CyberAlert -- 05/04/1998 -- Starr Asked Small Fish to Lie

Starr Asked Small Fish to Lie; Brunt Burton Before Hurting Hillary

1) 60 Minutes castigated Starr Sunday night for destroying the lives of "small fish." When he went after one woman "God stepped in" to stop him; "Most others say they are too frightened of Starr to even talk about it." Andy Rooney argued Starr smiles too much.

2) The networks grew more interested in tainting Dan Burton than exploring the Hubbell tapes: "Now those words are also haunting the people who released them." Only FNC touched the smear against Tripp; Gingrich is silent but ABC still branded him "nasty."

3) Al Hunt: "What Dan Burton did," releasing the Hubbell tapes, "would have made Joe McCarthy proud."

4) TV reviewer Tom Shales praised NBC's Sunday night movie for giving "the NRA fits. Hooray!"


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) CBS News paid back President Clinton Sunday night for the faux pas by 60 Minutes of airing the interview with Kathleen Willey a few weeks ago. The lead segment on the May 3 edition of 60 Minutes: "Starr Wars," an examination of how Ken Starr has persecuted innocent Arkansans in his quest to get Clinton at any cost.

Though former US Attorney Henry Hudson was allowed to make a few comments on Starr's behalf and defend his tactics as standard, he was badly outnumbered in soundbites and in time by those supposedly hurt by Starr and their lawyers.

Morley Safer opened by asserting that though Starr had netted Jim Guy Tucker and Webster Hubbell, "in his effort to net the biggest fish of all -- the President and the First Lady -- the independent counsel went after some very small fish indeed. And he used some pretty tough tactics on, among others, a woman named Sara Hawkins."
Safer explained that Starr's office implicated Hawkins in a scheme to illegal back date loan appraisals when she worked at Madison Savings & Loan. She was accused by a co-worker who made a deal. Safer recalled of Hawkins: "Adamant that she was innocent, she met with Starr and his deputies who she says threatened if she didn't cooperate, name some names, accept a plea bargain and admit to a felony they would really throw the book at her."
In a soundbite Hawkins complained that Starr's team threatened her with 400 years in prison, but she refused to make a deal. She owned a small business, Safer explained, but when targeted her work went away. Safer recited the damage: "Hawkins, the sole support of her two daughters and two granddaughters says her income fell from about $100,000 a year to less than $25,000. Her oldest daughter had to leave college. They went on food stamps."
Hawkins found support at her church, a point that allowed 60 Minutes to play this soundbite from the minister: "They came after her, but then God stepped in. And then they had to back up and leave her alone."
After a year, Safer sighed, she got a letter from Starr "admitting" insufficient evidence for an indictment.

Safer let Hudson point out that often the only way to get to top officials is to push underlings to testify against those top people, which is what Starr did with Herbie Branscom and Rob Hill, two other Madison staffers. Both refused to cooperate and, in the end, neither was convicted. Safer picked up their tale of woe: "Neither will talk about their bitter experience, but Branscom's lawyer, Dan Guthrie (sp?), says Starr's tactics were crude and abusive." Guthrie complained that federal agents served Branscom's son with a subpoena at high school.

Safer proceeded to a fourth victim, University of Arkansas professor Steve Smith, a former business partner with Jim McDougal and aide to Governor Clinton 20 years ago. Safer declared: "He levels an even more serious charge at Starr's operation." Smith contended: "They asked me to lie about other people and they've lied about what they've done."
In 1995 Smith pled guilty to a misdemeanor for loan misuse and agreed to testify against others. Starr's team, Smith insisted, had a script they wanted read to the grand jury "and in there were things they were asking me to say that were untrue and things that I had repeatedly told them were not true, things that I told them I had no knowledge about. Yet there it was typed up as my testimony."
When he refused to read it those parts were taken out. Starr, Safer noted, denies there was a script. Smith challenged Starr's team to a lie detector test, proclaiming: "They're not interested in the truth, they're interested in getting something on the President."

Hudson then got a few seconds to maintain that Starr is reasonable, objective and not partisan. Safer countered:
"A good part of the population of Little Rock believes otherwise. They point to the hundreds of subpoenas Starr's office issued and the number of people they believe were threatened the way Sara Hawkins and Steve Smith were. But Hawkins and Smith went public with their ordeal, most others say they are too frightened of Starr to even talk about it."
During his last clause viewers saw video of a car featuring this bumper sticker: "Ken Starr: Go Home."

But 60 Minutes was not done. They opened with Starr and Andy Rooney closed the show with some more Starr-bashing. Three clips from Rooney's commentary:

-- "Starr is the kind of a person who, when the photographer says smile, he smiles even though he has so little to smile about. No one trusts a man who smiles in adversity."
-- "It says something about Kenneth Starr's character that he always sits in the back seat of a car. I've never trusted a man who sits in the back seat. It's a recessive male trait."
-- "This concludes my investigation of Kenneth Starr, who has spent $40 million trying to prove something that most of us thought was already true anyway."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)Audio tapes providing evidence that's fresh to the public of how Web Hubbell knows more than he's told, including information about improprieties involving the First Lady and payments to him, were released late last week. But the networks over the weekend grew more interested hour by hour in tainting the Congressman who released them than in exploring their implications.

On Friday, CNN and NBC summarized the content of the excerpts of the Hubbell prison tapes released by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, chaired by Dan Burton. But ABC and CBS emphasized questions about the context of the conversations and how only "selective" portions were made public. Friday night only FNC raised the disclosure that a Defense Department official revealed that a political appointee wanted Linda Tripp's personnel file shared with Jan Mayer. None of the broadcast networks pursued the Hubbell story Saturday night as none ran anything scandal-related and two led with a "silent" protest for gun control. By Sunday night ABC and CBS were back to questioning the tapes, stressing attacks on Burton.

Some highlights from the weekend evening shows:

-- Friday, May 1:
ABC's World News Tonight combined into one story the Hubbell tapes and Starr's speech about executive privilege. Jackie Judd's piece featured just one tape clip which she introduced with Hubbell's denouncement: "In Washington today, Web Hubbell indicted by Starr yesterday, complained that some of his prison conversations released by the House Government Reform committee have been unfairly taken out of context. In one conversation, recorded two years ago, Suzy Hubbell, his wife, says she has heard from a White House official unhappy about the possibility that Hubbell might sue the law firm he once worked at with Mrs. Clinton..."

CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather displayed more concern for GOP strategy than the tape content: "Good Evening. The President and Mrs. Clinton came under new and strategically aimed political fire today on two fronts. Republicans raised new questions about First Lady Hillary Clinton in selectively leaked tapes from the congressional leadership on Capitol Hill -- recordings of personal prison phone calls made by Mrs. Clinton's former law partner Webster Hubbell."
First, Phil Jones ran excerpts from the tapes about suggestions Hillary over billed clients and how Hubbell's wife felt Clinton aide Marsha Scott was squeezing her by making clear that if Hubbell talked she'd lose her administration job. Second, Scott relayed the basics of Starr's executive privilege address.

CNN The World Today at 8pm opened with Wolf Blitzer's assessment that the Hubbell tapes "...repeatedly offers what federal investigators believe are tantalizing hints of possible illegal activities involving First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton." CNN also ran a story from John King with Clinton in California, a look by Pierre Thomas at Starr's case against Web Hubbell, and a report from Bob Franken on Starr's speech.

FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report led with the controversy over the LA suicide video and featured a story by David Shuster on Hubbell, but only FNC alerted viewers to evidence that Clinton operatives worked to make sure Linda Tripp was embarrassed. Co-anchor Catherine Crier announced: "Not long after Linda Tripp went public with her tapes of Monica Lewinsky, the Pentagon went public with Tripp's criminal record. The timing's a little too convenient for some who smell a smear campaign by the White House."
Rita Cosby explained that while the official Pentagon line is that an employee improperly released Tripp's personnel file to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, leading to the story about Tripp's 1969 arrest, Pentagon press aide Clifford Bernath denied he messed up. In a deposition to Judicial Watch, Cosby reported, he now says his bosses, including Assistant Defense Secretary Kenneth Bacon, told him to release the information to Jane Mayer. Cosby relayed: "The Chairman of Judicial watch says Bacon's involvement shows they were acting on behalf of the White House."

-- Saturday, May 2: CBS and NBC led with the "silent" gun protests held nationwide. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams provided a glowing review: "Good evening. Tonight in a number of American cities and towns there is exhaustion after a day spent making a point about what many consider one of America's biggest domestic threats: Handguns, especially those in the wrong hands. While billed as a silent, mostly symbolic protest today, the marchers are demanding changes and they took their demands to the people who are making the guns."

Newt Gingrich can't get a break. If he dares say anything negative about Clinton the media condemn him as "harsh" or "nasty" and if he remains quiet, ABC showed, he gets hit with the same censure. On World News Tonight, after reporter Mike Von Fremd in California summarized Clinton's take on the IRS, anchor Elizabeth Vargas observed that Gingrich is also in the Golden State and asked: "Is he continuing the drumbeat on his attack on the President?" Von Fremd assured her: "No he's not, we're not sure why. He had promised he would bring up the President's ethical lapses at every speech, but in conservative Orange County he didn't have a nasty word to say about the President today."

-- Sunday, May 3: Dan Burton appeared on Meet the Press, but Tim Russert took more time pressing Burton about exculpatory material he did not release than in reviewing the meaning of what was released. In the evening the network set out to show that the tapes really help Hillary's cause. Anchor Carole Simpson announced on ABC's World News Tonight: "In Washington tonight, more controversy over Whitewater figure Webster Hubbell. This week his words came back to haunt him when tapes of conversations he had in prison were released to the public. Now those words are also haunting the people who released them."
Mike Von Fremd showed Hubbell attorney John Nields on This Week condemning the release as "outrageous." After a soundbite from Burton, Von Fremd piled on Burton: "But the criticism of Burton is piling up. In a letter released today, Democrat Henry Waxman accused Burton of selectively releasing portions of the tape just to make the First Lady look bad, so Waxman highlighted exchanges where Hubbell says Mrs. Clinton had no knowledge of questionable billing practices."

Over on the CBS Evening News reporter Sharyl Attkisson got right to Waxman, beginning: "Congressman Henry Waxman says the prison phone recordings released last week that suggested Web Hubbell took hush money to protect President and Mrs. Clinton were altered." Following a bite from Waxman, Attkisson presented his case and his selected excerpt: "But the Burton tapes omitted references that seemed to exonerate the First Lady, like this portion obtained today by CBS News. In it Hubbell indicates that Hillary Clinton did not know about illegal billing at the law firm where they both once worked."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Leave it the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt to never be satisfied with just disagreeing with a political opponent. He feels obligated to impugn their motives. Here's his attack on Dan Burton from Saturday's Capital Gang on CNN:
"I think the idea of taping a prisoner is absolutely good, desirable, should happen and if they say something incriminating, it ought to be used against them by prosecutor. But to go to what Tom Lantos said, I think what Dan Burton did, if the Justice Department had done it, it would have been against the law, would have made Joe McCarthy proud. And one more point I would make is that these tapes were selectively edited and given Dan Burton's track record, I would not be at all surprised if we find out that some of it was done quite dishonestly."


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes)NBC's Sunday night movie, "The Long Island Incident: The True Story of Carolyn McCarthy," lived up to its promise, delivering an anti-NRA railroading. (For some quotes from the movie, see the May 1 CyberAlert.) Two new items since Friday: Another quote in which the star of the movie trumpeted her thrill at spreading the anti-gun message and a widely-syndicated TV reviewer shouted "Hooray!" at the news that the movie upset the NRA, delighted that it also served as a reminder that Bob Dole was "one of the most vicious hatchet men ever to wield an ax in Washington."

-- From the opening of a May 1 USA Today story by Jefferson Graham: "For Laurie Metcalf, choosing to play U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy in a TV movie was an easy decision because she agreed so strongly with the film's message: Get guns off the streets. 'I wanted to be on the team that would allow Carolyn to get that issue out there to more people in one night than she reaches in Washington, D.C., every day,' says Metcalf, 42, a three-time Emmy winner as best supporting actress for her role as Jackie on ABC's Roseanne...
'When I read through the script and saw some of the statistics, it was just so overwhelming,' Metcalf says. 'I didn't realize that 10 children a day die from handguns. It's staggering.'..."

-- From the May 2 review by the Washington Post's Tom Shales:
"It could easily be argued that any movie that upsets the National Rifle Association has to be worth something. 'The Long Island Incident: The True Story of Carolyn McCarthy' is worth plenty and, as it happens, will give the NRA fits. Hooray!...
"News footage of Babsy's [Executive Producer Barbra Streisand] pal Bill Clinton is included showing him favoring the assault weapon ban. The bill passes but then a new Congress comes in and then-Sen. Bob Dole (not shown on-screen) vows to have the bill repealed. Dole likes to romp around TV now, in commercials and sitcom cameos, playing the cuddly geezer. The film is a reminder that in his day he was one of the most vicious hatchet men ever to wield an ax in Washington.
"Eventually McCarthy is entreated to run for Congress, and though she's a Republican the Republicans are happy with their incumbent, dull Daniel Frisa. So McCarthy runs as a Democrat and fries Frisa in the election. You'll want to cheer.

Is Shales a television reviewer or a liberal commentator? I guess he's both.

The NRA is scheduled to hold a press conference Monday to point out the distortions in the movie.

-- Brent Baker

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