Afraid of Ken Starr and Should Fear Bill Gates

1) Every network led with Vernon Jordan, but only NBC detailed his Hubbell history. A CBS poll discovered, surprise, that most don't think "Republican special prosecutor" Starr is impartial.

2) Barbara Boxer and Bill Clinton convince celebrities from Danny DeVito to Cheryl Tiegs to fork over money.

3) The networks re-capped the Senate hearing on the software battle. ABC explored "whether we consumers should be afraid of Bill Gates."

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)Tuesday night, March 3, ABC, CBS, NBC led with Vernon Jordan's grand jury appearance, emphasizing how Jordan maintained he remains friends with Clinton. FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report, CNN's World Today at 8pm ET, and MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams at 9pm ET/PT also began with Jordan, though CNN bumped him to the second story slot for the later 10pm ET/7pm PT World Today.

Only CNN's Bob Franken, briefly, and NBC's Lisa Myers, in more detail, recalled for viewers how Jordan is suspect because he arranged payments to Webster Hubbell just as Starr was pushing the Clinton crony for information. Dan Rather highlighted a poll showing that most don't think "Republican special prosecutor Ken Starr" is impartial and hope he ends his probe.

Here's a rundown of March 3 evening show Monicagate coverage:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Peter Jennings opened the broadcast: "Good evening. When the President's friend Vernon Jordan went before the grand jury in Washington today to be asked about Monica Lewinsky and the President, and whether Mr. Jordan had done anything to influence the story that Monica Lewinsky has already told under oath, Washington wondered out loud whether he would support the President's version of what happened, or what didn't. Mr. Jordan is the most important witness that the independent counsel Kenneth Starr has had on the stand so far."

Reporter Jackie Judd began: "Vernon Jordan ended his day long appearance telling reporters he answered prosecutors' questions truthfully and completely. And he seemed to suggest that his old friend, Bill Clinton, had nothing to worry about from his testimony."

Jordan outside courthouse: "Ours is an enduring friendship. That was true yesterday, that is true today and it will be true tomorrow."

Judd proceeded to outline the time line of events and how Jordan insisted that Clinton assured him there was no sex.

A critical time for Starr, Jennings asked? Yes, replied Judd as he's "getting back to the basics of what this legal investigation is supposed to be about."

-- Dan Rather topped the CBS Evening News by asserting Jordan testified in "what could be a make or break day for all involved in the case."

Scott Pelley started his story: "Lewinsky has claimed that Jordan encouraged her to lie about whether there was an affair with Mr. Clinton and then arranged a job for her to keep her quiet. Mr. Jordan denies all of this and today, after a day before the grand jury, he seemed very much like a man supporting his friend, the President."

Pelley provided a time line which more pointedly showed why Jordan's activities are under scrutiny. Pelley noted that the Paula Jones lawyers subpoenaed Lewinsky on Friday and on Monday Jordan placed job calls for her. On January 7 Lewinsky swore in an affidavit that she and Clinton did not have sex. The next day Jordan called Revlon's Ron Perelman about a job.

Next, the day after CBS ran a story denouncing Starr's "police state tactics" and five days after running a story listing the supposedly unethical behavior of Starr's staff, Dan Rather delivered a news item which incorporated the very bias which influences what CBS reported:

"New indications in a CBS News poll out tonight of how the public perceives Republican special prosecutor Ken Starr's investigation. Our poll suggests only 27 percent believe Starr is conducting an impartial probe. And 55 percent think it's time for Starr to drop his investigation."

-- CNN's The World Today. Like everyone else, Bob Franken said that Jordan made "clear his friendship with Bill Clinton is as strong as ever." Unlike ABC and CBS Franken raised the issue of Jordan's previous efforts to keep another Clinton associate quiet: "Vernon Jordan is a major reason Starr sought jurisdiction in this case. He had already been investigating whether Jordan helped another Clinton friend, former Assistant Attorney General Webster Hubbell find a job in exchange for his silence..."

-- NBC Nightly News opened with two pieces on Jordan's appearance. First, Claire Shipman began her story: "What prosecutors most want to know from Vernon Jordan is just why he was offering Monica Lewinsky so much help. Vernon Jordan spent a full day answering questions under oath and as he left he sent a reassuring message to the White House."

After Shipman's piece Tom Brokaw announced: "Friends of Jordan say he believes Starr is out to get him, but Jordan is determined to remain cool. As NBC's Lisa Myers tells us tonight, Starr's team is interested in Jordan for more than the Lewinsky story."

Myers gave detail to a theme ignored by ABC and CBS and barely touched on by CNN, explaining:

"Jordan is on the hot seat in the grand jury because not once but twice he arranged jobs for key witnesses just as they were in a position to provide damaging information about the President ....Jordan insists he didn't know Monica was a potential witness when he began to help her, but sources close to the case say prosecutors have evidence that contradicts key parts of Jordan's version of events. First there's the story sources say Monica once offered to tell prosecutors, that she told Jordan she had a sexual relationship with the President. What's more, sources say, prosecutors have tapes on which Monica ties her official denial of a sexual relationship with Clinton to Jordan getting a job. At the legal core of all this is one question: Why Jordan helped her."

James Cole, former independent counsel: "I think it's very difficult to prove that the reason he did it was to silence somebody."

Myers: "But that's exactly what critics claim Jordan did in another high profile case, the President's friend Web Hubbell. After Hubbell resigned from the Justice Department in disgrace, Ken Starr was pressuring him to provide damaging information on the Clintons. Jordan came to the rescue, getting Hubbell a $25,000 a month job at Revlon, allegedly to do public relations. But prosecutors suspect this was hush money...."

So, how did the networks, and NBC specifically, cover Jordan's Revlon deal for Hubbell when the news first broke? Let's flip back to the May 27, 1997 CyberAlert:

The ever-growing list of Hubbell "jobs" remains a story the networks rarely touch.

"Clinton Pal Jordan Got Hubbell Job," read a front page USA Today headline on Thursday, May 22. In addition to all the other previously disclosed deals for Hubbell, reporter Edward Pound discovered: "Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan, a close friend of President Clinton, helped land a lucrative job for Webster Hubbell with a holding company controlled by billionaire financier Ronald Perelman in the weeks after Hubbell resigned from the Justice Department. Hubbell was paid more than $60,000 by Perelman's MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings after Jordan introduced him to the firm in April 1994, according to people familiar with the arrangement."

Coverage. MRC news analysts Clay Waters, Steve Kaminski, Gene Eliasen and Geoffrey Dickens informed me: Not a word about either revelation on the Wednesday or Thursday ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today or NBC Nightly News.

It only took a sex scandal to get NBC nine months later to report this tidbit of information.

cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)Hollywood celebrities continue to stick by Clinton, especially when he helps raise money for one of the most liberal Senators. Last weekend Clinton left the Utah home of Jeffrey Katzenberg, which the film mogul lent the Clintons for a ski weekend, to headline a Los Angeles fundraiser for Barbara Boxer. By adding a brief meeting about El Nino damage with local officials the trip became official, so Boxer's campaign did not have to pick up the tab.

A March 1 AP dispatch reported who attended the event:

"At the Beverly Hills home of supermarket-chain mogul Ron Burkle, around 250 donors -- including actors Danny DeVito, Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Danson, Paul Reiser, Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche -- were asked to give $2,500 per person for an expected total of between $500,000 and $750,000. Boxer's November re-election campaign was to get the first $2,000 of each donation, the legal limit for an individual candidate.

"The balance of Saturday night's proceeds benefitted the Democratic party as so-called 'soft money,' unregulated money meant to be used in 'party-building' projects."

Washington Times reporter Paul Bedard added a couple of celebrity names in a March 1 story: Cheryl Tiegs and Rob Reiner.

cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)bgates.gif (22284 bytes)All the networks Tuesday night presented fairly balanced stories on the Senate hearing featuring computer software executives, with the network stories built around attacks on Microsoft's Bill Gates and his counterpoints. ABC's World News Tonight followed later, however, with a very tilted "A Closer Look" segment on "whether we consumers should be afraid of Bill Gates."

Here are a few quotes to give you a flavor of the March 3 evening show coverage:

-- On the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather delivered this introduction heavy on analogy:
"Bill Gates appeared before Congress which is considering whether some policing may be needed along the information super-highway. CBS's Sharyl Attkisson reports fellow travelers say Gates is trying to run them off the road."

-- NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw announced:
"Now to Capitol Hill, where the richest man in America, the king of the computer industry, faces down a skeptical Congress and a hostile competitor. Bill Gates came to Washington to declare that the giant he created, Microsoft, is not a monopoly. It was a tough sell."

-- ABC's Peter Jennings picked up on Senator Orrin Hatch's drive to attack Microsoft, asserting: "Mr. Gates was there to testify with some of his bitterest rivals and the Senate Chairman was there to try and scorch Mr. Gates."

Later, ABC devoted the "A Closer Look" segment to the meaning of the Microsoft versus Netscape battle. Jennings intoned: "Now we're going to take 'A Closer Look' at whether we consumers should be afraid of Bill Gates, and if so, why?"

Jennings soon proved he's not quite up to speed on the technology, explaining the battle between the Netscape and Microsoft chiefs: "The war between Mr. Barksdale and Mr. Gates has to do specifically with network browsers..." What exactly is a "network" browser and how is it different from a regular old browser running on a network?

After the Jennings intro ABC ran a story by Jack Smith on Microsoft's misdeeds and an interview segment on why the browser war matters. From Netscape's headquarters Smith checked in with a story from their point of view on how Microsoft is out to destroy the only thing standing between Microsoft and a browser monopoly. One Netscape employee showed how MS's Active Desktop default for "news" takes you to MSNBC, not ABC's Web site.

Next, Jennings talked with ABC reporter Gina Smith and journalist Robert Cringley, who produced the Triumph of the Nerds series on PBS. Gina Smith explained that power and money will flow to whoever controls Internet commerce and that's Microsoft's goal. Asked how that would be bad, Cringley asserted, "It is bad for we the nation in that it restricts free trade," adding that if a Korean company did what MS is doing with Explorer "it would be considered dumping."

As one still resisting the MS onslaught (this is being written in WordPerfect 8, I use Netscape 4.04 and I deleted MSN from my computer), I enjoyed ABC's MS bashing. But, as a professional media analyst, I must conclude that ABC did a disservice to its viewers by failing to make room in their lengthy segment for an explanation of Microsoft's case.

-- Brent Baker

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